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The Lion King in Dublin review: Even after a quarter-century, Julie Taymor’s musical is still revolutionary

Theatre: Showstopping technical hitches on opening night are a reminder this is a live performance, not a strip of celluloid

The Lion King

Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin

The opening moments of Julie Taymor’s production of The Lion King are an unparalleled spectacle of wonder and joy. With an ululating cry, the shamanic baboon Raifiki (Thandazile Soni) summons the African savannah to life and a parade of animals leap on to the stage from the wings or saunter on to it through the auditorium: elegant gazelles, long-limbed giraffes, a herd of zebras.

Using remarkable costumes and articulated puppets, the company of 45 performers bring to life both the creatures and the landscape of the Pride Lands where the story of Simba, the cub king, unfolds. They are the rustling grasslands and the verdant rushes of the waterhole. They are Simba’s leonine supporters and the pack of hyenas determined to bring about his downfall.

The production’s signature look, which incorporates elements of traditional African mask, music and dance, as well as Disney’s arcs of conflict and redemption, has not changed since the show debuted on Broadway in 1997. Locally inflected jokes (including a Riverdancing meerkat) and a series of unfortunate showstopping technical hitches on opening night reminded audiences, however, that the performance is always still evolving: it is a live piece of theatre, not a strip of celluloid.

An adaptation of the animated film from 1994, and very loosely based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Lion King charts the downfall of King Mufasa (Jean-Luc Guizonne), who is overthrown by his villainous, power-hungry brother, Scar (Brian Gilligan). Tricked into believing he is responsible, Simba (Remirez Mais), the young heir, goes into exile, where he meets a meerkat (Alan McHale’s supple Timon) and a warthog (Carl Sanderson’s fine-voiced Pumbaa), who tame his carnivorous ways and nurture his bravery until he is grown (and Aphiwe Nyezi takes over) and his childhood friend Nala (Nokwanda Khuzwayo) calls him home.


The music and lyrics used to tell the story are mainly by Elton John and Tim Rice but the songs by Hans Zimmer and Lebo M (Nants’ Ingonyama, the grassland chants) provide the most memorable of the musical motifs, underscoring the relationship with African traditions that makes Taymor’s production so refreshing and memorable.

The Disney empire made its name 100 years ago by pioneering the first sound cartoons. The live version of The Lion King, even 26 years after its debut, is similarly revolutionary. Long may it live.

Continues at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin 2, until Saturday, November 11th

Sara Keating

Sara Keating

Sara Keating, a contributor to The Irish Times, is an arts and features writer