Review: The Lion King Musical at Sunderland Empire

Review: The Lion King Musical at Sunderland Empire

Tonight I was invited to the Sunderland Empire for press night of The Lion King Musical and to say it’s a ‘roaring’ success wouldn’t be justice. It was just a visually stunning and phenomenal experience.

For those that have never seen the The Lion King musical it is a stage adaptation of the classic Disney animated film of the same name. The story follows the journey of a young lion cub named Simba, who is the heir to the throne of the Pride Lands, a vibrant and lush African savanna.

The musical begins with a grand opening number, “Circle of Life,” which celebrates the birth of Simba and the cycle of life and death in the animal kingdom. Simba’s father, Mufasa, is the current king and a wise and benevolent ruler who teaches his son about the responsibilities of leadership.

However, Mufasa’s evil brother Scar has other plans for the Pride Lands. Scar conspires with a pack of hyenas to overthrow Mufasa and take the throne for himself. In a tragic turn of events, Scar succeeds in his plan, and Mufasa is killed, leaving Simba to flee into exile.

Simba finds refuge in the company of a carefree meerkat named Timon and a lovable warthog named Pumbaa. They teach him their carefree lifestyle and help him forget his past. But when Simba is reminded of his responsibilities to his kingdom by his childhood friend and love interest, Nala, he realizes that he must face his past and reclaim his rightful place as king.

(spoilers on the ending here) 

In a climactic showdown, Simba battles Scar and the hyenas, ultimately defeating them and taking his place as king. 

The musical ends with Simba ascending the throne and embracing his new responsibilities, as the animals of the Pride Lands gather to celebrate the Circle of Life once again.

If you have been to a Disney production before you will know there’s no half measures. The staging, lighting, sound and production immerse you into the world. This was no different and truly magical. It’s more than a roaring success. It was an experience you don’t often get at the theatre.

A shout out goes to the musical direction and live band we had here also that brought it all to life. The musical features a combination of original songs and musical score pieces. The show’s opening number, “Circle of Life,” is a powerful and uplifting song that sets the tone for the entire show. We were left looking right, left and centre as animals appeared from the sides of the aisles onto the stage. Ourselves, the audience were immersed into the pride lands.

The musical also had popular songs that you’ll know and love such as “Hakuna Matata,” “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” “Be Prepared,” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

I particularly enjoyed the use of African rhythms and instrumentation. The musical score incorporates traditional African music elements, such as the use of drums, chanting, and call-and-response vocals. This created a dynamic and powerful sound that perfectly complements the African savanna setting of the story. 

In addition to the music and songs themselves, the musical’s choreography and staging also played an important role in bringing the music to life. The show’s choreography incorporates traditional African dance styles, which adds to the authenticity of the production and helps to immerse the audience in the world of the show.

The costumes in this show are stunning. Made of intricate fabrics and detailed patterns to resemble the fur and skin of real animals intertwined with the use of puppetry. Many of the characters wear large puppets that are manipulated by the performers, which adds to the overall animalistic effect of the costumes and see beyond the actor. 

I have to say every single actor in this was superb. All bringing personality and charisma to their roles which were all very believable. 

Richard Hurst was a cunning Scar, Jean-Luc Guizonne exuded authority, Matthew Forbes, Alan Mchale and Carl Sanderson gave a comic performance as Zazu, Timon and Pumbaa respectively. 

Candida Mosoma, Jorell Coffic-Kamall and Alex Bloomer are absolutely hilarious as our three hyenas. Kyle Richardson gave an accomplished performance as our elder Simba. Thandazile Soni for me was fantastic as Rafiki and beautiful to watch. 

Again I say, this was a theatre experience that you don’t get very often. It was joyous, funny, uplifting and pure Disney! Do what you can to get a ticket just don’t be like scar and kill for it! 

Review by Aaron Whittington (Gifted Tickets)

THE LION KING continues at Sunderland Empire’s stage from until Saturday 6 May 2023. Tickets are available online at 

*A £3.65 transaction fee applies to telephone and online bookings. Calls cost up to 7p per minute plus your standard network charge.

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