Like most people of my generation I grew up with The Lion King and it's one of my favourite Disney movies. I still remember seeing it for the first time when I was about six years old. Six yearrrrrs oooooolllllddd! The Lion King has a moving, rich and powerful Hamlet-inspired story, plenty of spectacle, gorgeous animation, fun characters, and great songs. It's the perfect family film, and it was such a success upon its release in 1994 that Disney decided to bring out a Broadway musical adaptation three years later. The show was also a critical and commercial success. It debuted in London at the Lyceum Theatre in 1999 and it's still running today (an interesting fact if you're a fan of Bram Stoker's Dracula, Bram Stoker was the business manager of the Lyceum Theatre and worked there for almost 30 years).
If you're already familiar with The Lion King - and really, who isn't? - then the musical won't come as much of a surprise to you. The plot in the stage version is exactly the same as the film and the dialogue is about 75% word-for-word the same. There are only a few slight differences between the two. One of which is that Rafiki, who is a male in the film, is a female in the stage version. Apparently this is because Julie Taymor, who directed the Broadway musical, felt that there weren't enough major female characters in the film. There are also a few extra scenes and songs in the stage version. This is a very understandable change. There are only about 5 or 6 songs in the film so it makes sense that the makers of the Broadway musical felt that it needed some padding out.
The reason why I wouldn't rate this show as highly as others that I've seen is that the majority of the performers weren't especially strong singers, which I did find a bit surprising and disappointing. The only one who really stood out for me was the woman who played Rafiki. She had a great voice but I can't remember her voice. Where's my programme? Rumages around...Aha! Her name was Brown Lindiwe Mkhize. Another reason why I wouldn't rate the show as highly as others that I've seen is that, apart from They Live in You and its reprise He Lives in You, most of the added songs in this stage version aren't that good. It's not that they're bad, grating, ear-bleeding songs or anything. It's just that they're the sort of song that you hear once, think "Oh, that's nice" and then instantly forget how it went. They're not memorable - certainly not as good as the songs that Elton John and Tim Rice wrote for the film, or the added songs that were put in the Beauty and the Beast stage musical. They Live in You/He Lives in You is great though and very moving. In fact Disney even nicked it and put it in The Lion King 2 movie!
Like I said though, I still liked the stage version and I still enjoyed myself. The sets, costumes, puppets and effects in the show are truly spectacular and you can really tell that a lot of thought and care was put into it. The show has plenty of spectacle still and the Circle of Life scenes that begin and end the show and have "animals" walking past the aisles are wonderful. I also really enjoyed the Stampede scene. I'd been wondering just how the heck the stage version would pull this off and I thought it was very well done. The acting was decent. The power of the story comes through too and it's still a moving experience. The stage version is well worth seeing at least once (and more if you've got kids) but I don't think I'd see the stage version again unless I wanted to entertain a child for some reason. I saw the stage version, I liked it, but I've never felt the urge to see it again. I think I'll just stick with the movie and give the Broadway cast album a listen to every now and again. I'll close my review with the best added song from the stage version: They Live in You/He Lives in You. The man who's playing Adult Simba is Jason Raize, an amazing singer and the original star of the Broadway production. He tragically killed himself in 2004, aged just 28, after a long battle with depression. Such a tragic waste of life and talent : ( Rest in peace, Jason.