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Stage version of Disney's "The Lion King" is an international success, but ...

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Stage version of Disney's "The Lion King" is an international success, but ...

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People have called the Broadway version of Disney's "The Lion King" many things. Dazzling. Spectacular. A magical night of theater.

However, were you to ask Steve "Doc" Zorthian -- who, back in 1997, started off as one of this long-running musical's original assistant stage managers and now serves as the production supervisor -- to describe this Tony Award-winner, you might be surprised at Doc's choice of words.

"Dangerous," Zorthian said. "Particularly backstage. If you're standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, you could really get hurt back there."

Which is why the cast of Disney's "The Lion King" -- which, this coming Sunday night, celebrates its 10th anniversary on Broadway with a gala performance -- goes through an extensive rehearsal process. Which not only covers what the performers should do while they're standing out on stage, but also what they should do once they get backstage.

"To be honest, there's just as much choreography going on behind-the-scenes at the Minskoff as there is out front," Doc explained. "We train people to follow a specific track as they come & go off stage. Just so that they don't wind up up getting clipped by a piece of scenery that's rising up out of the floor or coming down from the flies."


Tshidi Manye (Rafiki, center) in the Broadway production of Disney's "The Lion King."
Copyright 2007 Disney.
Photo by Joan Marcus

Mind you, if there's one person on the planet who understands what an incredibly complicated piece of machinery the stage version of this Oscar-winning animated feature is, it's Zorthian. You see, in his role as production supervisor for Disney's "The Lion King," Doc gets to travel the world. Where he then trains the backstage crew to make sure that each new international production of this musical (There have been 9 to date) meets Disney Theatrical's high standards.

"Each time, I take a core group of technicians with me," Zorthian continued. "My job is to teach the stage manager how to call the show. Prepare him for all possible contingencies. Like what to do when the computer malfunctions and Pride Rock doesn't rise up right on cue during 'The Circle of Life.' After all, the show must go on."

Under Doc's guidance, both the cast as well as the backstage crew of each new international production goes through a solid month of rehearsal. With Julie Taymor -- the musical's Tony Award-winning director -- coming in for the last week, just to make sure that each new company adhers to her original vision for this show.

That said, even though Zorthian prides himself on delivering a very consistent product (i.e. "My goal is to make sure that -- when each new international production opens -- it's just as good as the original Broadway production was on its opening night"), he's still somewhat amazed at how Disney's "The Lion King" seems to play a bit differently in each new country that this musical is presented in.

"I know that this is going to sound like a cliché. But the version of 'The Lion King' that we just opened in Paris seems so much more romantic than all of the other versions of this show," Doc continued. "In Germany, the show came across as being somewhat rougher. In that country, the story seemed to be more about Scar. Whereas in Japan, it was the puppetery that really popped out."


 The "Circle of Life" number from Disney's "The Lion King,"which celebrates its 10th
anniversary on Broadway with a gala performance this Sunday night at the
Minskoff Theatre. Copyright 2007 Disney. Photo by Joan Marcus

Speaking of puppetry, no matter what country Disney's "The Lion King" is being presented in, Zorthian's absolute favorite moment in this musical comes at the very of the show. When those faux elephants start heading down the aisle, so that they can then pay tribute to the new-born king.

"That moment always sends a chill down my spine," Doc smiled. "As the audience begins to realize that the show is happening all around them, as the performers come down the aisle and make their puppets interact with the people seated along the aisle, the whole hall comes to life. There's this huge surge of energy as the audience realizes that they're in for something really special."

And speaking of special occasions ... The stage version of Disney's "The Lion King" celebrates its 10th anniversary on Broadway this coming Sunday night with a gala performance at the Minskoff Theatre. If you'd like to learn more around this long-running musical and/or maybe pick up a few tickets for an upcoming performance, I suggest that you click on this link.

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