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Lion King’s Scar & Mufasa 15th Anniversary

The centrality of Disney’s The Lion King to the West End stage can hardly be overstated. For more than two decades Elton John and Tim Rice’s music and lyrics have come to life in Julie Taymor’s lush and engrossing production. And for much of this time, lead players George Asprey (Scar) and Shaun Escoffery (Mufasa) have connected the ‘circle of life’ for audiences who have come of age since these two actors, now celebrating 15 years in their roles, premiered at the Lyceum.

George Aspey as Scar in Disney's The Lion King © Disney.
George Aspey as Scar in Disney’s The Lion King © Disney.

Whilst the production’s innovation was recognised at the turn-of-the-Millennium as The Evening Standard’s Theatrical Event of the Year and with two Oliviers (for choreography and costumes), Asprey and Escoffery joined the production at another ground-breaking stage. The Lion King was the first major West End musical to welcome families for a ‘relaxed performance’ over 10 years ago and continues to lead the way in its commitment to audience inclusivity. With the next London ‘relaxed performance’ set for Sunday 18 June, the two performers sat down with LondonTheatre1 to share how the experience continues to enrich them as artists.

Asprey explained that in 2013 the entire cast, along with the ATG and Disney front-of-house and creative teams, were given an intensive training session by the National Autistic Society from a neurodivergent audience perspective. The actors pointed out that features of the ‘relaxed’ production – with the house lights raised, the sound design modified and an opportunity to address the audience directly before the show – offered a new type of audience connection for them; providing the actors with yet more of the creative stimuli that keeps their work feeling fresh for the demanding eight performances per week they’ve delivered for 15 years.

Escoffery noted that not only do they discover a sense of dynamism when a cast change gives them the opportunity to rehearse and develop the show, but as the world – and therefore the audience – changes around them, so too do their performances. Despite certain recent media reports of misbehaviour amongst adult theatre-goers, Asprey and Escoffery have nothing but praise for their punters. The pair stressed the importance of theatre being for everyone and how it’s not the job of actors to ‘tolerate’ their audience but to embrace them, as they are, wholeheartedly.

Asprey observes that many of the show’s autistic fans find a particular affinity with the character of Scar, something in which he takes great joy. For him, ‘relaxed performances’ are not something to ‘endure’ but are his favourite ones to deliver: ‘When you realise how hard it is even for these families to get to the theatre in the first place, you owe it to them to give them something they’ll never forget. But we also never forget the amazing energy they give us.

Shaun Escoffery as Mufasa in Disney's The Lion King © Disney.
Shaun Escoffery as Mufasa in Disney’s The Lion King © Disney.

Asprey and Escoffery admit that as they’re on stage for eight performances a week, they get little time in the theatre as the audience. The iconic nature of The Lion King musical means it pops up as a cultural reference in all manner of places, such as Michael R Jackson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning (and decidedly not family) musical A Strange Loop which opens at the Barbican later this month. The Lion King is, of course, based on the blockbuster film, but it’s ultimately a hearty nod to Hamlet. However, these conservatoire-trained actors have been kept so busy delighting West End crowds for a decade-and-a-half, that neither has yet appeared in Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy at their hit musical’s core. It seems, however, that the stage savannahs on which they currently tread are also keeping their dramatic skills razor-sharp for such an outing should the time come. George Asprey would transform from Scar to Polonius whereas Shaun Escoffery tells me he’d gladly take the lead as Prince Hamlet. I’m sure that production would also be a winner but, for now, we can rejoice in this special musical tale of feline royal intrigue made fresh daily by these seasoned and committed actors continuing to delight audiences, with both conventional and relaxed performances, as Scar and Mufasa.

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Now in its 24th year at London’s Lyceum Theatre, Disney’s The Lion King is a unique theatrical event seen by over 110 million people worldwide.

Why go and see it?
An iconic score and a timeless narrative; Disney’s The Lion King has it all. As put by the New York Times – “there is simply nothing else like it”.
As the sun rises on the plains of the Serengeti, watch in awe as giraffes, gazelles and birds bring the story of Simba to life in a spectacle unlike any other.

With a book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi, and music and lyrics by Elton John, Tim Rice and Lebo M, the show has some of the most memorable songs in the Disney musical theatre canon, including Circle of Life, Hakuna Matata and Can You Feel the Love Tonight.

Lyceum Theatre
Currently booking to Sun 15 Oct 2023
21 Wellington St, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7RQ, UK
2 hours 30 minutes incl. interval
Tue – Sat at 19:30
Wed and Sat at 14:30 and 19:30
Sun at 14:30
Age guidance 6+

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Related News & Reviews Past & Present

  1. Disney’s The Lion King announce next dedicated Relaxed Performance
  2. Disney’s The Lion King Musical celebrates 16th birthday in London
  3. Disney’s The Lion King welcomes new cast to London’s Lyceum Theatre
  4. Disney’s The Lion King Sets Date for London West End Return
  5. Disney’s The Lion King holds Open Auditions for Children

Author

  • Mary Beer

    Mary graduated with a cum laude degree in Theatre from Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City. In addition to directing and stage managing several productions off-Broadway, Mary was awarded the Helen Prince Memorial Prize in Dramatic Composition for her play Subway Fare whilst in New York. Relocating to London, Mary has worked in the creative sector, mostly in television broadcast and production, since 1998. Her creative and strategic abilities in TV promotion, marketing and design have been recognised with over 20 industry awards including several Global Promax Golds. She is a founder member of multiple creative industry and arts organisations and has frequently served as an advisor to the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

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