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Touring production of ‘The Lion King’ goes beyond animated film

BY RICK ROGERS Published: April 12, 2009
As the sun rises on the African grasslands, a noisy baboon summons all the animals to Pride Rock. Zebras, gazelles and giraffes scamper about the area as colorful birds swoop overhead. A lumbering elephant and an enormous rhinoceros are the last to arrive. They’ve all come to greet the king and queen’s new cub.

Welcome to Disney’s "The Lion King,” an award-winning stage musical that is coming to Oklahoma City, where it will play a five-week engagement at the Civic Center Music Hall.

The touring production is being presented locally by Tulsa-based Celebrity Attractions.

"I’ve never worked on a show before where audience members rush through the lobby to take their seats,” said Fred Klaisner, the tour’s production stage manager. "They’re afraid they’ll miss ‘The Circle of Life,’ the grand opening number which still amazes me even after six years with this show.”

"The Lion King” was the second of four animated films to be adapted for the stage. Disney first tested the waters in 1994 with "Beauty and the Beast,” a show that would prove exceedingly popular. It closed in July 2007 after a 13-year run. The subsequent success of "The Lion King” resulted in two additional Disney stage musicals: "Tarzan,” which ran just more than a year, and "The Little Mermaid,” which celebrated its first anniversary on Broadway in January.

Follow the leader
"The Lion King” celebrates the circle of life, a natural progression in the animal kingdom in which leadership is passed from one generation to the next. But as William Shakespeare reminded us, "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

Mufasa, the reigning Lion King, is challenged by his evil brother, Scar, who believes he, not Mufasa’s son, Simba, should be next in line to become king.

Over time, Simba learns some painful but important lessons about the delicate circle of life. On his journey from a young cub to adulthood, Simba comes to realize that Scar’s motives are evil and self-serving.

The two ultimately engage in a battle for supremacy, with Simba emerging as the true Lion King.

Making it believable
Although the stage version of "The Lion King” is based on Disney’s 1994 animated film of the same name, the creative team had to devise ways of making animal characters, all of whom are portrayed by actors, appear believable.

The key to this complex puzzle was the design of some amazingly vivid masks, some of which cover the actors’ faces, while others rest atop their heads.

"Director Julie Taymor had an incredible vision that took the movie and refashioned it in a way that was anything but cartoonish,” Klaisner said.

"We have to remind ourselves sometimes that every one of these characters is an animal.

Disney’s "The Lion King”
→When: April 21 through May 24. Times are 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays.

→Where: Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N Walker.

→Tickets: $25 to $75.

→Information: (800) 869-1451.

"The Lion King”
→More than 200 puppets are used in the show.

→There are 25 kinds of animals, birds, fish and insects represented in the show.

→A dozen bird kites are featured in the Act 2 opening.

→It took 17,000 hours to build the puppets and masks.

→Mufasa’s mask weighs 11 ounces; Scar’s mask weighs 9 ounces.

→The tallest animals in the show are the 18-foot giraffes.

→The smallest animal is a 5-inch trick mouse at the end of Scar’s cane.

→The longest animal is the elephant. It’s 13 feet long and 9 feet wide. It can collapse to just under 3 feet wide.

→Three hundred feet of carbon fiber and 750 pounds of silicone rubber were used to make the masks.

→The Timon puppet weighs 15 pounds.

→There are 49 wigs used in the show.

→There are 39 hyenas and 52 wildebeests in the show.

→Nearly 700 lighting instruments are used in the show.

→There are 143 people involved with the show’s daily production: 53 cast members, 21 musicians, 17 wardrobe people, 13 carpenters, 10 electricians, eight administrative staff, six creative associates, five hair and makeup artists, four props people, three puppet craftsmen and three sound people.


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