The Lion King
Liverpool Empire Theatre
May 15 – July 5
Author: Irene Mecchi
Director: Julie Taymor
Music: Sir Elton John
Lyrics: Sir Tim Rice
Cast Includes: Ava Brennan, Nicholas Nkuna, Cleveland Cathnott, Gugwana Dlamini, Stephen Carlile, John Hasler, Lee Ormsby, Meilyr Sion, Solomon Gordon, Donica Elliston
Running Time: 2 hrs 50 mins
Whether you are 5 or 105, whether you are an aficionado of musical theatre or a novice theatre goer, whether you have seen the movie, sang the songs – such as Elton John’s Oscar winning Can You Feel the Love Tonight – or even heard of The Lion King before, what is taking place for the next seven weeks at Liverpool’s Empire Theatre will change your perceptions or preconceptions of live theatre forever and a day.
This production isn’t, in fairness, a musical it’s an event ... a rock gig / interpretive dance / acting / singing / artistic master class in entertainment that will live long in the memory of all those lucky enough to see it, and will have audiences across the region talking of nothing else for weeks.
From first to last, the emphasis is on exuberant colour, with a magnificent array of puppeteer-controlled animals of all shapes and sizes storming the stage to the magnificent vocals of the superb Gugwana Dlamini heralding the arrival of Simba to the world with a tremendous rendition of Circle of Life.
The cast – all 52 of them – are all superb, whether principal actor or ensemble, because that is the beauty of this show. Everybody is so in tune with each other, it becomes less a musical and morphs into something that is almost genius, thanks to Julie Taymor’s incredibly imaginative costume & puppet design which, when combined with he exemplary direction creates as show that is as close to perfection as anybody has a right to expect.
Liverpool’s Ava Brennan as elder Nala is quite simply stunning, particularly when singing the poignant Shadowland which will have young and old wiping away tears by its conclusion. Nicholas Nkuna as elder Simba, too, is outstanding and his rendition of Endless Night is so powerful it is near impossible to describe.
Cleveland Cathnott as the ill-starred King Mufasa is all fatherly advice, bravery and wisdom, whereas Stephen Carlile as his jealous brother Scar is as nasty as a piece of work this stage has ever seen and it is almost as though Kane and Abel have been reborn such is their dynamism on stage together.
Then there are those who sing, dance and act whilst also controlling puppets in perfect symmetry with their own movements and actions, whilst also keeping pace with their colleagues. Be assured that Meilyr Sion as the Zazu, John Hasler as Timon, Lee Ormsby as Pumbaa and Me’sha Bryan Daniel Norford and Philip Oakland as the evil, nasty hyena pack Shenzi, Banzai and Ed are all superb, adding laugh-out-loud cartoon hilarity to proceedings with such ease it is almost frightening.
And as young Nala and young Simba – whose appearance takes up the whole of the first half, it should be noted – Donica Elliston and Solomon Gordon deserve special mention. Never once do these two child actors seem overawed or upstaged by their peers and, surely, a glittering career lies before each of them if they can replicate the enthusiasm they demonstrated here throughout the rest of their lives in this business.
Dazzling, energetic, funny, deeply moving, raucous, packed with incident and – above all – SPECTACULAR, Disney’s The Lion King at The Liverpool Empire until July 5th is a show that is guaranteed to make you feel the love for musical theatre in a way that no other show possibly could.
Truly Magnificent in every possible way and a privilege to have been allowed to review it!!!