"The Lion King" to Roar Again at Overture Center
Madison editor Amanda Finn visits with production stage manager Matthew Shiner (with the tour of "The Lion King") for some candid insights into the musical phenomenon.
Photo Credit: Dan Miles
Back in December, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel down to Chicago to spend some time with crewmembers from The Lion King tour, which will be making its way to Overture Center in May.
“The production itself is a unique, one-of-a-kind show. It’s something that’s just special and magical,” said Production Stage Manager Matthew Shiner of The Lion King.
There must be something extra special about the show, which has run continuously on tour for 14 years.
It still fills houses in every city it visits, keeps new merchandise coming through the shops to satiate those who have seen it numerous times, and The Lion King became the highest grossing musical of all time in 2015.
So, why? What makes this musical so captivating after nearly a decade and a half?
“We take off where the animated feature started,” said Shiner. “We tell a deeper story and we tell it very theatrically.”
As we wandered backstage of the Cadillac Palace Theatre on a dreary day in December, it was clear how dedicated Shiner was to the production itself. Every prop was carefully arranged, every costume hung beneath the name of the actor to whom it belonged, and there was an air of a familiar Disney magic.
A sense of magic that earned the Broadway production of The Lion King ten different major awards between 1998 and 1999 – including six Tony Awards.
The Lion King musical utilizes six different African languages within its text, employs 18 transport vehicles to keep the touring production afloat, and even has two different sets so that one can be loaded into the next location while the show is still running elsewhere.
Needless to say, The Lion King on tour is a massive undertaking.
“It’s not just a typical musical – it’s a step beyond. That’s what I like about doing it every day,” explained Shiner.
According to Shiner, the key to keeping The Lion King impressive from year to year is the dedication of those who work on it. The show is so massive that it takes six days to fully load the set, lights, and everything backstage. But it’s important that the crew get everything loaded by the time the actors arrive, because the show can’t go on before a rehearsal can be done.
“We’re one of the only shows that does a full dress rehearsal in every city to make sure our product on the first preview is as good as the 90th show in that venue,” Shiner said. “We have very high standards in our performance in what we present. You have to keep a show that’s been running for 14 years polished and out there – but we ‘wow’ the families every time.”
With familiar tunes like “The Circle of Life”, “Hakuna Matata”, and “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” crossing over from the film to the stage production, fans of the movie -- and newcomers to the musical -- are overcome by waves of nostalgia.
That is, before songs like “One By One” and an entrancing “He Lives In You” take the stage and immerse audiences into a whole new experience.
Shiner explained that one of the beautiful parts of the show is that they never try to hide the fact that people are playing animals. Audiences always see both the puppet and the performer, which creates a fascinating act of storytelling.
But for all of the hard work the cast and crew of the show put in, it always pays off to Shiner when audiences take their seats.
“No matter how bad of a day we’re having, to get the energy from the audience is absolutely amazing – it’s all worth it,” said Shiner.
Shiner added, “it’s hard to describe why [The Lion King] works. It just does – in a magical way.”
Disney’s The Lion King will run May 10—June 5 at Overture Center in Madison. Please visit www.footlights.com for more information, or www.overturecenter.org to purchase tickets.