A roaringly good musical – Suzie Smith reviews The Lion King, showing at the Bristol Hippodrome.
I’ve been a fan of theatre of any kind since a young age, which was one of my motivations to take A Levels in both Drama and Theatre Studies as a teenager. My love of the theatre extends easily into a love of musicals, so I was first in line to buy tickets to see The Lion King. This time however, I had a discerning viewer along with me – my eight-year-old daughter.
I’ve tried to instil the importance of watching live music, dancing and acting from a young age, but she’d never seen anything quite as impressive as The Lion King on stage before.
Her school had put on the show for their summer performance, so she knew the songs, the script and everything in between all too well.
But what she couldn’t imagine was the spectacular sound of the orchestra, the vivacity of the set, the presence of the performers on stage – until the beat of the drums began.
Down through the audience stomped enormous puppets, making their way to the stage, dazzling my daughter from the opening scene. The colourful costumes of the cast lit the stairwell as they sang and danced their way to the front.
And so, the story she knew unfolded before her. She knew the lines – especially those of Zazu, which she’d auditioned for – and said them aloud as the show played out.
Watching musical theatre through her eyes is something special, and I asked myself as I watched it ‘is this really one of the best shows I’ve ever seen on stage? Or am I caught up in the magic of sharing this with her?’ But no, without doubt, it was – is – one of the most impressive shows I have ever seen in all my years of theatre going.
I had my suspicions it might be. “It made me cry,” said one friend. “I’ve seen it in London, it’s amazing,” said another.
I know the story so well that surely I couldn’t cry at Mufasa being killed by the wildebeast stampede? But yes, I welled up! Perhaps it was the acting, perhaps it was the ingenious set that created the illusion of layer upon layer of stampeding animals crashing towards us. Perhaps it was lighting, or perhaps it was the orchestra, playing to a crescendo, as Simba’s untimely fate it sealed. But cry I did.
I was expecting a great script, impressive acting and amazing music, but I didn’t expect the brilliant puppetry, integral to the show. At moments I almost forgot the talented actors behind the puppets and found myself focusing on the hand gestures of Timon, or the galloping of the antelopes.
The costumes also played a significant role. The smallest of details, such as ribbons falling from the eyes of the devasted lionesses, after hearing of Mufasa’s death, captured emotion brilliantly.
Because the show is so much longer than the film, there are additional scenes, that blend perfectly sharing more of the story.
As a standing ovation closed the evening I looked down at my beaming daughter and hoped that she too had fallen in love with theatre and musicals as much as I have. Her newly acquired stuff Pumba in hand, we left the hippodrome having shared something very special.
The Lion King is showing at the Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday, November 23. There are also performances that are signed, captioned, relaxed and audio-described, so everyone can enjoy this sensational box office hit.