The curtain has risen on Disney’s smash-hit show The Lion King, which has started a seven-week season in Bradford’s Alhambra theatre.

A fleet of 23 trucks have transported the enormous production to Bradford – the only Yorkshire stop on the UK tour.

The largest theatre production ever to tour Europe and the UK, its arrival is the highlight of the Alhambra’s centenary year. Performances began last night prior to the official opening on Tuesday.

The acclaimed stage adaptation of the Disney classic has 52 performers, led by 11 principals. The production features hundreds of masks, puppets and more than 700 elaborate costumes representing 26 different types of animal.

The Lion King is based on the Oscar-winning 1994 animated film about a lion cub called Simba who struggles to accept his destined role as King. Director and co-designer Julie Taymor adapted it for the stage, bringing an array of theatrical styles and cultural references.

Unveiled on Broadway in 1997, the show has been seen by more than 70 million people across the world, translated into eight different languages including Japanese, German, Korean and Mandarin.

South African actress Gugwana Dlamini, who plays narrator Rafiki, sings in five different African languages. She said: “Julie Taymor did a lot of research in South Africa, and she brought African music and chants to the show.

“It’s a story about a young boy but it touches people in different ways. It has many elements – the costumes, the music, all the things happening on the stage at once. Children see something in it that is different to what adults see.”

With a cumulative gross in excess of five billion dollars, the stage production of The Lion King has earned more than the biggest films in movie history – more than the Lord Of The Rings trilogy combined, the six Star Wars films combined, and more than Avatar and Titanic, the two highest-grossing films ever, combined.

The Lion King won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Costume Design, and other awards include a Grammy and an Olivier Award.

The score is a fusion of Western music and the sounds and rhythms of Africa, from the Oscar-winning song Can You Feel The Love Tonight? to haunting ballad Shadowland. It includes Elton John and Tim Rice’s music from the animated film of The Lion King and three new songs, with additional music from Rhythm Of The Pride Lands, an album inspired by the original music in the film.

The Lion King runs at the Alhambra until May 10. Tickets are on (01274) 432000.