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How 'The Lion King' Has Captivated Broadway For 25 Years

To celebrate 25 years of ‘The Lion King’ On Broadway, go behind the curtain with the creators as they break down the craftsmanship and artistry behind every aspect of the long-running musical. From operating over 200 puppets to dressing the actors in roughly 2000 costume pieces each night, see how ‘The Lion King’ has captivated audiences for 25 years.

Released on 12/27/2022


The legs of the cheetah are attached to Shacura's legs,

so she becomes the back half of the puppet.

And then she controls

the front of the cheetah with her arms.

So there's a synchronicity where they share the space

and they share the movement.

It's very magical.

♪ The circle of life ♪

♪ And it moves us all ♪

♪ Through despair and hope ♪

My name is Lynda White,

and I'm the puppet supervisor at Lion King on Broadway.

There's over 200 puppets that are in the show.

It's a lot of puppets.

Back in 1996, 1997, Julie Taymor started with her drawings.

And from there the drawings were made into little maquettes.

And then from there they were sculpted in clay,

and molds were made.

Carbon fiber casts came out of the molds.

And those were the first set of puppets and masks.

She wanted to kind of break the mold

and do what she called the double event,

which is where you see the actor's face,

the performance face, and the puppet at the same time.

Starting with that premise,

the basic instructions that we give our actors,

especially if they've never worked in puppets before,

is that it's a puppet, and it's not gonna

feel like their favorite pair of sneakers.

It's a long process to get a puppet properly fitted.

It's gonna take time to get used to it.

And it's a process of making adjustments

so that the actor feels safe and comfortable.

Beyond that, it's about accepting the puppet,

and accepting that as a tool

that you're working with on stage.

And that you project your energy as an actor

through the puppet.

It can amplify your acting.

There's so much craftsmanship,

and so many different materials

and techniques in all of these.

We use yak hair, horse hair.

The prongs on Mufasa's mask are made with

burnt peacock feathers that are derided,

and then bleached, and sewn into those prongs.

Each of the sticks are all hand-carved.

You can see sort of the iconography of the show,

which is the circle.

Yeah, the sun is the circle, circle of life.

Specifically the Simba and Mufasa mask

are both concentric circles.

The only one that breaks that mold is Scar,

and Scar is our antagonist.

His mask is completely asymmetrical,

almost cubist in its design.

His hair is made from Turkey feathers

that go through a process

of being glued down with cheesecloth,

and then trimmed into these shapes, and painted.

He just in general has a much more

antagonistic energy to his design.

Whereas you can see the lionesses,

they look like the sun rising.

[drums pounding]

Zazu is probably one of the more complicated puppets

to act with 'cause he's got lots of moving parts.

All of his feathers are hand-cut

and they're made out of parachute material.

His mechanism is strings and pivot points.

So he flaps his wings by strings that are attached up here,

go through his body to a paddle underneath.

When you push the paddle down his wings flap.

And then there's triggers and cables for his eyes

so he can throw some shade, his mouth.

Especially our principal, Cameron Pow,

is really articulate in how he uses every aspect

of the puppet to communicate emotions

and feelings that the bird is having.

To do all of that at once while he is singing,

and dancing, and falling, and throwing himself on the stage,

it's pretty amazing.

And it's also, I mean,

it takes a lot of strength to do this.

And everybody always asks, what's his neck made out of?

And his neck is made out of a Slinky.

And there's a ripcord inside that stops it

from extending any further than that.

[dynamic music]

I'd like to introduce to you Shacura Wade.

She is a dancer with our show

and the specialty performer in the cheetah,

which is one of the more challenging puppets to perform in.

Being the cheetah puppet,

you have to be very connected to your body,

and you have to be open

to sharing your energy with the puppet.

Puppet mostly moves from the core of the performer.

You have to have a very strong core.

And you have to be strong, and light, and delicate.

And with delicate movements, like the tilting of the head,

Shacura can really express the emotion of the puppet.

The curiosity, the wonder, the wildness of the puppet.

The way that Julie Taymor

and Michael Curry designed the puppets,

they didn't try to hide the mechanisms,

or disguise how they work.

You just, your mind just takes you there immediately,

and it makes it more magical.

While you simultaneously can see how it works,

your spirit just wants to believe

and be immersed in the magic.

My name is Stacey Stephens.

I am the associate costume designer

and production wardrobe supervisor

for The Lion King on Broadway,

the US and international tours.

In the show, there's about 1,500 to 2,000 pieces

that cross the stage every night.

We go through about 300 different costume changes.

Backstage at The Lion King,

from a wardrobe aspect, is a busy endeavor.

Starting an hour before half,

my crew of 17 dressers and two assistants

come in, preset puppets in the front of house.

Rhinos, and birds, and giraffes get set backstage.

Costumes are checked.

Laundry is done every day and distributed.

My team works very diligently

to keep the costumes in the best shape they can be

for the eight performances, each week.

We have a staff of two full-time stitchers,

beaters, maintenance people that come in during the week,

and during the day, to maintain the costumes.

We work with five different companies

that build our costumes.

They are all handmade,

they are all individually made for each actor.

The process is somewhere between six

and eight weeks for each costume.

[dynamic music]

So we're looking at the Rafiki costume.

One thing you should note is in the original cartoon

Rafiki was played by a male actor.

Julie felt very strongly

about adding a strong female character,

so Rafiki became female in the stage production.

She's based on a sangoma, which are South African healers,

sort of doctors that are for the good.

The Rafiki costume is heavy.

It gives her a little gravitas,

or sort of earthiness to her performance,

'cause it grounds her to the stage.

In her costume, it is represented on her tunic.

The little tidbits and packages are as sangomas would wear.

They represent prayers and wishes that people have made.

The fetish nails represent wealth.

Her appropriately placed shell

does represent her femininity.

Her collar is based on African tribal collars

worn by women in South Africa.

I mean, she is supposed to be a baboon,

so the figure is meant to be slightly truncated

from the human figure.

The shoes are custom designed for them.

They're not a traditional shoe.

It's almost like walking in a big fluffy slipper.

She also does go up the stairs of Pride Rock,

and she's up and down the rake of the stage.

So her feet are something she needs to become

very aware of and very used to.

She has to learn how to manipulate young Simba

at the top of the show when she presents him

with the bamboo extensions on her fingers.

The whole design of the costume was to

sort of forget that we're looking at a human figure.

No two costumes are exactly alike

because they are individually made for each actor.

The coloration and the fabrication

is as similar as we can to the original.

The differences become when the costume shop

can no longer find certain things.

For one instance, these are small discs

that are actually pressed from old records.

Those no longer are available, so as they move forward

these red and yellow discs are going to have to be replaced.

Depending on the character,

we will have six to eight different versions

of the same thing, depending on the understudy number.

At this point I think we have six Rafikis in house.

My name is Ntomb'Khona Dlamini.

I'm the original cast member of The Lion King.

Since 2017 I've been back on Broadway.

It's very empowering for me, from South Africa,

to be be able to start that first note,

to stand there, and to play Rafiki.

It's another level of presenting my culture.

To represent South Africa, period, for 25 years.

It's a fun role to do.

[Rafiki singing]

[dynamic music]

The most intricate costume design

would be that of Scar.

From his chaps, which are leather.

They are sewn, they are then carved into, basically.

His corset is created to have a sort of bone-like structure

made out of the bamboo,

as well as the cage that stands behind his head.

With that, we have to hide the mechanics

that his mask work with.

So those battery packs

and mechanicals are tucked into his chaps.

Scar's original fittings were somewhere

in the hours of 50 or more.

[dynamic music]

My name is Antonia Gianino.

I'm one of the stage managers on The Lion King.

I have been working on The Lion King for 17 years.

The Lion King is, it's a bit of a monster,

especially from the perspective of being a stage manager.

There's a lot of people,

there's a lot of technical elements,

a lot of moving elements, a lot of people.

There are five stage managers that it takes to run the show.

And then there's wardrobe and puppets,

carpenters, electricians, props, orchestra, cast.

It's a hardy crew that makes this show happen every night.

I would say from pit to backwall

it's probably about 120 people.

So as a stage manager, we just really do a walkthrough,

and we check that the props are in place,

we check that the actors are all signed in at half hour.

Our carpenters really take care of doing a whole preset

and they check everything.

They run the rock up and down.

They bring in all the fly stuff up and down.

Electricians go through their channel check,

make sure all their lights are working,

their focuses are correct.

So everyone has their specific tasks

that they have when they first come in.

And then we just sort of oversee

to make sure everything is ready for the show.

[dynamic music]

The very first thing when the show opens

is a very iconic look at the clouds and the sun going out.

But our first big technical element that happens too

is Pride Rock coming up out of the floor.

So it's a little bit like starting an airplane, taking off.

Once the rock has come up,

I sort of feel like, okay, we're good to go.

You can take off your seat belts.

So Auto 11, go.

We have someone who runs the automation for us.

So it's literally someone pressing a button.

But it's hydraulic, so it comes up out of the floor.

It goes to about 12 feet high

when it's in its highest position, all the way up.

It is still a computer.

Your phone malfunctions, your computer malfunctions.

Every once in a while,

it doesn't wanna do what it's supposed to do.

You also have to be aware of the actors

who are on the stage,

make sure they're in the right position,

'cause you don't wanna open up the floor

and have a hole in the floor.

We've got people in the wings

that are also doing the same thing for us.

To have an extra set of eyes,

to make sure everything is safe and running smoothly.

[actors singing]

25 years of The Lion King on Broadway is amazing.

I grew up in a family that did theater.

My dad was a stage manager, my mom was an actress.

And there was a lot of shows that came and went,

and came and went, and came and went.

So to be a part of something that has this life

and has been around this long is really amazing,

and is really a blessing.

What makes The Lion King special

is everyone can relate to it.

When I started this show in 2002, in Denver,

one of the reviewers said something to the effect of,

no matter how big and wonderful the magic was

that Julie Taymor had created on the stage,

her biggest feat was turning 1,500 adults into children,

as the animals came up the aisles and onto the stage.

The 25th anniversary of The Lion King

resonates with me because in the time that we live now

where there's virtual reality, and automation,

and CG, and very simple storytelling with puppets

with strings, and just very simple mechanisms,

just has magic, and still resonates with people.

It still moves people to feel things, 25 years later.

This is our mythology now.

Lion King is the mythology of puppets

and masks in our culture.

I'm very grateful to be a part of that.