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Photo credit: The Lion King (Photo courtesy of Disney Theatricals)

Everything you need to know about ‘The Lion King’ in London

Sophie Thomas
Sophie Thomas

You've seen the original The Lion King animated movie. You've probably watched the live action adaptation of The Lion King too. But, have you seen the stage production? Transporting audiences to the Serengeti via the Lyceum Theatre, The Lion King tells of Simba's lifechanging journey to become King of the Pridelands, following in his father's footsteps. 

A masterclass in modern musical storytelling, The Lion King has earned a reputation as one of the greatest musicals of all time. In fact, London audiences have been a part of the "Circle of Life" for over 20 years, and it's showing no signs of stopping any time soon. 

Here's our complete guide to the West End production of The Lion King, with The Lion King tickets available on LondonTheatre.co.uk.

What is The Lion King about?

At the start of the musical, Rafiki sets the scene, a wise creature who sets up the lives of animals in the African Pridelands. In the Serengeti plains, a lion cub named Simba is announced as the heir to Pride Rock, instead of his uncle Scar. Annoyed by his lineage, Scar plots to avenge Mufasa and Simba, and a battle for kingdom ruling ensues.

Journeying through the Pridelands, Simba has to grow up fast. He's not alone too, as he's joined by Timon and Pumbaa, as well as lioness Nala. Can Simba face his destiny? Will he become the king?

When did The Lion King premiere?

Like many Broadway musicals, the world premiere actually took place outside New York. This is true for The Lion King, premiering at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota on 8 July 1997. After this limited engagement, The Lion King then took Broadway by storm, with performances from 15 October 1997. Nearly a decade into its run, The Lion King transferred to the Minskoff Theatre, opening (again) on 13 June 2006.

In London, The Lion King premiered at the Lyceum Theatre on 19 October 1999, making it one of the final West End shows to open in the twentieth century. Since the Broadway premiere, productions of The Lion King have now opened on every continent apart from Antarctica.

Circle of Life (Photo by Deen Van Meer)

Who wrote The Lion King?

The Lion King features a storyline by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi, who also co-wrote the original 1994 film. Roger Allers also directed the first The Lion King movie, but has also worked on storylines for Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Emperor's New Groove. Mecchi's Disney screenwriting credits include Hercules, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Brave.

Who wrote the songs in The Lion King?

The Lion King features music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice. One of Britain's most popular singer of all time, Elton John is a five time Grammy Award-winning artist behind tracks including "Candle in the Wind" and "Crocodile Rock". As well as The Lion King, Elton John also composed music for Billy Elliot and Aida.

Usually collaborating with Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice's lyricist credits include Evita and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. More recently, he's worked on the Disney adaptation of Aladdin and From Here to Eternity.

Who is in the cast of The Lion King?

Rafiki Gazelle (Photo by Brinkoff and Mogenburg)

The West End cast of The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre stars Kayi Ushe as Simba, previously in Motown the Musical and the national tour of Kinky Boots. Find out more about Kayi Ushe here.

George Asprey plays Scar, with Phil Adèle as Ed, David Blake as Banzai, Janique Charles as Nala, Thenjiwe Thendiva Nofemele as Rafiki, Shaun Escoffery as Mufasa, Gary Jordan as Zazu, Jamie McGregor as Timon, Melone M'Kenzy as Shenzi and Mark Roper as Pumbaa.

The Lion King cast is completed by Etian A Almeida, Thanduxolo Booi, Gesztenye Botos, Gabriel Brasilio, Donna Clovis, Reece Darlington-Delaire, Azola Dlamini, Kuan Frye, Kevin Fullinck, Shak Gabbidon-Williams, Sandile Gontsana, Ryesha Higgs, Du-Wayne Hinds, Candice Holdford, Angela Marie Hurst, Garry Lake, Duane Lamonte, Tramaine Lamy, Lamoi Leon, Jane Carla Leynes, Deja Linton, Francisco Lins, Stephanie Lo, Jonathan Lutwyche, Nonhlanhla Makhathini, Sadia McEwen, Kearabetswe Mogotsi, Mkhize Phumlane Jones, Keitumetse Molea, Nosipho Nkonqa, Poselesto Sejosingoe-Madela, Mlungsi Shabalala, Kristof Skhosana, Luciano Santos Souza, Shannon Taiwo, Barnaby Thompson and Taela Yeomans-Brown.

What theatre in London is The Lion King playing at?

The Lion King is at the Lyceum Theatre, where it has ran in London since it opened in 1999. The Lyceum Theatre opened in its current form in 1904, but in Victorian times, Charles Dickens would often appear in shows. Previous shows at the Lyceum Theatre include Oklahoma! and Jesus Christ Superstar

What is the running time of The Lion King?

The running time of The Lion King is 2 hours and 30 minutes, including 1 15 minute interval.

What are the songs in The Lion King?

As The Lion King is one of the most popular musicals of all time, you'll recognise a lot of songs from the show. Look forward to Timon and Pumbaa in the life-affirming song "Hakuna Matata", Nala's gorgeous singing in "Shadowland" or the tearjerking "Can You Feel The Love Tonight." Here's all the songs in The Lion King.

Act 1

"Circle of Life" - Rafiki and Company
"Grasslands Chant" - Company
"The Lioness Hunt" - Lionesses
" I Just Can't Wait to be King" - Young Simba, Young Nala, Zazu, and Ensemble
"Chow Down" - Shenzi, Banzai and Ed
"They Live in You" - Mufasa and Company
"Be Prepared" - Scar, Shenzi, Banzai, Ed, and Company
"The Stampede" - Company
"Rafiki Mourns" - Rafiki, Sarabi, Young Nala, Ensemble
"Hakuna Matata" - Timon, Pumbaa, Young Simba, Simba, and Ensemble

Act 2

"One by One" - Company
"The Madness of King Scar" - Scar, Zazu, Banzai, Shenzi, Ed and Nala
"Shadowland" - Nala and Company
"Endless Night" - Simba and Company
"Can You Feel the Love Tonight" - Timon, Pumbaa, Simba, Nala, and Company
"He Lives in You (Reprise) - Rafiki, Simba and Company
"Simba Confronts Scar"
"King of Pride Rock/Circle of Life (Reprise) - Company

What are the reviews of The Lion King?

Grasslands (Photo by Deen Van Meer)

When The Lion King first opened in London, the show was met with mixed reviews. In a 1999 review from LondonTheatre.co.uk, "The special effects are fantastic and the whole show is colourful and lively. However, while the story is good, it does need a little more punch to it... Nevertheless, the special effects and puppets more than make up for these shortcomings and will delight children and adults alike." The Guardian's Michael Billington said: "The show is a skilful commercial artefact... Children, I suspect, will love it. But to suggest that the Lion King advances the art of the musical or achieves a Shakespearean complexity is to surrender to preposterous fantasy."

In a 2015 review from LondonTheatre.co.uk, Dom O'Hanlon said: "Julie Taymor's staging and costume design remains some of the most innovative, impressive and breath-taking to ever be seen on stage - musical or otherwise... will no doubt remain the King of the West End for many years to come." 

What awards has The Lion King won?

As The Lion King first premiered in London over two decades ago, award categories were different to today. Nonetheless, The Lion King still roared over other shows, picking up awards. Here's the main awards that global productions of The Lion King has won.

Olivier Awards

Best Theatre Choreographer - Garth Fagan
Best Costume Design - Julie Taymor

Tony Awards

Best Musical
Best Direction of a Musical - Julie Taymor
Best Choreography - Garth Fagan
Best Scenic Design - Richard Hudson
Best Costume Design - Julie Taymor
Best Lighting Design - Donald Holder

Is The Lion King film different to The Lion King musical?

Aside from the obvious difference that one is a film and one is a stage production, there are some notable differences between the two. 

There's no animation in the musical production of The Lion King. Instead, the Serengeti is conveyed through costume and scenic design.

Rafiki is played by a female in the stage show, yet Rafiki is portrayed is a male in the movie.

This could be perhaps expected from a musical, but there's additional songs in The Lion King on stage. New songs include "The Lioness Hunt" sung by the lionesses.

What are some fun facts about The Lion King?

Lionesses (Photo by Johan Persson)

It takes hundreds of puppets to bring the animal kingdom to life in The Lion King. In fact, 232 puppets are used each performance.

The name Simba is actually derived from the Swahili word "simba" meaning lion.

"Circle of Life" features a section sung in Zulu. The lyrics translate in English to "Here comes a lion, father, Oh yes it's a lion."

The Lion King storyline is inspired by William Shakespeare's Hamlet.

How do I get tickets for The Lion King?

The Lion King is at the Lyceum Theatre from 29 July. 

The Lion King tickets

Photo credit: The Lion King (Photo courtesy of Disney Theatricals)

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