BRITAIN’S biggest touring production is to roar into Sunderland for a mammoth seven-week run.
The Echo can reveal that award-winning musical The Lion King will play Sunderland Empire this autumn in what promises to be the biggest show of its kind ever to hit the city.
Disney bosses chose to stage the musical at the High Street West venue after being impressed by its facilities.
Some 23 giant trucks will be used to transport the Tony Award-winning show for its North East debut, taking place from September 18.
Stephen Crocker, Disney Theatrical Group’s director of marketing and creative services, told the Echo: “The Sunderland Empire is one of the most beautiful theatres in the country and one of the few that the show actually fits into.
“There’s a process before the show when we visit the theatres to see where we can fit the sets, to see where the elephant can fit, to see where we can have the percussionists in the boxes. Each theatre has huge challenges.”
Based on the animated Disney film of the same name, the musical has been a West End hit for 15 years, but it’s taken the past four years to work out how to tour the large-scale show without compromising its original quality.
A cast of more than 50 actors perform in more than 700 elaborate costumes, representing 26 different types of animal, in director and costume designer Julie Taymor’s imaginative re-telling of the story.
Stephen added: “The most important thing, and the reason why it took so long to tour the show, is that we never wanted to be without any elements, we never want to compromise the scale of it.
“People said ‘why don’t you just not do the elephant?’ - But it’s not The Lion King without the elephant. We feel like we are the guardians of The Lion King.
“There are a couple of things in the touring production that we have had to do differently. We can’t blow up the floors in the theatres we tour to, so nothing can come up through the floor like in London. But everything else is the same. Everything is the same size. In fact, the cast in the touring version is bigger.
“We feel like everybody deserves to see Julie Taymor’s version, and Sunderland audiences deserve to see the most astonishing thing they’ve ever seen at the Empire.”
The touring show, featuring music by Elton John and Tim Rice, has been a sell-out success in every city it has visited and will be one of the Empire’s longest-running musicals ever.
l The Lion King is on at the Sunderland Empire from September 18 to November 1. Tickets, costing from £22.50, go on sale on Tuesday, January 21, at 10am via 0844 871 3022, the venue box office or www.thelionking.co.uk.