The Lion King, Sunderland Empire

The Lion King, Sunderland Empire

A true Disney classic that took us on a turbulent journey of tears and laughter as a child, we all know and love the wonderful tale of The Lion King.

With a track record of being a hit on stage, when I found out it was coming to the North East, I just had to get tickets.

After a busy day at Luxe HQ, an evening spent at the stunning Sunderland Empire is a welcome break. A chance to switch off and embrace the magic.


What’s it about?

For those who have never had the joy of watching the animation or experiencing the action up close and personal, the plot follows the adventures of Simba, a young lion cub from the Pride Lands.

The story begins with Rafiki, a mandrill shaman presenting Simba, the newborn cub of King Mufasa and Queen Sarabi, to a gathering of animals at Pride Rock.

When Simba is born, his evil uncle Scar is enraged with jealousy that he is no longer heir to the throne and sets out on a path of deviance and evil.

Mufasa shows a young Simba the Pride Lands and explains to him the responsibilities of one day becoming king. Meanwhile, Scar plots to eliminate Mufasa and Simba so he can take the crown for himself.

The Lion King, Sunderland Empire

Scar’s evil plan starts when he tricks Simba and his best friend Nala into exploring a forbidden elephant graveyard, where the cubs are chased by three hyenas. The brave Mufasa shows up just in time and saves the lion cubs.

Plotting further, Scar lures Simba into a gorge by telling him his father has a surprise for him. While sitting alone and practising his roar, Scar signals the hyenas to create a wildebeest stampede threatening the life of Simba. A manipulative Scar alerts Mufasa who races to rescue his son but is left clinging to the edge of a cliff, where Scar flings him into the stampede below to his death.

Convinced he was to blame, Simba flees the Pride Lands and is found by Timon and Pumbaa, a hilarious duo who raise Simba under their carefree Hakuna Matata lifestyle.

When Simba has grown into a young adult, he saves them from a hungry lioness revealed to be Nala. Simba shows Nala around his home, and the two begin to fall in love. Nala then tells him that Scar’s reign has resulted in no food, water drying up, and ultimately becoming unlivable; she demands that Simba return and take his rightful place as king.

The ending? Well, that’s part I won’t ruin. But it’s one I highly recommend seeing.


Who’s in it?

Each and every cast member that steps foot on the stage put on an impeccable performance.

Richard Hurst (Scar) plays the perfect villain and Jean-Luc Guizonne (Mufasa), the perfect hero. Both performances from start to finish are outstanding.

Matthew Forbes (Zazu) plays the role of the red-billed hornbill exceptionally well; providing an abundance of laughter throughout.

Ro’Jae Simpson (young Simba), Gabrielle McDonald (young Nala), Kyle Richardson (Simba) and Nokwanda Khuzwayo (Nala) all take to their roles splendidly, performing a seamless transition from young cubs to adult lions.

A special mention has to go to Thandazile Soni (Rafiki), from start to finish, her performance is flawless. As well as adding comedy value to the show, her vocals were absolutely outstanding and with every note, added an extra goosebump to my arm.

Alan Mchale (Timon) and Carl Sanderson (Pumbaa) are, of course, a highlight. From their hilarious mishaps, vocals and choreography, they’ve got the audience in fits of laughter.


What’s good about it?

The whole show is a roaring success.

Every single cast member involved in making the magic come to life deserves to be recognised for their performance. From the moment the lights went down and the music started to play, I was hung on the end of every word.

The set design was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Every single scene was portrayed magnificently.

The music is another highlight. Elton John and Tim Rice produced a fantastic soundtrack for The Lion King and the band and performers who brought the music to life have done so brilliantly.

Julie Taymor, director, costume, mask and puppet co-design and additional lyrics has outdone herself. I was a little unsure of how the story would be portrayed on stage, but I was not disappointed. The elegance and mechanics behind the costumes were absolutely fascinating to see and worked perfectly.


Who should see it?

Anyone and everyone. Families, couples and friends alike would all be amazed by the show. Whether you’re a fan of theatre or a fan of the film; or perhaps not familiar with either? Regardless, you will be mesmerised from start to finish.


When is it on?

Disney’s The Lion King is currently showing at Sunderland Empire until Saturday 6 May 2023. Tickets are available and can be purchased via


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