Walt Disney’s The Lion King from 1994 is one of the most famous Disney films ever made. It is certainly a favourite staple for children growing up in living rooms across the Western world, and beyond.
So, since Walt Disney is the all-conquering cultural juggernaut that it is, a musical adaptation for the stage was just a matter of time. With music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice and a musical score by Hans Zimmer debuted on the 8th of July, 1997, in Minneapolis, Minnesota and became an instant hit. The show moved to Broadway where it is still running after more than 6,000 performances. It is Broadway’s third longest running show in history and its highest grossing show to date. It opened in London’s Lyceum Theatre in October 1999 and it’s still running today. Now the show has been translated into many different languages and has been performed all over the world.
The musical had a limited run at Shanghai’s Grand Theatre in July 2006, running for just three months. But now it’s back! With bells on and entirely, 100% in Mandarin. The new production is staged at the Walt Disney Grand Theatre in Disney Town, just outside of the park. The upside is that you don’t have to splurge on tickets to the park to get to the show. On the other hand, tickets range from 190 RMB to 640 RMB, but at least the theatre has a huge capacity of 1,200 seats, so you probably don’t have to worry about tickets selling out before you arrive. However, if you’re after the cheap seats I would definitely recommend booking from their website.
Or just take a trip to Disney Town and buy your tickets before the show! That has a kind of rock’n roll devil may care attitude to it. Combine it with dinner at the Cheese Cake Factory and take a little holiday from China. You can wander around gloriously clean streets free of litter, phlegm and strong odors, so long as it’s not a weekend.
Once you’ve got your tickets, be prepared to enjoy the show of a life-time. In case you missed me saying so, it’s all in Chinese. ALL OF IT. Even the songs. The only thing that hasn’t changed is the Swahili, which is still in Swahili. And I’m not sure how good your Swahili is, but when you watched it as a kid your lack of Swahili probably didn’t cause any problems… so hakuna matata!
The show is pretty easy to follow without understanding any mandarin. “Shīzi” (狮子, means lion) is the only word you really need to know. But I would recommend watching the film before you go, just so the Shakespearean story line is fresh in your mind.
One bit worth keeping an eye out for is (SPOILER ALERT) when Timone and Pumba break into Chinese opera to distract Scar. That is certainly not in the film. But it should be. It is a bit odd if you’re not expecting it. I, having never seen Chinese opera before, thought the show had taken a bizarre Bollywood twist.
All of the things that make The Lion King an incredible show in English (or French, German, Taiwanese, etc.) all exist in the Chinese version. The puppetry is amazing. There are birds soaring above your heads that could be real, a giant elephant wanders through the audience and, most importantly, you forget you’re watching puppets at all. You are completely transported to the kingdom of lions. Or “shīzi wáng” (狮子王), if you will.
I would highly recommend this show to speakers of any language. You don’t need to understand the language when the show is all about physicality and emotion. Go see it, and if you don’t cry when Mufasa dies (Editor’s Note: SPOILER ALERT CLAIRE) you are officially dead inside.
Photography by Phillip Jarrell