Claiming to be the world’s No. 1 musical is a bombastic assertion — so does The Lion King live up to the expectations of that claim, especially since the story is familiar to most audiences? Like with most tales, the joy is in the journey rather than the destination, and The Lion King, whose current run in Singapore is until 23 September, is a magnificently executed journey.
To begin with, the musical and dramatic performances are spot on. Despite the fact that some of the characters are, effectively, puppets without the ability to deliver facial expressions, the whole cast manages to endear and entertain. The musical numbers are beautifully staged, with clear, strong vocals and enjoyable dances.
The enormous and exaggerated Pumbaa (Pierre van Heerden) was a scene stealer with his hilariously proportioned costume, deft handling of his tongue, and comic timing, as was the energetic Zazu (Andrew Jewson). It was a little difficult to make out what Rafiki (Ntsepa Pitjeng) was until another character specifically called her out as a baboon though, although this is more the result of the costume design rather than the performance.
This being the first time I’ve seen the musical, I was a little confused at the use of the animal costumes, especially since it can be difficult to decipher how some of the costumes are interpreted. It’s not an issue for characters that are solely dependent on puppetry, since the puppeteers are clearly not meant to be the spotlight and their faces are painted as such. However, for characters which are more anthropomorphised and integrate animal shapes into a more humanoid body (such as the lions), their extra animal heads can be rather distracting.
Nevertheless, the quality of the costume designs cannot be denied, nor can the production values of the various sets. The Lion King utilises a variety of transitions between scenes which are both simple and creative, which also helps set the audience’s mood for the following scene and prepares them for what’s next. Each location is distinctive and evocative, so even if you might not have a sense of where all the scenes are set (since it’s difficult to illustrate that on stage), you do recognise the different places purely based on the visuals alone.
Artistic effects in the stage setting are also integrated into the storytelling, with just one minor hitch. During a particularly intense scene where the protagonist has to make a momentous decision, the backdrop reassembles itself to present a visualisation of the protagonist’s thoughts. However, what is shown on the backdrop looks nothing like any character’s head, causing a few moments of dissonance as you scramble to figure out just what has happened. It’s not an issue of quality, but more of artistic direction.
While the production’s artistic interpretation lends itself to discussion, the standard of the musical is impeccable. With a script that has been updated for modern, Singaporean audiences and enchanting vocals, this tale of a young lion’s journey to becoming king of the jungle is definitely one for the ages.
The cast for this performance of The Lion King were Ntsepa Pitjeng (Rafiki), Jonathan Andrew Hume (Simba), Mthokozisi Emkay Khanyile (Mufasa), Antony Lawrence (Scar), Noxolo Dlamini (Nala), Andre Jewson (Zazu), Jamie McGregor (Timon), Pierre van Heerden (Pumbaa), Liso Gcwabe (Banzai), Vuyelwa Tshona (Shenzi), Mark Tatham (Ed), Julien Joshua Dolor (Young Simba), and Uma Naomi Martin (Young Nala).
The Lion King tickets are available here. It runs from 29 June till 23 September at Marina Bay Sands Theatre.
Marcus Goh is a television scriptwriter, having written for popular shows like “Lion Mums”, “Crimewatch”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.
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