After hosting Beauty And The Beast and Mary Poppins in previous years, Disney's The Lion King is finally coming to the Birmingham Hippodrome as part of a UK/Ireland tour with the London production still going strong after 13 years at the Lyceum Theatre.
The launch event was held at the Crescent Theatre in Birmingham and guests were treated to a canapé reception before the main presentation. I was very fortunate enough to be Disney's guest. The event provided a behind the scenes look on the creation of Disney's smash hit.
Disney Theatrical Productions director of Marketing and Creative, Steven Crocker, lead a fascinating presentation informing over 200 invited guests of how the story of The Lion King made it from screen to stage. The presentation began with a performance of "The Circle Of Life" lead by Gugwana Dlamini (UK/Ireland Tour Cast) as Rafiki accompanied by the Birmingham Gospel Choir. The music and lyrics of Elton John and Tim Rice are just perfect. The initial performance alone was enough to wet appetites but there was plenty more to come. There were also performances from Jonathan Andrew Hume and Ava Brennan - the London cast's Simba and Nala.
Ava Brennan, Johnathan Andrew Hume and Gugwana Dlamini pose for the press photographers.
A great deal of the presentation was devoted to Julie Taymor. Not only did she design the costumes, but the masks too, co-designed the puppets, added additional lyrics to the show and to top it off - directed it. There were masks for Simba, Nala, Mufasa and Scar on display with the puppet of Zazu. The inspiration behind each mask has a specific relevance to the character. Stephen Crocker explained that the mask for Mufasa for example, has a circular mane and is very obviously circular in design because he is at the centre of the circle of life. The performers faces are never hidden and this is known as the 'Double Event'. The incredible performance given by the actor is most visible through their face and the mask shouldn't hide or restrict this. The mask sits on top of the actors head to ensure the lion element of the costume design is not lost. The costumes the actors wear are not "lion suits" and without the mask they do not distinctly represent a lion. They are most unlike the obvious animalistic costumes in the musical Cats. Instead the actors wear costumes that again represent the characteristics of their lion and feature traditional African print material and are decorated with beads.
Julie Taymor's costume design for the adult Simba.
The smaller characters in the show such as Timon the Meerkat and Zazu the Hornbill are represented using other methods. The Japanese style of Bunraku puppetry brings Timon to life with his puppeteer disguised as the grass. Zazu is also a puppet and sometimes flies on a wire and at times is hand-operated with his puppeteer disguised as the sky. The video below shows Crocker demonstrating how the puppet for Zazu operates.
Not only are the costumes loyal to the shows African routes - the script is too, with a lot of traditional African chanting in Zulu, Swahili and Sotho to name a few. Lebo M is the mastermind behind the sound of the Pride Lands. Rafiki, the shaman Baboon has perhaps the hardest job as seen here :
The show has a cast of 50, with a further 100 people working backstage to make a team of 150 involved with the show at any one performance. The cast is made up of people from 17 different countries. The show is touring the UK and Ireland as well as other productions of it currently touring the US, on Broadway and in Tokyo, Hamburg, Sapporo and Madrid.
Simba and Nala: Can You Feel The Love Tonight
The Lion King at the Birmingham Hippodrome is the reason why you should visit Birmingham throughout the summer of 2013. With 200,000 tickets now on sale for the run that spans June, July, August and September, this is the theatrical event that is definitely not to be missed.
You can book tickets for The Lion King at the Birmingham Hippodrome in 2013 here.