Liam Rudden: Lion King is pride of the jungle

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I NEVER knew that you tuned a bongo drum by whacking it with a mallet. At least, I’m assuming that’s what the percussionist perched high above the stalls was doing ahead of Disney’s Lion King press night at the Birmingham Hippodrome, last Thursday.

The second time I’d watched the smash-hit musical, which has been running on London’s West End for 14 years, Thursday’s performance proved simply untouchable - better by far, in my opinion, than its older, West End sibling, which I saw earlier this year.

Vibrant, colourful, energetic and visually entrancing this touring production is further emboldened by some spectacular performances, and that, after all, is what theatre is about. special mentions for Gugwana Dlamini’s adorable Rafiki, Cleveland Cathnott’s regal Mufasa and Nicolas Nkuna’s fallible Simba.

Dlamini and Nkuna lead the ensemble in the reprise of He Lives In You, which is arguably the most uplifting piece of musical theatre you’ll ever see.

Welshman Meilyr Sion’s ‘cod-Scottish’ Zazu should, however, prove interesting north of the border, but then that’s one of the things that endears me to The Lion King - it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and neither should we.

From The Proclaimers to Riverdance, the Edinburgh Fringe to Tight Fit (remember Wimoweh), unexpected references are certain to elicit the odd knowing chuckle, the cast delivering them with tongues firmly in cheek. One in particular ‘ad-lib’ could prove to be a show-stopper in the Capital come October.

At the after-show party, where the sheer scale of the ensemble became apparent as they gathered in their finery for a glass of fizz and bite of supper, the buzz was electric.

You’d think that after an evening of singing and dancing for a living, the last thing the 120-plus strong company would want to do was dance some more, but in no time the makeshift dance floor was indeed the liveliest place in the theatre. It’s that energy and the elusive ‘Disney magic’ that makes this show something special. The attention to detail on the intricate costumes quite breathtaking, despite the fact that much of it is so fine, it can’t be seen from the auditorium.

Safe to say, then, if the London production of The Lion King is the pride of the West End, this one is definitely king of the touring jungle.