THIS production is a near-perfect example of a modern musical making maximum use of all the latest theatrical technology.
It has taken weeks to reorganise the stage and auditorium of the Bristol Hippodrome to accommodate the staging and lighting effects, which are presented flawlessly to help make the production a visual treat. Add to that a wonderful array of costumes, some of them worthy of a place in the Ziegfeld Follies, and outstanding puppetry that turns the actors into animal characters that have stepped straight out of the remake of the popular 1994 film (which opened earlier this year.)
Some of those puppets conceal the actors, but in most cases, although the humans are visible, it is the puppets that draw your eye. Even sitting as I was in Row C, all but in the players’ laps where all the wires and mechanisms were clearly visible, the all -but-full-scale elephant, giraffes, cheetah, vicious hyenas, comic meerkat and warthog and many more were breathtaking to behold.
And that same word, breathtaking, can be used to describe much of the choreography, especially that with an African theme that was dazzling in its colour and intensity.
Strangely in among such quality, it was only the final battle when Simba returns to defeat his evil usurping Uncle Scar, that failed to sweep the willing audience along like a boat caught in a hurricane.
With wrap-around vocal and musical sounds that blended taped music and vocals to the live musicians and singers in the theatre, you have the feeling that you are sitting in the middle of a Hollywood sound stage with the film being created around you. It is all very exciting and spectacular for the audience who dutifully responded enthusiastically to every change of mood from vicious plotting and killing to sentimental pathos and romance.
In among all this technical wizardry is a talented cast fighting like mad to establish individual characters, convey the message that we are threatening to kill our planet through greed and neglect, show the joy of giving and love, supply the audience with a goodly number of laughs and avoid the trap of over sentimentality.
One person who ticks all those boxes with room to spare is Thandazile Soni, her Rafiki, sometime narrator and often link-person whose vocals are delivered with power and whose character always captured the mood of the moment. When it comes to lightening an often story, Steve Beirnaert, Carl Sanderson and Matthew Forbes were not far behind the delightful Thandazile Soni.
Jean-Luc Guizonne brought dignity and authority to the role of Mufasa, making him a true Lion King, with Richard Hurst providing an ideal contrast full of thoughtless selfish evil as his murderous usurping brother Scar. The love interest was safe in the hands of Dashaun Young and Josslyn Hlenti as the adult Simba and Nala, soon to be rulers over this perfect kingdom. They did not put a foot wrong but could never match the wonderful natural exuberance and excitement of Hunter Del Valle Marfo and Minaii Barrowes, chosen from ten young actors sharing the roles of the younger Simba and Nala.
When the Hippodrome opened in 1912 it had a long list of famous names on view, but whilst they are long forgotten the name of the spectacular water pageant, The Sands O’Dee, which was part of that first show is still well know amongst theatrical historians, I suspect that audiences seeing this show anytime until Saturday 23rd November when it ends its run in this classic theatre although they will appreciate individual performances will best remember the the wonderful spectacle and outstanding presentation of this outstanding piece of modern theatrical showmanship.