Disney’s The Lion King returned to Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts last month, playing through June 5. Before opening night on May 12, we were lucky enough to be led backstage for a sneak peek at the magic behind the masks—and the manpower it takes to put on this award-winning production.

The Lion King: View Backstage

A view backstage. This show took two days to load into Overture Center (from 14 semi-trucks and four smaller trucks) and there are 134 people directly involved with the daily production of the show: 49 cast members and 85 crew made up of positions ranging from musicians and electricians to puppet craftspeople and child guardians (21 children are traveling with the show)!

The Lion King: Mufasa’s Mask

Mufasa’s mask weighs only 11 ounces. The masks, along with many others used in the show, are comprised of silicone rubber with carbon fiber overlay—the same durable material used to build airplanes.

The Lion King: Exotic Giraffes

The tallest animals in the show are the four, 18-foot exotic giraffes from “I Just Can’t Wait to be King.” Two actors trained in stilt-walking climb 6-foot ladders to fit inside the puppets, then mount stilts and enter stage left to cross the stage.

The Lion King: the Elephant

The largest and longest animal in the show is the Elephant. At 13 feet long and 9 feet wide, the puppet requires four actors to carefully walk her down the orchestra aisle. “We actually needed to reconfigure the floor in order to accommodate the elephant,” says Sarah Knab, Communications Manager at Overture Center for the Arts. “We had to move a railing into the orchestra pit and build stairs over the pit to provide a clear path for the elephant’s entrance at the very beginning of the show.” Here, the Elephant is shown in the rafters backstage, otherwise known as “The Boneyard.”

The Lion King: Grasslands Headdresses

The yearly upkeep and maintenance of the 20 Grasslands headdresses requires more than 3,000 stalks of grass (roughly 60 pounds). They, too, are stored in the rafters due to space considerations, and lowered as needed during the show. “I try not to look up,” says Production Stage Manager Matthew Shiner. “It is terrifying how much is up there. People often think about how much choreography happens onstage—but there’s a ton more happening back here.”

The Lion King: Simba

There are six Simba representations in the show: Baby Simba puppet (shown above with Mufasa), Young Simba-actor, Young Simba puppet, Simba Shadow puppet, Rafiki’s Simba painting-Act I & II and Adult Simba-actor.

The Lion King: African Language

There are six indigenous African languages spoken in the show: Swahili, Zulu, Xhosa (the click language), Sotho, Tswana and Congolese.

The Lion King: Backstage

There are 45 wigs and multiple headdresses used in the show—local dressers are hired in each city and are responsible for helping the cast to quickly change into their costumes backstage for their upcoming scenes.

The Lion King: Zazu

Zazu is the last animal to make an entrance on stage in the “Circle of Life” opening number. Above, we see Zazu in the puppet shop backstage. The puppets visit the station as frequently as EVERY day for paint touchups, feather re-application, and more in order to stay up to Disney standards. The Zazu puppet shown above (and its backup) was recently redone: each feather on the neck was cut out by hand, hand-painted, and glued to the neck, which is a slinky. It took 3 months, from start to finish, to completely re-do two Zazus!

The Lion King: Production

Once the show is ready to go, the cast and crew can relax—sort of. Production Stage Manager Matthew Shiner says, “Each first day in a new city begins at 7:00 a.m. with an orchestra rehearsal and before I know it, it’s time for my first cue of the show: getting Elephant down the aisle for Circle of Life. But I never get tired of this show because it’s great entertainment with great people.” Shiner and many others in the cast and crew become residents of Madison for a full month before moving on to the next city: Dayton, Ohio.


THE LION KING in Madison Event Details:

Arts Overture

DATES: May-June 5, 2016
LOCATION: Overture Center for the Arts at 201 State Street, Madison, WI 53703-2214
Times and ticket prices vary.