The Broadway cast of Disney’s The Lion King has it easier than their counterparts on the road if for no other reason than they don’t have to learn a new theater every few weeks.
The national touring company of The Lion King arrived in Popejoy Hall on Tuesday, having just come from Wichita’s Century II Concert Hall. The stage in Wichita is deeper than Popejoy’s, so there was room for cast members to cross behind the set. To get from one side to the other here, they have to go down stairs, cross under the stage, and climb back upstairs.
If an actor has an exit stage left, then re-enters stage right minutes later, that actor has to relearn that route every time the show moves to another theater. If there’s a costume to change or a prop to pick up along the way, the route gets more complex. Multiply that by about 40 actors on stage each night and you begin to understand the intricacies of traffic backstage and how those patterns might need someone paying attention to them.
Ken Davis (no relation) has as one of his many concerns the backstage movement for the tour of The Lion King. As production stage manager, he oversees the best use of space for the show, including where the wig room will be, how the various puppets will be stored, and which set pieces get hoisted into the rafters to make space in the wings. He likens his job to that of an air traffic controller. “I ensure that everyone and everything gets where they're supposed to go,” he said.
It helps that he’s been here with other touring shows, among them Spamalot. What impressed him most about how we fit The Lion King into the hall was the addition of a shed on our loading dock to effectively extend the space stage left to make room for sets and actors waiting in the wings. We’re not the first theater to do that. He said they did much the same thing in Indianapolis.
“Whatever we do backstage, we want to make sure that the audience sees a good show,” he affirmed. “The space where we tell the story — the stage — stays essentially the same.”
Along with the company manager, Ken is responsible for the 120 company members. In addition to the cast, crew and orchestra, The Lion King travels with a physical therapist and a teacher (for the pairs of alternating Young SImbas and Young Nalas). The Broadway company might have a physical therapist on staff but it probably doesn’t have a teacher.
The look and sound of the show does change a bit from theater to theater. While the Broadway company of The Lion King did change theaters once, they don’t move to a new hall every four weeks. It’s Ken’s job to make sure the touring show looks and sounds as good as it does in New York no matter where it plays.
Ken likes how the show fits here. “It feels intimate,” he said. So, while this may not be Broadway, Ken and the company he leads makes it work very well. He thinks you should come to Popejoy to see it. (And, yes, there are still tickets available, in spite of any rumors you might have heard.)
Terry S. Davis
Photo: Production Stage Manager Ken Davis hangs out with the wildebeests and gazelles backstage at Disney's The Lion King at Popejoy Hall.