BANGKOK — The Lion King, the most commercially successful musical of all time, has landed in Bangkok – but the curtains in one of the sets look as if they were bought straight from Chatuchak Market.
Hey, we’re not being snarky! Zazu, played by Andre Jewson, says so himself when huge patterned cloths drop down after the fanfare of “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King.”
That’s just the first of a handful of easter eggs in the Broadway production adapted for the first time to Thai stages. The musical is running from today until Oct. 27 at Muangthai Rachadalai Theatre.
Zazu also earned some laughs when he squacked, “Don’t send me back to Khao Kheow Zoo!” when teased by Mufasa, referring to the large open zoo near Pattaya.
Delivery of comedic Thai lines is handed over to Timon and Pumbaa in the second act. Timon is played by Nick Mercer, who also performed the role in the UK and Switzerland. Pumbaa is played by Pierre van Heerden.
“Kob khun krup,” Timon, a life-sized puppet controlled by an entirely green Mercer, thanks a bunch of living jungle shrubs after he lies down on them.
Later the flatulent Pumbaa told us how much he wants Thai grub: “I could go for a rot duan sandwich.” (Rot duan are deep-fried bamboo worms that can be found as snacks in Thailand.)
But perhaps the most millenial/Gen Z reference came when Nala told the duo that Simba (Jordan Shawo) is in fact the long-lost king of the Pridelands.
“Jing di?” Pumbaa says, like a sassy Bangkok teen.
At a press round of the musical, we found the sets impressive and sumptuous, with Pride Rock literally unfolding before our eyes, savannah grass skirts twirling around the stage. The powerful, evocative headpieces artfully evoke all the familiar characters.
Even though the scale of the production is smaller than overseas renditions, it was just the right size for the venue. “Circle of Life” alone – with people on stilts as giraffes, a puppeted cheetah, and Mufasa (Mthokozisi Emkay Khanyile), Sarabi (Lungile Khambule) and Rafiki holding up Simba – is enough make nostalgics tear up.
Ntsepa Pitjeng as Rafiki stole the show whenever she was onstage with colorful clucking, tittering, and all-around babooning, having previously performed in the US, UK, China, Brazil, and Switzerland. Antony Lawrence as Scar was both terrifying and magnificent.
Three young actors switch off on the roles of Young Simba: Ian Magallon, Marcus Cabais, and Jayden Lionel Ingram. Three young actresses play Young Nala: Waynehart Claire Geonzon, Zoe Arabella Garcia, and Daniella Elise Albano. With the exception of Ingram, who is Indonesian, this young cast is from the Philippines.
However, the audience did chuckle a little at the scene in which Sarabi and the lionesses mourn Mufasa by pulling strips of paper from their eyes to evoke tears – perhaps it reminded Thais too much of anime-style crying.
The Lion King runs until Oct. 27 at Muangthai Rachadalai Theatre inside Esplanade Cineplex Ratchadaphisek, reachable from MRT Thailand Cultural Centre. Tickets on weekdays range from 1,500 baht to 5,500 baht. Tickets on weekends range from 1,700 baht to 5,700 baht.