Brilliant and breathtaking

2008-01-03 00:00

I HAD my doubts before I went to see The Lion King musical at the Montecasino Teatro recently. The film version held great memories for me, and I wondered if the South African stage version would scale the same dizzy heights. Within seconds, my worries were washed away in a sea of dazzling colours and costumes during the opening sequence of The Circle of Life.

The production, on a stage designed specifically for it, was magical. From the superb costumes, to the breathtaking staging, the entire show was a tribute to all that is great about South Africa. The fact that the directors put a colloquial twist on the story was another unexpected bonus, with the Afrikaans Pumbaa played by Pierre van Heerden providing many laughs. In fact, the entire show was littered with a host of quality performances, with Sello Maake Ka-Ncube an appropriately mighty Mufasa, and Lyall Ramsden a very entertaining Zazu. The conniving Scar was brilliantly played by Mark Rayment, and his hyena sidekicks were a laugh a minute, as in the film.

One disappointment was the young Simba role, which according to the programme is rotated between several young actors. It seems we drew the short straw, because our Simba simply lacked the stage presence required for such a role and was upstaged by a confident young Nala. Thankfully the grown-up Simba, Andile Gumbi, proved worthy of the role, complete with a good singing performance.

Some of the staging was simply stunning, with a particular highlight being the intricate set-up of a huge replica of Mufasa’s face, as he came back to guide his son. One was left wondering how such designs were conceived, and the slick changes between sets were also impeccable.

The local theme was reinforced by the casting of a female witchdoctor as the wizardly Rafiki, and Buyisile Zama was excellent in the role, belting out several moving songs without losing the slightly comical element of “the crazy baboon”. Indeed, all of the songs, including those in Zulu or Sotho, were powerful and provided a stirring backdrop to the narrative.

Producer Lebo M can be justifiably proud of his efforts, and with public demand pushing the closing date for the show into 2008, I for one would strongly recommend making the trek to the Montecasino Teatro. It really is worth it.

• The Lion King runs until February 17 at the Montecasino Teatro in Johannesburg. Tickets from Computicket. Performances on Wednesdays to Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 pm and 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm and 6.30 pm.

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