Thursday, 28 July 2016

The Lion King Musical, Lyceum Theatre

Whilst being in the nucleus of culture in the UK, I couldn't let myself leave without seeing a musical. Even all the street signs wouldn't let me go, as they screamed their titles at me, spanning from more traditional, well-known shows to newer yet tempting ones. Tonight I decided to visit the Lion King at Lyceum Theatre. Half of the people I know must've grown up with Disney movies, and so the story of the Lion King is pretty straightforward and familiar. I went in without any expectations, mostly curious about how the animalistic characters would be executed. Hakuna matata, it was well-worth the visit.

If I had to describe the show in two marketing-like keywords, I would say: vibrant and clever. The orange glow of the decor immediately reminds you of sand-laden Africa. As a rising sun marked the beginning of the show, drums and enchanting chants could be heard echoing all around the venue. Even whilst sitting in the very back-row at the top of the theatre, I could enjoy the visuals as they were so very bright and cheerful. A pleasant surprise was the way the animals were depicted: no cheesy onesie-like costumes that would probably make the actors sweat in unison, but elegant headdresses that also had multi-functional aspect of acting like puppetry. The human aspects of the actors were not overly disguised, and I think that is beauty in itself. After all, the emotions of these animals are no different from what humans face on a daily basis, yet elegance was preserved as the clever costumes made way for a good balance between human and animal gestures.

I found myself surprised again and again, because everyone knows what would happen in every scene, yet the special effects made way for clever and mind-blowing solutions. A great deal of the show was puppetry and mechanically powered. Whether it's a small cart with mobile-like antelopes, or the bigger giraffes which bent their necks with mechanical strings, it all required quite an amount of brain-power to execute in a way that it wouldn't seem silly. We are all used to moving decors, spinning platforms and lit-up screens, but the integrated puppetry is something I have never encountered in other musicals before. Actors did not only have to think about their own movements whilst dancing, they also had to keep in mind how their puppet-half would move along. I cannot imagine the amount of effort that must've been put in perfecting these double movements.

The cleverness continues into some characteristic scenes from the movie as well. When little Simba got himself stuck in the moving herd, who would've thought that the elephants would multiply themselves in the form of automated puppetry? Then came the emotional moment of Mufasa's dead, his fall further dramatized by making use of stroboscopic light, it was as if you were frozen in the realization yourself. Carrying on, even the spirit of Mufasa was shown in an emotional combination of light and echoes, as a grown-up Simba studied his own reflection.

However, the enjoyment of the show did not only come from its technical aspects. Timon and Pumba did well in bringing the carefree, hakuna-matata spirit into the venue. It's in the little things such as their silly movements and greatly imitated, cartoonish accents that made their characters so believable. Of course, more laughs were triggered from characters such as Zazu, the anxious servant who always gets his feathers ruffled by everyone, and desperately started singing "Let it go" when captured in his skeletal cage under the reign of Scar when he demanded "a song with more bounce". Not to forget Rafiki, with his (or actually, in this case: her) foreign mumbling and shaking of the hips. And of course, the three hyenas literally rolled on the floor laughing with their own humorous idiocy, it was as if you were dragged right back into your childhood memories again.

Words just cannot describe how bombastic and intense the show was, especially because I have no pictures or recordings to justify my words with. Furthermore, I just believe that the songs would speak for themselves as you are there, listening to a video recording is in no way the same as the acoustics you get from sitting at the venue. Songs like "Can you feel the love" felt like an amplified, touching ode to puppy love (or should I say kitten love?). The mischief of little Nala and Simba that quickly got exchanged for a whim of maturity was noteworthy as well.  You would have to see for yourself to go through the excellent singing, dancing and acting. Expect to have your mind-blown, it is certainly worth the 45+ pounds.

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