Many of us grew up watching The Lion King, the Disney classic set in the Pride Lands, where the cub Simba flees into exile after he thinks he is responsible for the death of his father, the king Mufasa. The film achieved box office and critical success but for us, we remember it for its story and its songs, like “Circle of Life” and “I Just Can’t Wait to be King.”
So imagine everyone’s surprise when it was announced that the musical adaptation, which is the highest-grossing Broadway production of all time, will be visiting Manila. I watched during the gala night and was blown away by the set, the costumes, and the song numbers. Suddenly I was five years old again, watching the animated film on VHS.
The Lion King musical is a spectacle and it begins during the opening note of “Circle of Life.” The musical transforms The Theatre at Solaire into Africa, with the background in brilliant shades of orange that Solaire does so well. Ntsepa Ptjeng stuns as Rafiki and she is soon joined by a melange of actors dressed as animals. While the production does not hide their “human-ness,” show director and costume designer Julie Taymor crafted costumes that move beautifully, like for the lionesses, the cheetahs, and the giraffes.
“Circle of Life” was breathtaking and it was exactly how I imagined it to be. The song is one of my favorites and I always watch live performances on YouTube (the Helpmann Awards performance is the best for me). What I saw on YouTube is exactly the same as I saw in Solaire, and it’s because the production is part of the musical’s first-ever international tour, with Manila as its first stop. What you’ll see when you watch The Lion King musical in Manila is a production that’s truly world-class.
The other song numbers were just as good, with Scar’s “Be Prepared” and young Simba’s “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” being my favorites. Both had unforgettable arrangements that were a visual and aural treat. There were a few additions to the musical and I enjoyed “They Live in You,” which Mthokozisi Emkay Khanyile performed as Mufasa, when he scolded young Simba for visiting the elephants’ graveyard. Its reprise, when the adult Simba interacts with the ghost of his father, was hair-raising and made me cry (for the nth time).
The musical numbers were complemented by the solid cast, led by Calvyn Grandling as the adult Simba. Khanyile was a formidable Mufasa, and I enjoyed seeing Gabriel Tiongson and Felicity Kyle Napuli, the two Filipino actors who played the young Simba and Nala. The standouts would have to be Andre Jewson as Zazu, Jamie McGregor as Timon, and Pierre van Heerden as Pumbaa, who provided comic relief. I am fond of villains so I also liked Antony Lawrence, who portrayed Scar.
You probably saw The Lion King when it came out in 1994. Seeing the musical will definitely be a treat as it brings to life the Shakespearean tragedy (the story is influenced by Hamlet) we saw on the screen or on TV as kids or young adults. All I have to say before you watch the musical is: Be prepaaaaaaaaaared!
This story is in partnership with Concertus Manila. The Lion King in Manila will be staged at The Theatre at Solaire. Tickets are on sale at www.ticketworld.com.ph. The show is a collaboration between Concertus, the Michael Cassel Group, and Disney Theatrical Productions. For more information, follow the show’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.