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Disney’s The Lion King | Theater Preview

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The call of Rafiki will soon ring through Northeast Ohio, beckoning theater patrons of all ages to flock to Playhouse Square’s Keybank State Theatre to see The Lion King!

Opening October 1, Lion King marks the first performances of a major Broadway touring production since Jesus Christ Superstar’s run was cut short in March of 2020. For approximately 18 months, State Theatre has been dark. Now, the cast of The Lion King have been in town since September 7, brushing off the dust and preparing to deliver a world-class performance that theater-goers have come to expect from this epic play.

Based on the blockbuster 1994 Disney film and featuring music composed by Elton John and Tim Rice, The Lion King has been seen by more that 90 million people, collected six Tony Awards® (including Best Musical), an is quite possibly the most impressive show, touring and on Broadway, that one can imagine.

CleveRock spoke with cast member Martina Sykes, who plays the hyena Shenzi, ahead of the Cleveland run. She did her best to put into words what goes into producing a show as complex as The Lion King.

“I would say that backstage is a performance within itself! The backstage business, you have 17 semi-trucks that carries all that is Lion King. That shows you how big the set, the lights, the stage, the costumes, the puppets, makeup, and wigs, and all of that shows you much goes into it. 17 semi-trucks worth of stuff! I Want to say load-in probably takes around 10-14 hours. We have an amazing crew. We pickup locals in every city which helps for the load-in and the load-out. We have an amazing crew that puts the set together before we even get there. When we arrive, we do a full dress tech run through the morning before our first show just to get the lay of the land in each theater that we go to. And then, we learn who are local dressers will be, the people that will help us get dressed; that help us on the side of the stage, and our prop masters, who will be handing us different props,” she explained. “I’m an elephant first, and then I’m a hyena. Other people go through six different roles, and have people that will help them hand them their gazelle arms or zebra arms, or a full body puppet.

Ah, yes, the puppets! Director Julie Taymor calls the puppetry a “double event,” allowing the audience to see the characters as animal and human at the same time. From an 18′ tall giraffe to a 13′ long elephant, all the way down to a 5″ trick mouse, it goes without saying that the show’s puppets do, in fact, come in all shapes and sizes!

“The puppets are huge and it takes so many people to help a cast of around 30 people that are onstage, then we have our swing and our standbys, and I think that it comes up to around 40ish people. You can imagine how much help is needed to be able to get so many people in and out of costumes, in and out of puppets, in and out of different kinds of makeup to transform into those different types of animals,” Sykes adds. “As soon as we go offstage, whatever set we had onstage has to be lifted into the air. There’s not enough room to put it off on the side of the stage. As soon as one set is coming into the air, the other set is coming down. They maybe have like 17 seconds to completely change the set from the Pride Land to the Pride Rock, to the Elephant Graveyard. It’s a performance within itself.”

Curious to get a cast member’s perspective on what makes the show so successful and so timeless, Sykes was asked why The Lion King has such staying power and has outlasted almost every show that debuted in the 90s.

“I think, number one, the story! Everyone can relate to the story, whether you can relate to Simba being a prodigal son, or you can relate to the strength of Mufasa, or you can relate to how strong and how fierce Nala is, or how wise Rafiki is,” Sykes explained. “Or, even if you relate to a villain character such as Scar and the jealousy he holds towards his own family members. Or, the hyenas, who are like the best buddies in the world, but they’re villains, and they’re dark. But, they have a great sense of humor. Or, you have Timon and Pumbaa, who kind of remind us of an old married couple that doesn’t take life seriously. I think people can just relate to the story. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old.”

Sykes continued, “Then, there is the music! It’s absolutely timeless. Five different languages; so many cultures. It’s so beautiful. From Rafiki’s call all the way to the Circle of Life. We call it the Sunshine Chords when Simba is presented back on the rocks. The music is incredible. I think that’s why Lion king has stood the test of time. It has all of the key ingredients for a beautiful, incredible; unforgettable musical.”

“If you like theater, you’ll love The Lion King,” she put simply. “If you don’t like theater, you’ll still love The Lion King!”


The Lion King will have performances at Playhouse Square’s Keybank State Theatre from October 1 – October 15. Complete show information and a ticket purchase link can be found on our events calendar: RIGHT HERE!

VACCINATION REQUIRED!!!

Per Playhouse Square’s official site:

All audience members must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

  • “Fully vaccinated” means that 14 days have passed since either the second shot of a CDC or WHO-approved two-shot vaccine or since the administration of a CDC or WHO-approved one-shot vaccine. 
  • Those audience members who cannot be vaccinated will be required to provide proof of a negative test result received from a completed lab-certified antigen COVID-19 test within 24 hours prior to entering the theater or a negative test result received from a completed PCR COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to entering the theater. The BinaxNOW COVID-19 Home Test (the version requiring a virtual appointment) is an acceptable option. More information about COVID-19 testing is available on local or state Department of Health websites.
  • Ticket holders must show proof of vaccination or negative test at their time of entry into the theater with a valid ticket.
  • Ticket holders may present proof of vaccination or negative on paper or a smartphone.
  • In addition to proof of vaccination or negative test result, all guests 18 years or older must also present ID, such as a driver’s license or passport. Guests under 18 may also use a school photo ID. Guests ages 3-11 do not need ID, but must be accompanied by an adult who meets all of the above requirements.
  • Children age two and under are not permitted in Playhouse Square venues at any time.

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