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Long live the king of all musicals

It's the little things that make The Lion King special. Scar's menacing expressions, for example; Rafiki's joy at discovering that Simba is alive; Zazu's rendition of The Proclaimers' I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles). And then there's Timon and Pumbaa. Well, the jungle's quirkiest duo (a meerkat and a warthog) are supposed to be little. Here, on director Julie Taymor's stage, however, they're twice the size of a young Simba. And they've got all the best lines.

In a hazardous attempt to create a diversion for Simba and Nala upon their return to the Pridelands, Timon and Pumbaa will even perform a little Riverdance. It's a nice touch.

Because despite the ginormous budget, a cast of more than 50 performers and an award-winning soundtrack courtesy of Tim Rice and Elton John, The Lion King – one of the longest-running shows in Broadway and West End history – has managed to retain its heart. And its sense of humour.

Through magnificent puppetry, a stunning recreation of the famous Mufasa cloud scene, and the sight of hairy hyenas and giant elephants legging it through the aisles, the show (based on the 1994 Disney classic) urges its audience to reconsider the possibilities of musical theatre.

The fact that there's a brilliant story to be told – young Simba, future King of the Pridelands, avenging his father's murder – is an added bonus.



There's not another musical in the world that features leaping antelopes and a cinematic stampede sequence (all actors and performers in terrific costumes). The wicked Scar (a superb Stephen Carlile) may be the greatest villain of them all.

An excellently choreographed ensemble piece, The Lion King always comes back to Simba and Nicholas Nkuna has great fun with the part. But this is Scar's show. Rafiki (Gugwana Dlamini) adds a stunning vocal to proceedings and the Sounds of Africa complete this incredible production.

It's a retelling of an old favourite, but it also heads in its own direction, seating its percussionists in the audience and bringing us right to the heart of Pride Rock and its beautiful surroundings through a series of vibrant visuals and starry backdrops. Rice and John's songs (Circle of Life, Be Prepared) remain as effective as ever and the cast appear to be having a blast at all times. The feeling is mutual.

Running until June 22. HHHHH