Disney's The Lion KIng: A truly mesmerising feast of delights

Actor Richard Hurst dressed in a dark lion costume and actor Matthew Forbes performing on stage in The Lion King musical.

Scar, played magnificently by Bath-boy Richard Hurst, in one of his many battles with Zazu (Matthew Forbes) - Credit: Johan Persson

The global phenomenon that is Disney's The Lion King has returned to Bristol this month, amidst an explosion of colour and song that will leave you breathless and wanting more. Debuting in Broadway in 1997, and first showing in Bristol in 2012, the internationally-celebrated stage adaptation hnas been seen by more than 100 million people, yet still sells out almost every show, and it's easy to see why. 

Orange-tinged view of the Serengeti Plains in Africa, at dusk, in The Lion King musical, with cheetah-puppet and giraffes.

The puppetry and costumes, as in this scene of the Serengeti Plains, are breath-taking - Credit: Catherine Ashmore

The show begins the same way as the the original 1994 animated film – with the introduction of Baby Simba (Swahili for lion) to the inhabitants of the Pride Lands. However, knowing the story doesn't prepare you for the overwhelming impact of the opening number. As 'Circle Of Life' powerfully fills the auditorium, Julie Taymor's incredible animal creations, including giraffes, rhinos and elephants, make their way from the back of the room to the stage, bringing gasps and murmurs of delight as they pass the audience. Assembled before Pride Rock, costumes, kites, and puppets create an incredible display, merging African and Asian styles, revealing exactly why Taymor won a Tony award for Best Costumes for The Lion King.

Actor Jean-Luc Guizonne dressed in a majestic lion costume as King Mufasa in the touring version of The Lion King musical.

Jean-Luc Guizonne is superb as the majestic King Mufasa. - Credit: Johan Persson

As the applause dies down, we are introduced to the bad guy lion, Scar, darkly portrayed by Richard Hurst, and the majestic King Mufasa (Mufasa being the word for 'King' in the Manazoto language), played by Jean-Luc Guizonne, along with his major-domo - the ever-stressed hornbill, Zazu (the brilliant Matthew Forbes). 
And so begins Act I. Fans of the classic animation will be pleased that almost every voice has been closely matched to the original cast, bringing a certain feeling of nostalgia to the vibrant production. Young Simba and Nala, played by Jaydon Eastman and Lauren Simpe-Asante respectively, are a joy to watch, especially when Simba ignores his father's sagely advice and the pair conspire to sneak off to the newly-revealed elephant's graveyard, home of the hyenas – Shenzi (Swahili for savage), Banzai (Swahili for skulk), and Ed (um...just Ed!). Rebecca Omogbehin captures the essence of Whoopi Goldberg's original portrayal of Shenzi brilliantly, with Simon Trinder giving some depth to Banzai that was missing in the animation. Owain Rhys Davies' crazed Ed was, well, crazy.

Woman actor Thandazile Soni dressed in traditional African tribal costume as Rafiki in The Lion King musical

Thandazile Soni gave it her all, even talking in Xhosa, to play the wise Rafiki - Credit: Johan Persson

The major scenes from the film are brought to the stage masterfully, from the wildebeest stampede leading to Simba running away, to Mufasa's spirit appearing in the stars. Two of the biggest stars have to be warthog, Pumbaa (Carl Sanderson), and meerkat, Timon (Alan McHale). Their rendition of Hakuna Matata was en pointe, with Sanderson nailing Pumbaa's operatic 'When I was a young warthog!' line perfectly. The comic duo had both children and adults laughing with their constant one-liners (many focused around Pumbaa's unfortunate flatulence issues) and general antics. The reuniting of the now adult Simba (played by Shrewsbury's Stephenson Ardern-Sodje) and Nala (South African-born Nokwanda Khuzwayo) is emotional, as feelings of shock, happiness, sadness and anger all fly across the stage in the space of a few minutes.
The songs, by Elton John and Tim Rice, leave you no choice but to start singing along (I caught myself joining in with Be Prepared) with the Grasslands and Lioness Chants by Lebo M adding a true feeling of African culture to scenes. The ensemble dancers, with newcomer Bethany Chan making her professional debut, leave you wondering how a human body can move in such a way, thanks to choreography by Garth Fagan.

Four dancers in orange costumes leaping as lionesses in The Lion King musical on stage with orange background.

The dancers, here portraying a hunting group of lionesses, were out of this world - Credit: Johan Persson

Beautifully realised throughout, the outstanding cast received a well-deserved standing ovation, with applause which thundered around the auditorium long after the curtain went down.
The Lion King is on at The Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday, March 19, with performances at 7.30pm Tuesday-Saturday, with additional 2.30pm matinees on Wednesday and at weekends.
Tickets, priced from £20, are available via www.atgtickets.com/shows/disneys-the-lion-king/bristol-hippodrome