Magazine article The Spectator

Out of Tune

Magazine article The Spectator

Out of Tune

Article excerpt

Theatre

The Lion King (Lyceum)

Spend Spend Spend (Piccadilly)

Moonshine (Hampstead)

Since I seem to be the only critic, or indeed human being (the two are not necessarily synonymous), who deeply disliked The Lion Mng on Broadway and still deeply dislikes it at the Lyceum, I had better spell out my objections. Sure, it is visually brilliant; Julie Taymor is a conceptual artist of genius, and if the whole show were on view at the Serpentine Gallery, or some puppet playhouse, it would be a wondrous sight. But it remains in my view deeply untheatrical; all the tricks and trappings of Bunraku and traditional Japanese and African masks and masques are here, with actors on stilts playing giraffes, and weird and wonderful bicycles kitted out to resemble a herd of antelope.

The Lion King might also work as a kind of show-and-tell lesson in anthropology or geography or wildlife studies, David Attenborough set to music, but as a musical it still seems to me stillborn: lousy score, plot nicked from Hamlet, and dull landscape scenery as if to emphasise the gimmickry of the special effects. Indeed there is a moment when they unwisely quote 'Be My Guest' from Disney's infinitely superior Beauty and the Beast, and you suddenly recall the real stage-musical values that are missing here.

The Lion King is chilly, repetitive, uninvolving emotionally, and at times little better than the kind of guided tour of the African outback which the Commonwealth Institute would offer its school parties if only they had the $15 million that this cartoon travelogue has reputedly cost. The Tim Rice/Elton John score was composed for the original animation movie, and nobody seems to have thought about inviting them back to make it work on stage, while there is no chance for any actor to reach out to us across the complex trappings of wires and stilts and head-dresses they are all forced to wear.

The result is a feast for the eye but nothing much for the ear, or the mind, or the heart, or the spirit; this one should have gone straight from Disney cinema to theme park, avoiding the theatre altogether, since down in old savannah nothing at all is stirring.

If you want to know what a great musical should look and sound and feel like, head for the Piccadilly and Spend Spend Spend. …

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