The Lion King a roaring success at Perth opening

Nick Afoa, Buyi Zama and Josslynn Hlenti in The Lion King. Picture: Andrew Ritchie
Nick Afoa, Buyi Zama and Josslynn Hlenti in The Lion King. Picture: Andrew Ritchie

THE audience could feel the love radiate from the stage on Saturday night when award-winning Disney musical The Lion King opened at Crown Theatre Perth and the feeling towards the cast was mutual.

It had taken 18 years for the Broadway smash-hit by director Julie Taymor, based on the beloved animated film, to make it to Perth and the high expectation to be thrilled was rewarded.

Much of the magic is in the music and it is difficult to imagine anyone not welling up with emotion when the show opened with the joyous Circle of Life.

The Australian-produced stage musical features performers from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and beyond as the African savannah springs to life with lion cub Simba who “just can’t wait to be king” until tragedy strikes.

Young Simba and Nala, played by Campbell Nathan and Sabrina Sialeipata, are bundles of talented fun with contagious enthusiasm, while their adult counterparts Nick Afoa and Josslynn Hlenti are flawless in their embodiment of lead lion and lioness.

It is hard to believe The Lion King is the professional stage debut for Afoa and Rob Collins (Mufasa), both delivering their roles like seasoned performers.

The Lion King veteran Buyi Zama, who plays Rafiki, brings a fresh vitality to the character, despite the South African having performed it in various international productions since her West End debut in 2002.

Her scene speaking in Sotho is a highlight and one of six indigenous African languages spoken in the production.

Jamie McGregor as meerkat Timon and John Xintavelonis as warthog Pumbaa are a comedy duo with impeccable timing and bring welcome relief from scenes featuring the menacing Scar.

Josh Quong Tart undertakes the role of Simba’s evil uncle with such dramatic precision, he still scared this 30-something reviewer.

Stretching his puppetry skills for the first time as hornbill Zazu is The Audreys’ founding member Cameron Goodall, getting the privilege of some of the best lines in the production.

Taymor’s vision for bringing The Lion King to the stage was revolutionary in 1997 with its innovative puppetry, sets and costumes and is still just as glorious a theatrical experience today.

The heart and soul of South Africa is in Perth and it received a well-deserved standing ovation from the audience to show our gratitude.

The Lion King season runs until February 28.

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