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Review: Disney’s The Lion King Musical Cardiff

Get ready to be transported to the Serengeti Plains as The Lion King musical roars onto stage at Wales Millennium Centre
The Lion King Tour

Disney’s award-winning The Lion King is everything that you’d expect from perhaps one of the most well known and popular musicals of our time.

It has been experienced by 110 million people globally and is still drawing sell-out crowds, including the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff, so if you are tempted, I’d throughly recommend you get on and book tickets to secure seats now.

What hits you first is the captivating rhythms of Africa and the magnificent costumes with their array of colours. In fact, as you are transported to the Serengeti Plains, there is no missing the jungle animals as they make their way through the audience to the stage. It’s this ‘breaking of barriers’ that I applaud, whether it’s the musicians playing from the boxes or the characters dancing through the audience, it just makes for a more interactive experience that makes you feel part of it.

Credit: Catherine Ashmore

As you may know, this adaptation of Disney’s classic film follows the powerful story of Simba as he journeys from wide-eyed cub to his destined role as King of the Pridelands. It actually follows the story very closely and somehow they’ve managed to turn the 85-minute film into a 2 hour 40 minute performance. That isn’t a criticism, its brilliantly put together and you can see why they may need that extra time for the stage transformations, as they are the best that we’ve ever seen. It’s a very slick performance, and for that reason, if there is a line slip (rare but it happens), it’s noticeable.

Of course, nothing in life is easy, and that’s portrayed with the intense sibling rivalry between Mufasa and Scar which reaches a pinnacle, with Mufasa being killed by his brother. To see little Simba try to wake his dad, and hear his voice echo across the empty stage had us close to tears.

It clear that the actors both young and old have really taken the time to embody their characters, at times if you were to close your eyes it’s like listening to the film.

Zazu quickly establishes himself as an audience favourite. His quick wit and directness with the King makes for regular comical interactions. However, when Mufasa tries and has a little fun of his own, it’s lost on poor Zazu and this just makes it even funnier.

Richard Hurst (Scar) and Matthew Forbes (Zazu) in Disney’s The Lion King UK & Ireland tour © Disney

I feel bad for saying this, but I really enjoyed the scenes with Scar and the hyenas, and clearly I wasn’t the only one according to the laughter in the auditorium. The thing is, they are exactly the type of characters that you hate to love. They were very interactive, energetic and silly at times, and are exactly how you remember them from the film. It’s also great to a see a familiar face, Owain Rhys Davies from Cardiff takes up the role of Ed, and is absolutely hysterical. Richard Hurst’s theatrical performance as Scar is phenomenon, and I dare say, there are moments where I feel he/his character has more stage presence than the beloved King Mufasa (Jean-Luc Guizonne). There were moments when Scar was perhaps a little more authoritative than his brother, but that could just be the character as he eventually backs down. I’m not sure if Jean-Luc was experiencing mic difficulties when we saw him, but there were moments we couldn’t hear him as clear as the others. There was a particular moment when we felt the musical (which is second to none) was a tad louder than what he was. Sorry Jean-Luc, you were still amazing!

Credit: Johan Persson

There are some actors that are just made to play certain characters, and I can absolutely say this about Puma (Carl Sanderson) and Timon (Alan Michale). Taking the easy life and one that avoids conflict, they quickly make friends with Simba (Stephenson Ardern-Sodje) and the trio become lifelong best friends. It is fart jokes galore (just like the film), which goes down particularly well with younger audience members. In true friendship style, when the tough times arise, they turn into butt kicking superheroes and help Simba and Nala (Nokwanda Khuzwayo), and the rest of the pride regain the pride lands.

The staging and costumes are stunning as you might expect from a musical of its size. The rich array of colour and textures used are spectacular; from the elegant lionesses to the more complex elephants and giraffes. The mechanics of the lion heads for Mufasa and Scar where great as you see them come down over the actors faces.

It must be mechanical and technical engineering fete to pull it all off. In particular, the stampede of the wildebeests is very clever indeed. I won’t spoil it, but it’s excellent and one to watch out for. The elephant graveyard is also pretty special with the on-stage effects and of course Mufasa in the stars is very moving.

In what is the first large musicals to return to the stage since covid restrictions are ended, it was great to see The Centre in all its glory, with special thanks the Wales Millennium Centre and to the Mrs Buckét commercial cleaning team for keeping the venue clean, and safe for us to enjoy.

The Lion King Musical is now showing at the Wales Millennium Centre until Saturday, 27 August 2022. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

Age Guidance: The Lion King is recommended for ages 6 and up.
Children under 3 years of age are not permitted.