A complete guide to all the songs in 'The Lion King'
A roar-some West End family favourite, adapted from the beloved Disney animated film, The Lion King is renowned for its incredible soundtrack – blending the movie’s hit songs by Elton John and Tim Rice, like “Circle of Life” and “Hakuna Matata”, with Lebo M's authentic African compositions.
Combined with visionary director Julie Taymor’s jaw-dropping production, featuring innovative puppetry and clever theatrical devices to evoke the Pride Lands, it’s no wonder that The Lion King remains so popular, particularly as an epic introduction for first-time theatregoers or young audiences to the wonders of the medium.
The stage show has all of the beloved tunes from the original film, plus some exciting additions just for the theatrical production. So, follow lion cub Simba as he navigates family drama, friendship and romance, and gradually grows into a worthy leader – all told through these fantastic songs.
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“Circle of Life”
It’s arguably one of the most incredible openings to any musical theatre production. Backed by a beautiful sunrise, mandrill Rafiki summons the animals to Pride Rock, to see King Mufasa and Queen Sarabi’s new cub Simba – first in Zulu, then with a stirring English description of how everyone fits into a wider ecosystem. As all of the animals gather, audiences are introduced to the beautiful puppets and learn how this version of The Lion King will work its magic.
This Zulu chant from The Lion King company helps us transition into the next phase of the story. Simba has grown from a baby into a mischievous young cub, and he is about to learn about his place in the Pride Lands from father Mufasa.
“The Lioness Hunt”
This time it’s the lionesses who provide the Zulu backing to a key story point. Young Simba wants to explore the forbidden elephant graveyard (encouraged by his Machiavellian Uncle Scar), and lies to the lionesses – who are busy with their own hunt – about where he’s going.
“I Just Can’t Wait to Be King”
Another of the indelible hits from the movie, this is the jaunty song where Simba boasts about how he can do anything he wants when he becomes king – showing how little he really understands about the role at this point. Young Nala gets caught up in the excitement, but the rule-abiding Zazu the hornbill is irate.
Meet the malevolent, hungry, but not terribly clever hyenas: Shenzi, Banzai and Ed. They surround the trespassing Simba, Nala and Zazu, and taunt them with this song about how they’re going to eat them. But they miss their chance when Mufasa jumps in to save them.
“They Live in You”
Mufasa, who is furious about Simba’s reckless behaviour, tries to explain the importance of their heritage and his role in a long line of great kings – who will always watch over him from the stars, no matter what. Mufasa’s majestic song takes on greater poignancy later in the story.
Scar has been plotting on the edges of the action for a while now, but this is when we finally hear his evil plans. He uses this enjoyably flamboyant oration through song to win over the hyenas, promising that if they help him kill Mufasa and Simba, and make him king, they will never go hungry again. It demonstrates Scar’s craftiness, gift for manipulation and ruthless ambition.
After the terrible tragedy which sees Mufasa killed in a stampede (orchestrated by Scar – but he leads Simba to think it was all his fault), Rafiki and the lionesses grieve for the late, great Mufasa in this elegiac Zulu piece.
Simba flees home and collapses from heat exhaustion in the desert. Thankfully, he’s saved by meerkat Timon and Warthog Pumbaa, who introduce him to their life philosophy via the carefree Swahili phrase-turned-song “Hakuna Matata”. Young Simba eagerly adopts their creed and grows to adulthood while in their happy company.
“One by One”
Simba might be content, but as Act II begins, we see the disastrous effects of Scar’s rule – which has wrecked the delicate Circle of Life and created a fatal drought. That unveiling is backed by this Zulu piece, as we see the birds and animals replaced by skeletons picked by vultures.
“The Madness of King Scar”
This illuminating song was written for the stage musical. It gives us insight into Scar’s psychology: although he’s arrogant, he’s also insecure, wanting to be loved as king – instead of just feared – and still feeling he’s in the shadow of Mufasa. When Zazu lists everything that Mufasa had, which his successor does not, Scar grabs onto the idea of a queen, and sets his sights on Nala.
In another stage addition, Nala shares her grief at seeing their home destroyed, and professes that though she still loves the Pride, she has to journey away from them to find a new way. The lionesses endorse her path and offer up prayers. It’s a great way to give Nala a strong, independent voice before she reunites with Simba.
Simba expresses his own angst in this heartfelt number. He lambasts Mufasa for abandoning him; he’d promised to always be there for Simba, but he’s not. Simba feels stuck in an eternal night, unable to find his path until the dawn breaks. Another song added to the stage show, it’s a powerful dramatic beat for our hero, who has to grapple with these emotions and learn to grow before he can earn his happy ending.
“Can You Feel the Love Tonight”
The Academy Award-winning romantic song from the movie is also a passionate highlight in the stage musical. Simba and Nala both profess their love for each other, yet there’s still a secret between them: Simba fears she would turn away from him if she knew he was responsible for Mufasa’s death, while Nala is puzzled that he won’t accept his role as king. Meanwhile, Timon and Pumbaa mourn the loss of their carefree buddy.
“He Lives in You (Reprise)”
Rafiki reassures Simba that Mufasa really does live on and watches over him, in this stirring reprise – and also that his father is a part of him. It helps Simba to process his grief, and to realise that he must accept his destiny and become king. But he won’t have to do it alone.
“King of Pride Rock/Circle of Life (Reprise)”
After a thrilling showdown, during which Scar confesses to murdering Mufasa, Simba defeats him – and the hungry hyenas tear Scar apart. In this grand climax, Simba finally takes his place as king, restoring order to the Pride Lands and continuing the circle of life by presenting his and Nala’s new cub. It brings the show full circle too: a satisfying dramatic and musical ending to this great tale.
Photo credit: The Lion King (Photos courtesy of production)
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