This first paragraph has taken longer to write than most, because I actually can’t stop singing. I’ll go to write a line, and then let out a
and continue to procrastinate. It’s because what I saw last night was just that contagiously enjoyable. Much like a….. never mind.
Steep prices were always keeping me from the West End, however upon yoloing it to the ticket office, I was informed that behind all the seats, at the very back, you can pay to stand and lean on the barrier for half the price of a normal ticket. As long as it gets me to the Pridelands, I’m in. I mean I’ve stood for concerts before. So for £20 ($43 NZD) I was ready to mosh to some “Can You Feel the Love Tonight’.
THAT FAMOUS OPENING SCENE
OK neck, I get it jeez! The chills I kept getting were relentless. Every epic harmony, every time a new animal came on the stage, even when Pride Rock arose from the ground. They used an array of puppets, masks, props, and just the cleverest costumes to bring the kingdom alive. Giraffes on stilts. A massive elephant with an actor in each leg, moving as one. I don’t expect to see a better piece of theatre for as long as I live.
Eventually the main characters make themselves known. Young Simba and young Nala were played by very young actors, maybe about 10 years old. In no way were they out of their depth in the world’s number one musical, bringing energy and creativity to ‘I Just Can’t Wait to be King’.
Mufasa was the standout. He had a replica John Legend voice, and owned the stage every time he was on it. This made the stampede scene that much sadder.
His go-to guy Zazu, brought to life as both man and puppet, was a crowd favourite with unexpected pop culture references. I’m sure you’ll remember the scene from the movie where Zazu is jailed next to Scar, and is encouraged to sing something a little more upbeat, inspiring the famous “I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts” bit. Instead of coconuts, Zazu starts singing “Let it Go” from Frozen, earning applause from the crowd.
From my vantage point at the very back I could see all the heads, young and old, popping along to the classics. Hakuna Matata went down like a pavlova on Christmas. During the number, young Simba is replaced by old Simba who sounded awfully a lot like a New Zealander once his dialogue began. He reminded me of Sonny Bill a bit, his physique suggested that Timone, Simba, and Pumbaa had spent the years between young and old Simba playing provincial rugby.
I wouldn’t have been surprised either, maybe it was just another feather in the cap for the union/league/sevens/boxing star. Turns out my hunch was right because it was actually Nick Afoa, a NZ/Samoan who used to play for my dad’s old rugby club. He was a prominent young player predicted for the All Blacks, but then turned to music when he had a career-ending injury. You’ve probably seen him sing a few anthems at AB games. A very inspiring story of kiwi’s doing amazingly well in the world!
As this remarkable piece of art came to a close, we noticed the absence of young Simba and Nala from the final curtain call. I assume the second they left the stage, mum was waiting in a car and took them to bed. It must be an interesting life as a child West End star. I hope they get to stay when it isn’t a school night, to experience the applause that was rightfully deserved.
I couldn’t have asked for a cooler way to see London off, as I begin my backpacking trip around Europe in a few days. The Lion King at the West End. I don’t know how my fortune got this good. The only musical I can think of that might get close to this is Aladdin, which hits the West End at the end of the month. You can watch the two casts have a sing off at the airport and decide for yourself.
WHAT: The Lion King – Musical
WHERE: Lyceum Theatre, London UK
HOW MUCH: £20 – Ridiculous
WHEN: It’s been on for 17 years… It will probably go another 17 at least.
RATING: “Stop Crying”