Review: Lion King


by Mike Matthaiakis

In a dazzling display of invention and imagination, director Julie Taymor transforms Disney’s “The Lion King” into a theatrical masterpiece that goes beyond the charm of the animated film. Taymor’s genius lies in bringing an entire African jungle, complete with a diverse array of animals, to life on stage through a blend of eastern and western theatrical styles.

The whimsical air of the Disney cartoon is replaced by a fresh, dynamic theatricality achieved with intricate mobile masks, puppets, exotic costumes, and stilts, all crafted by Taymor herself. The jungle creatures, from lions to hyenas, parade and dance, forming a captivating alliance between human and animal. The giraffes, operated by actors on stilts, and zebras, with actors as part of the costume, exemplify Taymor’s innovative approach. Richard Hudson’s jungle design adds to the spectacle, resembling a living children’s picture-book with sudden promontories and gorges.

Elton John’s music, while soft-rock and pleasing, takes a back seat to the visual feast provided by Taymor’s creations. The show is a testament to the idea that, in this case, the eyes do the feasting. While appealing to a younger audience, “The Lion King” resonates with those who have kept a youthful spirit within them.

Beneath the enchanting exterior, the musical delves into classic themes of good versus evil and potentially serves as an allegory, portraying the African jungle as not much different from the human world. Simba’s journey, a tale of youthful rebellion, sibling rivalry, murder, and spiritual rebirth, draws parallels to familiar human experiences.

Taymor’s production is an exuberant spectacle, with vivid parades of jungle life, stunning set-pieces, and dramatic sequences. From a sinister elephants’ graveyard to a stampede of wildebeests and holographic apparitions, the production captivates with its pace and spectacle.

While maintaining its child-friendly appeal, “The Lion King” introduces gross humor through comedic characters like the big-beaked bird and a warthog. Adult camp and humor also find their place in the narrative, with the wicked uncle portrayed with a touch of campiness.

The second half of the musical introduces a poignant journey of self-discovery and redemption for Simba, accompanied by atmospheric music that blends African and European influences. “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” emerges as the show’s standout hit, contributing to the overall emotional depth.

“The Lion King” remains worry-free and continues to light up the West End with the brilliance of Julie Taymor’s fabulous imagination, proving that the magic of the stage can surpass even the most sophisticated cinematic tricks.

The Lion King is at the Lyceum Theatre.