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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘The Lion King’ moves into Spokane

Glen Becker and Jamey Cunningham of Cassel Promotion and Signs hang

They’ll be the ones wearing the black show jackets with the signature golden lion head stitched on the back.

We’ll see them eating at River Park Square, filling a prescription at Rite Aide on Howard Street, and on a rare day off, shopping at the specialty stores in Sandpoint. (Simba, I don’t think we’re in Africa anymore.)

They are the cast, orchestra and crew members of the “The Lion King,” all migrating to Spokane for its six-week, 46-performance run. The first show is Thursday night, with the “official” opening Saturday night. On Tuesday, more than 48 hours before the first and familiar lyrics in “Circle of Life” are belted from the house, Spokane Falls Boulevard resembled a Flying J Truck Stop as laborers unloaded 19 semitrucks.

While the theater continues to be transformed into a jungle (there are more than 60 special effects in the show), about 120 people – from carpenters to the academic tutor for the two young Simbas and the two young Nalas – will begin settling into their temporary homes. About 100 area labor workers have also been hired.

“The Lion King,” which has been playing on Broadway since 1997, will be the longest running theatrical event in Spokane history.

Many from the traveling company have spent the year performing and working the other long engagements, in Tempe, Ariz.; Costa Mesa and Sacramento, Calif.; Chicago; and Portland. Some flew in; others decided to make the 350-mile drive from Portland.

“The last (200 miles) was all farmland,” said Joel Elins, the animated production stage manager who is based out of New York. “It’s not what I expected of the Pacific Northwest.”

Elins, who has been with the company about a year, plans to live in a standard hotel room. He would like to be camping out in a hotel suite for the duration, but because of competing events here, he said a suite was hard to come by.

Michael San Filippo, company manager who oversees housing, among other things, said the company offers the cast and others a few living options. However, about 40 percent of the people decide to find places on their own.

“In Costa Mesa, people stayed at the beach in Laguna because it was close enough by,” said San Filippo, who has been with the show for six years and traveling for three. “Say there’s some great area, there’s no doubt in my mind somebody found a house there.”

Lake Coeur d’Alene fits the bill for the Spokane stop. Elins said he has heard some people with the show found a lake place to rent.

“I also heard about people who may want to go rafting, although it seems kind of late in the season,” Elins said. “One of the stage manager’s jobs is to find out the local, cool stuff.”

While hotels in walking distance to the Opera House make for a super-convenient commute, searching for something more homey on the craigslist Web site has become popular.

Spokane resident Marcos Nilson did not want his two-bedroom house near Gonzaga University to go unoccupied until June. He posted an ad on craigslist and was contacted by two musicians from the show. Although the remodeled bungalow had been advertised as unfurnished, Nilson said he’s given the musicians things such as a couch and TV.

“When I met them, they asked if they could get an ironing board, dish rack … things you don’t think about,” Nilson said.

Nilson said he’s also in the process of getting the short-term renters a toaster and perhaps a weight set and workout ball. He said his girlfriend would like to see the play, but they don’t have tickets yet.

“Maybe I’ll use (getting tickets) as a negotiating technique,” Nilson said.