2012 has been a great year for Disney Theatrical Productions with new shows Newsies and Peter and the Starcatcher collecting at the Tonys this year, and of course, the celebration of The Lion King’s 15 years on Broadway.
It’s difficult to judge the longevity of a show. Watching shows open and close is always kind of mystifying because you never know what will hit the audience in the right way. And even so a 5-year run is pretty remarkable all in itself, but 15 years with tickets still at full price? That’s a massive achievement.
I’m glad the folks at Disney Theatrical thought so as well when they took the open real estate across the street from Bryant Park (which has been home to many pop up stores recently) for two weeks in the beginning of December and transformed it into a mini-exhibit about the inventive musical that has brought so much success to the company.
Last Sunday, I was hanging around Bryant Park on a rainy, gloomy day and decided to stop into the exhibit. I was happy to see there was a line waiting outside (I guess the word FREE really motivates people but I’d like to think it’s because of their strong love for theater).
Once inside, there were cast members manning a few displays featuring puppets, costumes, and more. Unlike my prop tour from this summer, there was absolutely no touching. (Although as you can imagine not many understood that part.) Unfortunately (but kind of fortunately?), they were doing a live sing-along in the room and it was a strain to hear the cast members. (They were very happy to repeat anything we missed though.)
Here are a few of the tid-bits I picked up along the way:
→ The masks used in the musical are made out of carbon graphite. For a strenuous two and a half hour show, this makes sense. Carbon graphite is a durable material but it also is light.
→ The elephant in the show weighs a total of about 100 pounds. Luckily that weight is distributed with the four people who make the elephant come to life. This puppet is constructed out of tyvek, which you might know better as Fed Ex padded envelopes.
→ Unlike the Rafiki we all know from the animated feature, The Lion King, the musical version of Rafiki is the only character not to have a mask or be a puppet. Instead this character is a female mandrill with mostly human-like qualities, with her feet being the only animalistic part about her. (See below.) The Rafiki of the musical is meant to be a female representation of an African shaman.
The rest of the exhibit featured models of the stage at different scenes in the show, masks, and some quotes from the show’s direction Julie Taymor. (Kudos to the young girl — like VERY young girl — who turned to their parent, pointing to a picture and asked, “Mommy, is that Julie Taymor?” What a smart one!)
The simultaneous African singing session featured two singers, who were very very good. They worked to get the audience involved and singing along, but I was happy enough just to hear them sing. Did you know that smiling makes you sing better? According to ones of these ladies, it’s true. (I’m sure all the smiling in the world will not make my voice better but I thank her for that sentiment.) This segment was short and to the point but filled with a few African words and their American counterpoints, as well as a group crooning of “Circle of Life”. Afterwards, they provided a few small crafts for the younger folks. (It was also a win-win with some adults who I heard excitedly chatting about buying tickets to the show.)
All in all, I really enjoyed learning a bit more about The Lion King. It’s such a great opportunity to learn more about how theater works, especially a show that has broke so many creative barriers and done so well for so long. I hope that Disney Theatrical (and maybe others) follow suit and allow us to experience Broadway and theater productions in this interactive way.