The Lion King
Mayflower Theare, Southampton
Until September 6
LOCAL lovers of musical theatre must surely be among those who appreciate our relative proximity to Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre.
The venue is the third largest regional theatre in the UK and as such, it can bring the biggest and the best shows to Hampshire. In the next year, West End smash hits Shrek, Rock of Ages, Wicked, Singin’ in the Rain and The Bodyguard are just some of the productions coming to the county.
But happily at home in the venue at the moment are the 52 incredible performers and 150-strong production team of this phenomenal touring production of Disney’s The Lion King.
Southampton is one of just ten cities in the UK and Ireland where this ambitious event will temporarily reside.
It will entrance those who attend right from the awe-inspiring opening number, led by the incomparable Gugwana Dlamini as Rafiki (below).
The animal parade, which includes a huge elephant, makes its way from the back of the auditorium to celebrate the birth of Simba, the heir to the throne.
And the visual spectacle remains just as jaw-dropping until the show ends a few hours later.
There are 700 amazing costumes, and each one is worthy of a standing ovation; from those based around the foliage through to all of the creatures of this land. The hyenas, which are revealed perfectly as they silently stalk Simba in an elephant graveyard, are just one example of the artistry.
They work in tandem with outstanding puppetry, which displays the skill of its human operator rather than trying to disguise the latter’s presence, and with impeccable sound, lighting and production design.
Additional songs perfectly complement the big hitters (Hakuna Matata, Can You Feel the Love Tonight? and Circle of Life) and sublime choreography fuses modern, ballet, street, hip-hop and African dance.
Against all of this, the performers still shine: Cleveland Cathnott is intimidating yet empathetic as Mufasa, a man trying to guide his son onto the right path; Stephen Carlile is brilliantly and elegantly devious as baddie Scar; Welsh actor Meilyor Sion thoroughly convinces as the slightly crazed Scottish bird sidekick Zazu, quipping about the Fringe Festival, The Proclaimers and his supposed Glasgow hometown; Ava Brennan’s Nala is strong and brave, the perfect foil for the hero.
A team of child actors play the younger versions of Simba and Nala before Brennan and Nicholas Nkuna take over. The latter is also terrific, full of restless energy before he rediscovers his family and purpose.
And let’s not forget the sidekicks, Timon (a superb John Hasler, fully attached to the puppet from head to foot) and Pumbaa (Lee Ormsby) who provide comic relief to ensure that this show really does have it all.
On the night I attended, Mark Peachey played the latter character and utterly captured his rough charm.
Catch this must-see before its run ends. You won’t be sorry.
BOX OFFICE: 02380 711811, mayflower.org.uk
THE LION KING FACTFILE
TLK had its first performance on Tuesday 19th October 1999 at the Lyceum Theatre in the West End.
More than 10 million people have seen The Lion King in London.
Now in its record-breaking 14th year, the show remains one of the top ten longest-running musicals in West End history.
In the West End production, the Swahili phrase ‘Hakuna Matata’ (meaning ‘No Worries’) has been said over 125,500 times and over 875,000 times worldwide – that’s 25 times per show!
The Lion King has been seen by more than 70 million people in 15 different countries, on five continents.
Since its 1997 Broadway premiere, 23 productions around the world have grossed over $4.7 billion and have cumulatively run for 90 years.
The Lion King is the seventh longest-running musical in Broadway history and one of only five productions in theatre history to play for ten years or more, both on Broadway and in the West End.
The production is the highest-grossing musical of all time on Broadway.