Disney’s king roars into life

PUBLISHED: 12:30 16 August 2012

The 'grassheads.'

The 'grassheads.'

Helen Maybanks

A WILD array of animals has stormed the stage of the Bristol Hippodrome, charging in groups to strong beats of African drums.

No, the theatre has not introduced a horde of exotic beasts into their productions, but you would be forgiven for thinking as its next offering, The Lion King, features some of the most inventive acting skills, dances and costumes ever seen in the city.

With preparations for the award-winning musical now well under way, many of those starring in the spectacular Disney show have started rehearsing their energetic dance numbers.

The numbers include the Chow Down, with actors portraying hyenas through elaborate costumes and masks.

A total of 26 different types of animal will be featured in the show’s ensemble, with anticipation brewing for the first glimpse of the main character, Mufasa, played by Cleveland Cathnott.

During rehearsals he has learned to use the unique mask and costume to help portray the character, while being supported by 47 other performers.

And while the audience may at first see a man wearing an extravagant headdress, as the music and movements get started, the actors transform and animals start to speak on stage.

The props and costumes used on set are adapted to allow the actors freedom to move easily and fully explore the animal within.

Mufasa’s mask, which looks like it is carved in oak, actually weighs just 11 ounces. All the other masks in the show are extremely lightweight, constructed in carbon graphite, the same material used to build aeroplanes.

And the company not only represents an assortment of animals and insects – including four exotic 18ft giraffes played by actors on stilts - but also the plants and grasses of the African savannah, which are portrayed through ‘grasshead’ headdresses.

This global phenomenon has already been seen by 65 million people worldwide and, after four years of planning, Disney has now launched another tour which will start at The Hippodrome, where it will stay for an 11-week season.

With previews from August 31, The Lion King UK tour will be at the theatre from September 6 to November 17. Tickets, priced £20-52.50, are available from the box office on 0844 8713012.

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