Disney’s The Lion King has won more than 70 global theatrical awards including Tony®s for Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Costume Design, Best Scenic Design and Best Choreography. The show has also received a Grammy for Best Musical Show Album, an Evening Standard Award for Theatrical Event of the Year and Laurence Olivier Awards for Best Choreography and Best Costume Design.
Since it hit the stage in 1998, the over-the-top, jungle-inspired musical has been on a wild ride, consistently bringing star-studded talent to the largest cities in North America. While the music and storyline, and of course the beloved Disney characters, are responsible for much of the show’s success, the costumes and set designs are what takes this show over-the-top.
In fact, the larger-than-life production value of The Lion King is why the Reno event, part of the Pioneer Center for the Performing Art’s Broadway Comes to Reno series, is being held at the Grand Sierra Resort instead. It is the only show in the line-up not held at the Pioneer Center. Simply put, the elements needed to bring The Lion King to stage were too big for the Pioneer Center to accommodate.
A large part of the show is made special by its costumes, which include “double event” masks created by Costume Designer Julie Taymor that allow the audience to see cast members as humans and animals at the same time. The prototype masks were hand sculpted and painted for the iconic “Circle of Life” opening of the show. It took more than 17,000 hours for the team of mask makers, sculptors and puppeteers to build the anthropomorphic animal characters for the original Broadway production. Masks include both moveable pieces that come to life and South African-inspired headdresses.
Most masks are lightweight—just a few ounces each—but some of the costumes prove much heavier. Take, for example, Pumba. Pumba appears on stage as a puppet worn like a backpack and weighs in at 45 pounds. Other animal characters appear as puppets, as well, including the 15-pound Timon meerkat.
Costumes aside, the set pieces are another remarkable piece of the tapestry. Pride Rock appears a staggering five times throughout the show and is the most complicated single design. Essentially it is a wirelessly controlled, battery-powered "rock" that expands like an accordion up to 18 feet wide.
The effort to put on The Lion King is so large that worldwide nearly 1,100 people are directly employed by the show, including 20 people who focus solely on artistic upkeep. On tour, 134 crew members are needed to handle daily production responsibilities.
The North American leg of the tour requires a lot of setup to bring the show to a new stage, which is one reason runs of The Lion King may be longer than other shows. For example, in Reno, The Lion King will play from November 10-19, while most Broadway shows appear for less than one week in the Biggest Little City. In all, it takes 17 trucks to transport all of the necessary elements in between destinations, most of which are 53-foot-long semi-trailers. The tour also requires four days of on-site technical preparation and installation before it can come to life on a new stage.
BY THE NUMBERS
Total number of puppets: 200
Number of cast members needed to bring animals to life: 49
Ants on the Ant-Hill Lady costume: 40
Types of animals, birds, fish and insects represented: 25
Simba representations: 6