Melbourne Symphony Orchestra: The Lion King in Concert – Live Review

For over a decade, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has been putting on unique concert events where you get to experience a film and live score at the same time. On Saturday the 3rd of February, I got to experience a film that is dear to my heart, Disney’s The Lion King.

Presented at the Melbourne Convention and Entertainment Centre’s Plenary, this concert is one I have been waiting for the MSO to do for years. Attending the evenings performance of the two shows and with Conductor Nicholas Buc at the helm, I was beyond excited.

The Plenary was packed with patrons spanning several generations with those, like me, that were keen to revisit one of their favourite films, those of the same age now with children of their own experiencing the film for the first time, and then those that had never experienced a Melbourne Symphony Orchestra film concert before. As I looked around, there were smiles and excitement on everyone’s faces. I knew it was going to be so much fun.

At the age of 9-years-old, The Lion King was the first film that I recall seeing in the cinemas and is a film that I can easily revisit time and time again. As I grew older, I gained a new appreciation for film, I also began to appreciate the music behind the film. It is no surprise that The Lion King, like many other of my favourite films, is scored by Hans Zimmer.

During his introduction to the concert, Conductor Nicolas Buc explained how Disney’s go-to composer and songwriter Alan Menken was unfortunately unavailable. So, they turned to Elton John and Tim Rice for music and lyrics. But they also had the film scored by Hans Zimmer. Having recently scored The Power of One where he travelled to Africa, recording with African choirs and instruments, Zimmer was perfectly prepared to score an animation set in the same region. Zimmer also recruited South African Producer Lebo M whom he had also worked with on the Power of One.

Lebo M went on to write one of the most recognisable musical moments in film history, the opening Zulu chant during the intro to ‘Circle of Life’. I bet right now as you read this, it’s playing in your head, I know as I type this that it is for me. It was a match made in heaven with The Lion King winning the Academy Award for Best Original Score. It also took out Best Original Song with ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’ by Elton John and Tim Rice.

Unless you’re a die-hard Disney or music fan, not many know about the history of the film’s score mentioned above, and whilst most of this I already knew, it is one of the reasons I love these concert events from Melbourne Symphony Orchestra so much. The little introductions by the conductor before the performance begins provides wonderful insight into how the score came to be. It also shows how excited they and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra were to perform this iconic score for us.

There are so many timeless songs in The Lion King, all of which I’ve heard countless times. But there is something special about hearing these songs live with a full symphony orchestra. Of course, the aforementioned ‘Circle of Life’ brought beaming smiles to the faces of fans in the audience (including mine). The up-tempo ‘I Just Can’t Wait to Be King’ and ‘Be Prepared’ with their heavy percussion sections each provided joyous moments that were just as fun to listen to as they were to watch and I often found myself during the concert happily captivated and admiring the orchestra more that the film. Whether it be trying to spot the soloist during certain points of concert to being hypnotised by the string section as their bows danced along in unison to the music, the beauty of this experience is truly beyond words and exquisitely magical.

Although the Rice and John songs were enjoyable to witness live, it was the score that really got my emotions flowing and none more so than the scene of the dreaded stampede. The tension and raw emotion that I’ve always felt during this scene was only enhanced by the live orchestra. The hairs on my arms were standing on end as the string section expertly delivered that screeching sound as the beasts began to cascade down the ravine. This sound transitioned into the thundering drums and percussion at the back of the orchestra as the herd scampered on. And while most of my generation will tell you the trauma this scene provided in their youth will never be forgotten, to hear it live with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra was to die for (pun intended).

The emotional rollercoaster continued with ‘Under the Stars’ where Simba talks to Mufasa in the night sky and ‘The King of Pride Rock’ when Simba returns to the Pride Lands, discovering his childhood home had become a desolate wasteland. The imagery on screen is perfectly scored by Zimmer, adding a one-two-punch to an already shocking scene.

Hans Zimmer is an incredible composer and to garner so much raw emotion and feeling from music alone is phenomenal. It is no wonder The Lion King cleaned up during the awards season that year and I, like many fans in the audience that night, am so eternally grateful to the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra for bringing one of my all-time favourite films to life with a live orchestra. A film concert with a live orchestra, there is really nothing like it.

Unfortunately, there were only two performances of The Lion King in concert on Saturday, with a matinee and evening concert and both are now over. But this does not mean you cannot experience another film concert with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra performing Star Wars: Return of the Jedi this coming April.

The Lion King in Concert was performed at Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre’s The Plenary in Melbourne on Saturday the 3rd of February for two shows at 1pm and 7:30pm.
For more information on The Lion King Concert and future Melbourne Symphony Orchestra performances, please visit:
https://www.mso.com.au
https://www.mso.com.au/performance/2024-the-lion-king-in-concert

Photography by Samantha Meuleman.

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