Having first brought the Pride Lands to the Lion City in 2011 to roaring success, The Lion King comes full circle as the Circle of Life takes centre stage once again at Marina Bay Sands. As a worldwide phenomenon, The Lion King is a cultural cornerstone and is a generation-defining symbol of childhood for many. Those who remember the animated film with fondness are sure to be captivated again by life that the theatrical production breathes into its characters.
The world-building of The Lion King is impeccable in the thought and care that went into adapting the locales of the original film. Iconic sets like Pride Rock, the Tree of Life and the Elephant Graveyard are faithfully reproduced on stage with a beautiful dynamic set that complemented the story’s progression.
A Fresh Take
The commitment to capturing the spirit of the original animated film does not, however, mean that the production is a carbon copy of the animated film. Various elements have been uniquely adapted for the theatrical production that adds layered nuances to the characters and the story.
The skilful incorporation of puppetry and masks into the portrayal of the characters for one, makes for performances that flaunt the wide repertoire of the ensemble cast. Each character’s costume is well-balanced with both animal and human elements; neither puppet nor actor overshadows the other. Visually, this translates to character portrayals that allow for characters to be imbued with both animalistic traits while retaining a human aspect. The characters are at once, both the puppet and the actor.
The physicality on the show was impressive as the inhabitants of the Pride Lands leapt, roared and fought across the stage. It is interesting to note that the production took inspiration from Southeast Asian traditions as well. Shadow puppetry was used to accentuate suspense, fear and danger in scenes such as the Wildebeest Stampede. The choreography was executed with finesse to great effect, as the actors channelled real animal behaviour and traditional dance movement throughout each scene and number.
The production has also kept abreast and up with the times with changes being made that reflect new paradigms of storytelling. The role of Rafiki, in particular, deviates from the animated film by changing the character’s gender to female. The creation of a strong female character, especially one that takes on the important mantle of spiritual guide for Simba, balances out the storytelling and adds to Ntsepa Pitjeng’s Rafiki a nuanced dimension of being a wise-cracking granny.
As for breakout characters, Andre Jewson’s Zazu stands out vividly as the sassy and sardonic red-billed hornbill. Serving as majordomo (the chief steward) to Mufasa and beleaguered nanny to Simba, the zany bird was a comedic tour de force with cheeky asides and mischievous banter throughout his interactions with the rest of the principal cast. Zazu’s dialogue also showcased playful liberties that were taken with the script which endeared the bird to many a heart.
Antony Lawrence’s comically diabolical Scar doesn’t quite strike as pure and brutal rage, but rather a sleek cunning and velvet villainy that reminds one of The Powerpuff Girls villain, Him, as they both hide their cruelty behind a veneer of civility and smooth voice.
Of other things to note, the onstage chemistry between the young Nala and Simba was enthusiastic and full of an easy playfulness that made it tremendously fun to watch as they rough-and-tumbled their way into trouble. Noxolo Dlamini and Jonathan Andrew Hume take over as the adult versions of Nala and Simba as they reunite years later, bringing to theatrical life one of the most beloved scenes of all – “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?”. A moment of genuine emotional tenderness, the performance of this song cast a net of nostalgia over the theatre as it captivated with its soulful lyrics of young love.
Another stunning scene that resonated with its raw emotion was the performance of “He Lives in You”, sung by Rafiki and Simba, as Simba reaffirms his identity as Mufasa’s son. The appearance of Mufasa’s spirit on stage was a spectacle to behold and fully complemented the depth of emotion that the song conveyed.
However the story does suffer from a lack of emotional investment at certain points; Mufasa’s death, for instance, did not feel quite as impactful as it should have, though it could have been a consequence of familiarity with the plot.
Hearing famous lines like Scar’s “I’m surrounded by idiots!” brings a thrill that asks of you indulge once again in the wonder of being a child. Such is the power of The Lion King – that it transcends age, race and creed to tell a story of the unbridled follies and triumphs of the human condition.
The Lion King – Musical has touched over 90 million hearts across the globe, and it is finally here at Marina Bay Sands Singapore.Get your tickets through SISTIC now.
Posted by DANAMIC on Friday, 29 June 2018
Photos by Nigel Noah Chan of the DANAMIC Team.