Lion King kicks off run at Edinburgh Playhouse

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The Lion King finally made its long-awaited debut in its new home and is already being hailed as a roaring success.

The first preview performance at the Edinburgh Playhouse last night kicked off its four-month stint – but getting the musical onto the stage has been a mammoth challenge.

Stars Ava Brennan and Nicholas Nkuna with their character masks. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach

Stars Ava Brennan and Nicholas Nkuna with their character masks. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach

A fleet of 23 trucks were needed to transport the massive Disney production to Edinburgh, making it the ­largest theatre production ever to tour Europe.

And with 210,000 tickets already sold, theatre bosses are hopeful it will continue to be the mane event in the city.

Richard Oriel, general ­manager of production for Disney Theatrical Group said the start of the live shows marked the end of an epic planning process.

He said: “After years of ­planning, and thousands of man hours, we are delighted that Disney’s The Lion King is now on stage at The Edinburgh Playhouse.

“It feels great to finally be here in Scotland’s beautiful capital for the only Scottish Season of the Julie Taymor’s magnificent production.”

The acclaimed stage adaptation of Disney’s 1994 animated film was first seen on Broadway in 1997, where it recently celebrated its 15th anniversary.

The colourful spectacular, which boasts mind-boggling puppetry and musical numbers including “Can you feel the love tonight” and “Circle of life”, has been seen by 70 million people.

The African savannah’s arrival in the Capital was announced last January with people flocking to get seats ever since. But the touring show – which will go on to ten cities in the UK and Ireland – was four years in the making.

A crew of more than 90 bring the story of Simba, the wide-eyed lion cub who grows up to reclaim his rightful place as King of the Pridelands, to the stage.

This includes a permanent 41-strong crew who tour with the company and a 12-piece orchestra.

A further 40 ushers and managers will be working front of house. as well as 24 crew members, comprising ten additional sound and lighting operators, 14 dressers to get the cast in and out of their costumes, two maintenance people, two wig and make-up assistants and one laundry person.

Jo Beale, general manager, said it is the biggest show in the history of the venue.

She said: “We look forward to welcoming several hundred thousand people to this ­wonderful production, making it undoubtedly the greatest ­theatrical event the venue has ever seen.”

Ava Brennan, who plays Nala, said: “It felt great to open The Lion King’s only Scottish season onstage at The Edinburgh Playhouse last night.

“The audience were fantastic.”

Out of Africa . . and into Edinburgh

Six indigenous African languages are spoken in the show: Swahili, Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Tswana and Congolese.

There are 232 puppets in the show, including rod, shadow and full-sized puppets.

The tallest animals in the show are the four, 18-foot exotic giraffes from I Just Can’t Wait to Be King. Two actors trained in stilt-walking climb six-foot ladders to fit inside the puppets, mount stilts and enter stage left to cross the stage. The largest and longest animal in the show is the Elephant, at 13 feet long and nine feet wide.

The smallest animal is the trick mouse at the end of Scar’s cane at five inches.