Theatre Review: The Lion King

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BURNISHED orange melds into a shimmering gold as the sun rises on Africa’s Serengeti plains.

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The Lion King. Picture: Comp

The Lion King. Picture: Comp

Edinburgh Playhouse

This dazzling spectacle, populated by all the animals of the jungle, sets the scene at the start of Disney’s The Lion King, which celebrates its Capital season with a grand opening tonight.

And what a night it promises to be, as this is the production that finally cements the Playhouse’s claim to be Scotland’s Broadway.

From the off, an opening number as magical as it is unexpected leaves the audience spellbound, gasps of delight accompanying smiles of child-like awe. To explain more would be to give away too much.

Suffice to say, as The Circle of Life reaches its crescendo, simultaneous applause erupts from the auditorium, with the woman beside me turning to whisper: “That alone was worth the £75 I paid for my ticket.”

And that’s the secret of this Disney spectacular; it mesmerises young and old alike, speaking to the inner child in us all.

The story, familiar to all who know the animated version, is simple, a coming-of-age tale. Helped along the way by some unlikely friends, Simba the wide-eyed lion cub must defeat his evil Uncle Scar to take his rightful place as King of the Pridelands.

Ingenious puppetry, a powerful score and sumptuous visuals bring the African plains to life as an energetic ensemble embarks on an emotional roller coaster of a journey from the Pridelands, to the Elephants’ Graveyard and back.

The company is faultless. Cleveland Cathnott’s old King Mufasa provides the solid foundation around which other characters are built. His is a bold yet moving performance, powered by its understated humanity.

Gugwana Dlamini is electric as Rafiki, the monkey narrator. Her spine-tingling vocals bringing the many languages of the continent to life.

Stephen Carlile, meanwhile, as Scar, pitches his evilness perfectly. His camp knowing ensuring he is never overpowering.

At the centre of the story, Nicholas Nkuna and Ava Brennan as Simba and Nala, his sweetheart, share an easy chemistry. The latter’s show-stopping rendition of Shadowlands is a highlight of the evening.

Other stand-out performances come from John Hasler – who you may remember as T-Shirt in the 1980s kids TV show T-Bag – and Lee Ormsby as Timon and Pumbaa. Hasler is on particularly fine form.

The sheer majesty of Elton John and Tim Rice’s music and lyrics, too, should not be underestimated. But while the ever-popular Can You Feel The Love Tonight? just about brings the audience to their feet, it’s the reprise of He Lives In You that steals the show. Arguably one of the most perfectly executed numbers in the history of musical theatre, it ensures The Lion King’s place as the most spectacular show to hit an Edinburgh stage in 20 years. In fact, you could say, it is the pride of the pack.

Runs until January 18, 2014