Posted on October 5th, 2013
THE LION KING was one of my first real musical theater experiences. I think that this show connects to everyone on a very personal level, and it’s one that you will never forget. From the costumes to the set pieces to the music, this show is truly and unforgettable and breathtaking experience. Because of the meaning this show has to me and the memory I hold from seeing it for the first time, you can imagine that I was thrilled to be able to go backstage and learn more about some behind the scenes info!
Last week, I had the opportunity to chat with Billy Kimbley, the Head Carpenter for THE LION KING North American tour, and he gave me an inside look into the props, puppets, and costumes for the show. I can’t wait for you to read below what he shared with me!
First off, for this show to travel, it takes 18 trailers, all 53’ long! The show has 2 different sets in rotation, so they are able to load-in the show several days in advance. Because THE LION KING has been to Dallas before, the previous modifications to our theater did not have to be redone. Take a look when you come see the show – there are stairs over the orchestra pit and leading up to the stage. This is not normally there for any other show.
Also, previously, they built 2 balconies, 1 on each side of the audience, but due to some slight modifications, they will not be used for this run of the show. Mr. Kimbley explained that they have to make certain modifications to theaters (“remodeling a theater near you!”) all over the country to enable our audiences to have the same theatrical experience no matter where they are in the world. His words were “you’re part of an event” when you see this show, and they want to keep you as involved as possible.
When I walked into the theater, laid out on the first 10 rows were several different puppets and costume pieces from the show. I got to see the wildebeest heads, the Grassland Headdresses, the giraffe heads (18 feet tall and 10 pounds heavy!), and the bird pole puppets.
I got to pick up the wildebeest heads, which are only 1 1/2 pounds (though they look much heavier), and I learned that while the grassland headdresses stay the same on top, there are custom headpieces that attach to the main headdress and are customized per person in the cast. There are over 85 puppets in the show representing 32 different species. Each actor in the show has to go through extensive training to use these puppets, and 3 talented puppeteers travel with the show to maintain and continue training the actors with these detailed and intricate puppets.
After our quick chat about the show, a group of us got to walk up the stairs and stand on the magnificently detailed custom stage to see the biggest and most essential set piece in the show, Pride Rock.
This monstrous set piece is mechanically operated (from mechanical operators who sit 35 feet up in the wings!) and can move and turn in several different directions on the stage. This set piece is also collapsible within itself, so even though it looks very tall and lengthy, it is only 8 feet long when it collapses (a lot like bleachers). He even joked about how “she has a special parking pass for the Fair”! Haha! (An even more random and super behind the scenes fact, THE LION KING set pieces are female, or referred to as “shes”.)
The musical theatre nerd in me was very giddy and ecstatic to be able to stand on the iconic stage and see the set and costumes up close and personally. Needless to say, my job certainly does come with its perks, but I couldn’t have this experience and not share it with you, the DSM fans! I do hope this post helps give you a more behind the scenes look and helps enhance your experience if you’re coming to see the show.
The 70+ person crew has worked incredibly hard to get this show up and running as if it has been here for years. The show officially opened yesterday, with previews on Wednesday and Thursday, and the cast has gotten wonderful reviews! I’m thrilled that this show has returned to Dallas and hope you are able to see it while it’s here through October 20th!
Have a great and safe Saturday!