What is 25 feet high, weighs about 12,000 pounds, and runs along a slotted track in the ground?
If you guessed a locomotive, you wouldn’t be that far off.
Those characteristics describe Pride Rock, the gargantuan centerpiece of Disney’s Tony-award winning best musical “The Lion King,” which is playing at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre through March 15.
Proudly displayed during the show’s awe-inspiring opening number, “Circle of Life,” the six-ton rock may be one of the most complex pieces ever to appear on a broadway stage.
“Pride Rock’s movement is completely computerized. We’ve got people in the control room tracing it around the stage,” explained Joe Bogdan, head carpenter for The Lion King. “It’s got little switches in it, and it follows the slot in the floor.”
According to Bogdan, the Lion King features a variety of theatrical tricks from the oldest type, some involving simple lighting effects, to the most modern, which the show has beecome famous for.
“We’ve reached into the high-tech world in various places,” Bogdan said. “Pride Rock is very high on the list of most complicated because of what it’s asked to do, but there are special effects built into the show deck like geysers, switches, and doors that open and close.
“The technology is broad and really displays a high-tech development.”
And with anything involving a computer, things are bound to go haywire on occasion. In his three years with the show, Bogdan noted that his crew has avoided anything “truly major,” but there are always things that require very quick reaction.
“The worst has been when Pride Rock itself has basically skipped it’s track onstage,” Bogdan recalled. “When it does that, it’s not a matter of trying to move it manually or something, we have to stop the show, go out there with the crew and prybars and get it back into the track so it’s able to move again.”
MOVING THE KING
The Lion King’s lavish costumes, spectacular sets, and over 200 masks and puppets require a big crew to move from city to city.
In addition to 55 onstage cast members, it takes about 100 more behind the scenes to bring the age-old story of Simba to life, including employing about 60-70 local crew from Seattle.
Incredibly, The Lion King wrapped up its last show in Tempe on Sunday, Feb. 8, and was completely set up in time for its first Seattle performance on Wednesday, Feb. 11, just three days later.
“We start about a week early, we started last week on Monday through Thursday unloading 13 trucks,” said Bogdan, who said he is primarily responsible for the coordination of the show’s movement from city-to-city. “We got everything set up working fairly average days, about 10 hours a day.”
After the first unload, Bogdan and most of his crew flew back to Tempe, and after the curtain closed on the show’s Tempe run, started packing up five more tractor-trailers on what he calls the “show-to-show” move.
STAGED FOR SUCCESS
It’s 1:15 p.m. and the first Seattle dress rehearsal is scheduled to begin in 15 minutes. Technicians are scurrying around the stage, attending to last-minute details on Rafik’s Tree of Life, while the ensemble members who portray the variety of animals seen during the opening scene are stretching their limbs and getting into costume.
The show’s principal actors are upstairs in their dressing rooms getting the final touches done.
But one person is as calm as can be and grinning from ear to ear.
His name is Jim Sheeley, and as the vice-president of Broadway Across America-Seattle, he played a big part in getting the show, which won six Tony Awards in 1998 including Best Musical, Best Choreography, Best Lighting Design and Best Stage Design, back to the Emerald City for its five-week return engagement.
“It’s stunningly beautiful, people love it from the beginning, the Circle of Life, all the way through to the end,” Sheeley said. “It’s certainly the most imaginative and inventive creation that is in theatre. Audiences are thrilled, tickets are going fast and selling really well, and it’s good to have that kind of response.”
The Lion King is showing eight times a week at the Paramount Theatre, located at 911 Pine Street (check) in Seattle. Tickets range from $19.50-$130 and can be purchased at the Paramount’s box office, at www.ticketmaster.com or by calling (206) 292-ARTS.