Members of the West End cast of The Lion King have said they are “ecstatic” and “emotional” ahead of the reopening of the award-winning show.
The Disney musical will return to the Lyceum Theatre on July 29 for the first time since the production had to close in March 2020.
The show, which was the West End’s best-selling stage production when it closed, has been running in London for 22 years and has been seen by more than 16 million people during that time.
Janique Charles, who plays the character of Nala, told the PA news agency: “I’m absolutely ecstatic, it’s been such a long time.
“I’m getting emotional right now because this is what we are born to do, so when you guys come out to see the show on July 29 and onwards, that’s the energy you’re going to be feeling.
“It’s going to be electric, it will be as no other West End show that you’ve seen before.”
Kayi Ushe, who stars as Simba, said: “I think it’s going to be a release for everyone, to finally have that audience and performer relationship come alive once again – we’ve been stopped for so long.
“I mean, when we roar on stage, we’ll hear them roar out front, and it’s going to be massive.”
The stage production is based on the Disney animated film released in 1994, which is set in the Serengeti in Africa and follows lion cub Simba, who is running away after his father, Mufasa, the king of the pride, is murdered by his brother Scar.
Discussing the show’s message, Ushe said: “The journey that Simba goes on is something that we can all relate to, losing someone, losing sight of yourself, especially given this past 16 months.
“I feel like now is the perfect time to play such a role, to give people that cathartic feeling of inspiring hope.
“He goes on a journey, he reclaims his kingdom, he comes back and takes his rightful place as king.
“Letting people know that they can do the same thing, it’s wonderful to be able to give people hope.”
The film was adapted in 2019 into a live-action format with photorealistic animals and scenery and featured an all-star line-up including singing superstar Beyonce as Nala and Donald Glover, better known as rapper Childish Gambino, as Simba.
Charles discussed how she was cast before Beyonce and therefore drew her references for Nala from previous theatrical stars, such as Heather Headley from Trinidad and Tobago, her home country.
She added: “Now, after seeing Beyonce do it, I’m like ‘This is great, we can kind of share the same ether somehow’.”
Both Charles and Ushe admitted that the past 16 months of theatre closures due to Covid-19 has been very difficult for the production and cast.
Ushe said: “I didn’t realise just quite how much theatre and that response to that relationship that we share is a necessity for me, it’s a physical necessity.
“So to be able to now live that on a day-to-day basis and in one of the biggest shows in the world, it’s a massive thing and I will always be grateful – tonight is just going to be out of this world.”
The Lion King musical has a cast of more than 50 actors, singers and dancers who perform classic numbers, such as the award-winning song The Circle Of Life, composed by Sir Elton John and Sir Tim Rice.
The show also uses vibrant costumes, masks and puppetry to create the theatrical magic.
Director, costume designer and mask co-designer Julie Taymor has won numerous Tony awards for her various productions of the show.
Since Taymor’s first adaptation debuted on Broadway in 1997, it has been seen by more than 100 million people across 25 productions worldwide.