Ahead of Disney’s The Lion King’s four-and-a-half-month residency at Manchester’s Palace Theatre, I attended an intimate preview event with a few members of the cast. This follows a launch event before the pandemic and then another one a few months back.
Sonata Piano & Cabaret Lounge provided the perfect space for this small casual preview. With complimentary drinks and nibbles, Matthew Forbes hosted the event, bringing the cast to the stage one by one for a chat and performances of certain songs.
The cast showcased their incredible vocals and indulged in some of their impressive previous credits with several of them being The Lion King veterans.
Forbes, a puppetry and movement extraordinaire, is playing Zazu in the tour, with impressive previous credits including Associate Puppetry Director for War Horse and the Puppetry Consultant for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.
Nokwanda Khuzwayo, the actress playing Nala, sang her solo ‘Shadowlands’ first. She has played the role in a few different languages including Portuguese, German, and now English, in Brazil, Shanghai, and Germany.
We then met Jean-Luc Guizonne who plays Mufasa and has been a part of The Lion King family for 11 years. He has also played the role of Mufasa in several languages and countries. Guizonne began with French in Paris and has since played the role in German in Hamburg, and English in Singapore and now the UK.
Guizonne was then joined by Stephenson Ardern-Sodje, the actor taking on the iconic role of Simba. The two performed a mash-up of ‘They Live in You’ and ‘He Lives in Me’, the songs for their respective characters. Stephenson then sang ‘Endless Night’ which was written for the musical and has been named Simba’s signature song.
Stephenson had quite an unusual start to his career. After studying English Literature at university, he attended an open-call audition for Hamilton and got down to the finals. He initially didn’t get the role but was then brought in to cover and made his professional West End debut as Alexander Hamilton.
The cast then sang a beautiful rendition of ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’ which was followed by a few questions from the audience.
The cast discussed the other roles they would love to play. Stephenson would eventually love to play Mufasa, and Thandazile Soni, who plays Rafiki, said she’d want to experience Nala as the powerful lioness she is.
The Lion King began its run at the Palace Theatre on October 27 2022. It has just been announced that its run has been extended once again; it is now playing until March 11 2023. After this huge run, the UK tour visits Sunderland Empire from March 16 to May 6 and Birmingham Hippodrome from July 6 to September 16 – with more venues to be announced.