Bringing the record breaking show out on tour is no mean feat; there are some elaborate sets, inventive percussion and of course the amazing costumes but I dare to say that Sunderland Empire has rarely seen such a phenomenal production.
Enjoying the Lion King for the first time, the sheer spectacle of the initial entrance truly takes ones breath away – whilst you may have seen reports, reviews and heard 1st hand from others, nothing prepares you for the total wonderment you feel when you notice a full sized elephant walking down the stalls, hear a pack of hyenas whooping their way on stage or witness majestic giraffes elegantly strolling across the sunlit back drop.
The story is so well known that you may be forgiven for thinking it can’t bring anything new, but there is something extra special and much more relatable to see Mufasa (Jean-Luc Guizonne), Sarabi (Tanisha-Mae Brown) Simba (Kyle Richardson) and Nala (Nokwanda Khuzwayo) tell the tale. Almost instantly you forget that these are actors and instead are drawn deep into the belief that they ARE their animal spirits. The love, heartbreak, soul-searching and finally joy are palpable and only serve to reinforce the Lion King as a modern masterpiece of storytelling.
Providing the ‘bad guy’ we all love to hate is the delightful Richard Hurst, an almost Frank-n-Furter style Scar balancing on a tightrope of madness and evil, duplicitous to the last. His trusty cohorts Shenzi (Candida Mosoma), Banzai (Jorell Coiffic-Kamall) and Ed (Alex Bloomer), the madcap hyenas blindly following Scar’s every command, are hilarious – no wonder hyenas are known for their laughter.
Guiding as a narrator and piercing the expectant hush with a’ shivers down the spine’ Nants Ingonyama (and bringing plenty of comedic relief) is the amazing Thandazile Soni as Rafiki while the erudite Matthew Forbes as Zazu plays as a wonderful statesman-like foil, especially to the young Simba. and of course, noone can miss out on the hilarious Timon (Alan McHale) and Pumbaa (Carl Sanderson) whose madcap antics are perfect.
Seeing such a large and impressive cast & ensemble on stage together is one of the most amazing sights in current theatre, especially when you consider that behind every animal is another team of creators, technicians and coaches focussed on making us, the audience, the luckiest group ever.
Lion King is rightly having a long run at Sunderland Empire so don’t miss it – it’s the Circle of Life.