My aunt is in the Lion King.
Okay, not technically my aunt. She’s my mom’s cousin. But with Filipino families, how could you even tell?
I got to see Yael Pineda-Hall do her thing one Tuesday night with my family, and she showed us backstage afterwards. We met many of the lead actors, as well as a dancer that had recently been in a movie you might have heard of called Black Panther.
^^ these are the only photos we were allowed to take during the tour. My favorite is the first picture, of the moment my grandma met Mufasa. It was the cutest thing ever.
The next week, my aunt got me to come back to the show to shadow the Stage Manager. I spent the whole show behind-the-scenes (sometimes even stepping onstage behind props), dodging flying props and being pecked teasingly by a friendly Zazu, and hanging out with cast members backstage.
Key funny moments were:
- Talking to Mufasa backstage after he died, heating food in the microwave
- Listening to the cast casually singing Hannah Montana in the back
- Teasing a gazelle because he was almost late for a part
- Almost having to stall the show because a woman’s wheelchair was in the way of the performers
- Little Simba doing the wip and nae-nae next to me offstage
- Being told exactly when to duck so I wouldn’t be hit by little Nala on a huge ostrich puppet
I wrote an article about my experience for the Observer, but sadly it didn’t get published. So here it is!
Disney’s The Lion King came to the Dallas Summer Musicals at Fair Park this year. From June 13 to July 7, an incredible cast brought the 6-time Tony-Award-winning musical to life Downtown,and I got the in.
Being a “shadow” to the Stage Manager included some strict rules. Wear all black, don’t touch anything, and don’t take any photos.
Right inside the stage door of a theater sits a friendly security guard to ask people why they’ve come. Once they meet a shadow, they direct him or her to the Stage Manager’s office where the shadow receives a headset. Every backstage has a bunch of different offices. The Stage Manager’s room was equipped with a couple computers, papers, and a screen that gave a live feed of the stage. There was also a little contraption in which one of the Stage Managers spoke into to give the audience their final warnings to be seated.
The Lion King- (spoiler alert!) opens with a jaw-dropping number in which the cast comes from the aisles of the theater running, dancing and singing up to the stage in full animal costume and carrying beautifully crafted puppets. They had two stage managers and shadows stand right outside the theater doors to oversee this.
A couple minutes before the opening number, the ushers of Musical Hall section off the entrance to the theater, and the crew brings out the puppets from behind a curtain. Two people get into a big paper elephant, a group of singers get adorned with paper birds, and the actor playing Zazu gets in position with his bird (which turned out to be valued at about $25,000).
Before everyone begins, the stage managers do a quick check from the back of the theater to make sure all aisles are clear. No wheelchairs in the way, no feet or purses sticking out. Then the show begins with Rafiki’s beautiful voice and that iconic first note in the “Circle of Life.”
Being backstage during a production of the Lion King is like being a fly on the wall at a really cool party. It is incredible to see the machine that is a Broadway production. Not only is every second of the musical onstage choreographed, but every movement backstage was planned to a T. Props were being brought out and then taken back and stored above the wings like clockwork. The crew knew exactly at what moment to open a curtain, to roll grass onstage, to set out blow-up cacti, and more. It seemed like everyone backstage knew every beat and every word of the musical.
The cast themselves were nothing short of wonderful. Their energy continued onstage and off, singing during intermission and dancing between every scene. There were 13 cast members “out” the day, which meant they had to substitute people for 13 roles. But to the musical’s credit, every cast member was so proficient in their craft that even with all the switches they had to do, no one missed a beat. Everyone was a professional through and through.
One had to be careful being backstage. Sometimes the shadow was asked to stand very close to the edge of the wings and one misstep could have you tumbling onstage. Sometimes one of the curtains would be let down and the Stage Managers and shadows would run onstage to help light up a shadow puppet or help little Nala and little Simba climb an ostrich puppet. Sometimes one would have to duck because Nala was sliding over with her ostrich puppet and its feathers were flying everywhere. But of course, even that was choreographed.
The singers and dancers have to go through many costume changes throughout the show. There is a place called a “bunker” right behind the stage that was basically a long line of closets. It was sectioned into different stations with all the different costumes a singer or dancer needs during the show. In a span of a few seconds, a cast member had to change from anything from a lioness to a hyena to a plant to a gazelle. There were also makeup stations backstage, a little workshop for puppet repairs, a physical therapist office, and separate changing stations for Scar and Pumba due to the amount of work assembling their costumes was.
Everywhere the Lion King goes on tour, the company creates jobs. They hire locals to be on-hand carpenters, and dressers. At this stop, dressers and carpenters were hired from Dallas and taught the ropes of the show.
One of the stage managers said she really loved being in Dallas because of the theater. Musical Hall at Fair Park was a “luxury” because of how much space the cast and crew were given backstage. The area behind the stage had so much width and depth that the company did not have to do anything on a different floor. The stage manager explained the struggle of going up and down stairs to dress the actor of Pumba, and how difficult it can be to move him around when he has to carry such a large puppet. Some theaters have been so small that the stage they bring around can’t fit, or there would be no room for the actors to move from place to place. But in Dallas, they had plenty of space to move around. So one could say, the cast and crew received nothing short of Texas hospitality.
Being backstage of the Lion King is just as much of a wonder as seeing the show is. The craftsmanship of every detail provides such a wonderful spectacle to enhance the classic story of Disney’s the Lion King.