Producers of every Broadway show must undertake a massive amount of preparation and planning. Some shows require more work than others, especially those with non-human characters or requiring scenes set in large- scale surroundings. The creators of Disney’s ‘The Lion King’ faced enormous challenges in dealing with both of these issues to make their production a convincing, captivating show.
Julie Taymor’s work on The Lion King won her a Tony Award in 1998 for Best Costume Design. The show used puppets for all characters, complete with 18 foot tall giraffes and 13 foot long elephants. But the final product took some leaps of faith by production supervisors and by Julie herself.
After being approached by Disney producer Tom Schumacher, Taymor came to Disney with the idea of leaving the actors exposed while they worked the puppets. In a 1999 interview with ‘The Drama Review,’ Taymor said that she had difficulties conveying her ideas to producers. Taken out of context, the actors upstaged the puppets, confusing the viewer as to what to look at. It took multiple renderings of characters, with a final presentation in the New Amsterdam theatre under proper lighting, before the decision was made.
The costumes themselves depart from the humanized renderings in the animated version, opting instead to use more abstract shapes, much like in traditional African masks. Julie noted that though the sculpted masks can only convey one single emotion, leaving the actors’ faces visible help to communicate changes throughout the story. The large puppets use elements of Bunraku puppetry, a Japanese form of theater from the 16th century which often uses puppets operated by multiple people.
Today, the innovative and inspiring costumes used in The Lion King consistently captivate audiences after more than 18,000 performances worldwide. Hundreds of puppets representing over two dozen kinds of animals, birds, fish, and insect make this show the most magical on Broadway.
Jason writes for Applause Theatre and Entertainment Services, a New York based ticket company that specializes in Broadway Theater. For Tickets and More information about this show, click through here.