More magic than math4/29/2015
Even as the U.S. tour of “The Lion King” is finishing its run in Cincinnati, it’ll start setting up in Des Moines. The show travels with “a dupe,” as Ken Davis puts it — a backup. As production stage manager, Davis takes pride in the jaw-dropping math of “Lion King.” Its materials fill 18 trailer-trucks, its company numbers more than a hundred, and arrangements in each new city begin a week in advance.
“We even have to reconfigure the seating in the hall,” Davis explains. “We need extra space for ‘Circle of Life,’ when the animals come through.”
And that’s just the opening number. “Lion King” delivers one show-stopper after another, and it swept the 1998 Tony Awards for set, costumes and lighting. The trifecta made Julie Taymor, the designer, a Broadway star — but it’s no small chore to replicate in cities all over the world.
“Honestly,” says Davis, “it’s so great to know that, when I walk into the theater in Des Moines, everything will be there.”
This walk-through takes place the morning of the first performance. Not everything can travel with the “dupe,” and more trucks haul a few essentials cross-country, while cast, crew and musicians fly in. Everyone hits the ground running.
“First afternoon in town, we have a full-length dress rehearsal. Full orchestra, full tech, everything,” Davis tells me.
Some of the orchestra and technical support, in every stop, are local people. Here in Des Moines, a number will be folks Davis has met before. He’s been with “Lion King” for four years, and he and other company members have grown familiar with the Civic Center and downtown. During our conversation, Davis asked the name of that “great, funky coffee shop right close by.”
Java Joes, I told him.
This seemed like an opportunity to bring up my own response to “Lion King.” I hadn’t caught the show till its last visit, in 2012, because I’d always thought it would be a letdown. I’d seen the Disney movie when it came out (my daughter fit the demographic), and I couldn’t believe that — even with the great songs from Elton John and Tim Rice — the cartoon would work as theater. Then two minutes into “Circle of Life,” I became a convert. I loved it.
Davis understood. “As long as I’ve been watching this show, I’ve never reached the point where I can take the experience for granted.”
“Lion King,” he said, is more than its numbers. Taymor and her creative team still check in with every tour, traveling the world to keep up the quality. The show has such a special quality, recently it’s found success in yet another medium. On YouTube, it’s garnered millions of hits for a “flash mob” performance by the Australian cast. When the choruses erupt — the singing, Davis explains, adapts the rich sounds of South Africa — even an old hand feels swept away.
“Every night there’s magic,” declares Davis.
Overheard in the Lobby: The Funny Bone features Pauly Shore May 1-2. CV
John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.