Julie Taymor’s 1997 adaptation of the ’94 Disney animated feature contains so much astonishing spectacle in its first ten minutes, with the parade of astounding animal puppets that accompanies opening number ‘Circle of Life’, you may fear – as I did in the slower set-up scenes that follow – that the show has shot its wad. But Taymor and company keep finding new surprises, filling out Elton John and Tim Rice’s film score with more authentically flavoured African melodies and dances, and piling on clever set pieces like a multi-dimensional wildebeest stampede.
The plot’s a bit thin to support two and a half hours: young prince Simba is tricked by his evil uncle Scar into thinking he’s responsible for his father’s death; he goes into self-exile before returning to challenge Scar for the throne. And there’s an unresolved tension between John and Rice’s synth-laden pop and the mostly vocal-and-percussion offerings of Taymor and her collaborators. Still, given the overall elegance of the director’s translation from 2-D animation to stage, there’s more than enough eye candy to offset the earache and ennui. Kris Vire