The Lion King

“....the stand out triumphs of this show are the costumes and puppetry”

As I enter the Lyceum Theatre, I realise I had forgotten what a huge theatre it is.  Built to seat 2100 people per performance and on this Tuesday night the house is packed.  Can you feel the love to tonight?  You certainly can!  The audience is buzzing with anticipation.  It’s 24 years since Lion King opened in the West End and at least 15 years since I last saw it.  So many of the cast will have seen the show as children and now here they are on the Lyceum stage.  In the audience there is no sense that this is an old show. 

For me, the stand out triumphs of this show are the costumes and puppetry.  Although we have seen huge developments in puppetry in the last 24 years, they are still impressive.  Both are seen at their best during the opening number featuring The Circle of Life.  We see a life-sized elephant walking down the aisle in the stalls. Looking at the lady in the box opposite me she wasn’t expecting an animal to appear at the side of her! The stage is filled with a rainbow of colour, and wildlife: giraffes, antelope, zebra to name just a few!

The other major feature of the Lion King stage show is the appearance of songs from the Disney animation written by Elton John and Tim Rice.  These are classic numbers, but for me are few and far between in this two-and-a-half-hour musical.  This is not to knock the Africanised score; the drumming, adds so much to the orchestration but I am left questioning: do five great songs make a musical?  I’m sure some more recent shows survive on less!

Having said this, I witness some amazing performances, not least of all from the two child leads played on this occasion by Emrys Zeph Adamah (Young Simba) and Amber Koduah-Hutchison (Young Nala).  So wonderful to see to see these young actors act rather than feel like stage school fodder.

By the end of act one we have heard almost all the big numbers culminating in Hakuna Matata. There is less of a buzz around me during the interval but people still seem to be enjoying it.  “It’s not what I expected,” I hear, “but it’s good”.

Maybe that’s the summary of the show.  If you are expecting a live action performance of the animation, it’s not that. If you are looking for a modern musical, it’s not that.  So, what is the Lion King?  It’s a juggernaut of a show that, given its pedigree will run and run for, it lives in you, it lives in me.

I enjoyed Lion King more that the first time I had seen it.  The staging seems to have improved, the cast were tight, the music well performed. It might not be my go-to show, but 2000+ people per night can’t be wrong!

This show was reviewed on the 3rd October 2023.  The Lion King is currently booking at the Lyceum Theatre, London until the 11th February 2024.  Tickets available here: The Lion King | Book theatre tickets in London | The Lion King UK

Review written by Paul Wood

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Photo credit: Disney

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