IT’S the biggest and the best.
But while The Lion King is the ultimate on-stage spectacular and boasts stunning box office statistics – it’s behind the scenes where the real action takes place.
There are 52 performers up front as Simba, the young lion cub, journeys through life and struggles to accept the responsibilities of adulthood and his destined role of King, but a production team of almost three times as many ensure this remains the King of musicals.
A total of 150 people make up The Lion King touring company, all due to arrive in Southampton next month for a nine-week run of the hit show to work alongside local staff on keeping costumes, wigs, puppets and props in perfect working order.
One of the pride’s most loyal subjects, there’s never a dull moment for Will Pearce, props boss on the celebrated Disney musical.
After more than eight years on various reincarnations of the show – everywhere from Singapore to Sao Paolo – he still loves every moment of maintaining the show’s magic.
But with 700 different costumes, 232 puppets in the show and hundreds of props, he and his team are kept extremely busy.
““There is always something new to do,” says the head of masks and puppets. “It can be slightly like organised chaos.
“But choreographing the backstage effort is every bit as important as on stage.
“Maintaining the puppets is a constant job. We have doubles for some of the characters, like the elephant, Pumba (the micro pig pal of of Simba during his exile) and my favourite, Zazu (the playful hornbill who is servant to Simba’s father Mufasa and keeps a watchful eye over the young Prince.) Sometimes we need to run and grab the other puppet, but other times it’s a case of using lots of cable ties.
Sometimes I think the show is held together with cable ties!”
With a positive menagerie bounding about on stage, there’s always the possibility something could go horribly wrong.
“Simba’s bum and back legs fell off once,” gasps Will, a graduate of the special effects and theatre arts course at Wimbledon, part of the University of the Arts, London.
“He’s rarely off stage, so that was pretty touch and go.
“Breaks and problems do happen that have never happened before.
But that’s the beauty of live theatre – you have to think on your feet and get back on stage.”
The stars of the award-winning show will be so grateful for his quick-thinking. It seems the backstage team deserve an even share of the constant awards and standing ovations.
- 23 trucks will tour the country to transport Disney’s enormous production.17 different nationalities make up The Lion King touring company. The show will visit 10 cities in the UK & Ireland over two and a half years.
- The Lion King UK Tour was the 20th production of The Lion King to premiere internationally.
- Enjoyed its first performance in October 1999 at the Lyceum Theatre in the West End.
- More than 10 million people have seen The Lion King in London.
- Now in its record-breaking 15th year, the show remains one of the top ten longestrunning musicals in West End history.
- In the West End production, the Swahili phrase ‘Hakuna Matata’ (meaning no worries) has been said over 125,500 times and over 875,000 times worldwide – that’s 25 times per show!
AROUND THE WORLD
- The Lion King has been seen by more than 70 million people in 15 different countries, on five continents.
- Since its 1997 Broadway premiere, 23 productions around the world have grossed over $4.7 billion and have cumulatively run for 90 years.
- The Lion King is one of only five productions in theatre history to play for ten years or more, both on Broadway and in the West End.
- The production is the highest grossing musical ever on Broadway.
MASKS AND PUPPETS
- Tony® Award-winning director and designer Julie Taymor, along with designer Michael Curry, hand sculpted and painted every prototype mask that now appears in the iconic Circle of Life opening of the show.
- It took approximately 37,000 hours to build all the puppets and masks; which is more than 1,542 days!
- Mufasa’s mask weighs 11 ounces, Scar’s mask weighs seven ounces and Sarabi’s mask is just four ounces. They are extremely lightweight and are comprised of silicone rubber (to form the mask imprint) with carbon graphite overlay – the same durable material used to build airplanes.
- Scar and Mufasa each wear two different masks: one moves and one is a stationary headdress.
- The tallest animals in the show are the four, 18ft exotic giraffes from I Just Can’t Wait to Be King. Two actors trained in stilt-walking, climb six-foot ladders to fit inside the puppets, mount stilts and enter stage left to cross the stage.
- The largest and longest animal in the show is the Elephant (nicknamed Bertha). At 13 feet long and 9 feet wide, the puppet requires four actors to carefully walk her down the orchestra aisle. When not occupied by the actors, the puppet can collapse down flat for convenient backstage storage.
- The smallest animal is the trick mouse at the end of Scar’s cane at just five inches.
- Worn like a back pack, Pumbaa the Warthog is the heaviest costume weighing in at 45 pounds.
- The yearly upkeep and maintenance of the 20 Grasslands headdresses requires over 3,000 stalks of grass.
- The Lion King is at the Mayflower Theatre from July 10 to September 6. Tickets: 023 8071 1811 or visit mayflower.org.uk