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

‘The Lion King’ by the numbers: More puppets than cast members on stage at First Insterstate Center for the Arts

Jared Dixon as “Simba” (Deen van Meer)

When “The Lion King” first came to the Spokane Opera House in 2005, it drew more than 110,000 attendees during a six-week, 46-show run, surpassing “Phantom of the Opera” to become the biggest theatrical event in the city’s history.

The musical returned to Spokane for four weeks in 2009, drawing 69,000 attendees.

This time around, just shy of 40,000 people are expected to turn out for the two-week, 16-performance run of the show ending on Feb. 3.

And while the attendance numbers remain astounding for a play on its third run at the same venue, the scope of the production is equally impressive.

According to WestCoast Entertainment, which hosts the “Best of Broadway” series at the rebranded First Interstate Center for the Arts, “The Lion King” features 18 musicians and 49 cast members who speak four African dialects: Swahili, Zulu, Ghosa and Soweto.

The reimagined Disney story also features nearly 700 lighting instruments and about 230 puppets – some of them life-sized – which took an estimated 17,000 hours to build.

Other props include 18-foot-tall giraffes seen during the song “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” as well as 13-foot-long elephants with ears that span 9 feet.

Through a feat of engineering, those elephants collapse to just 34 inches wide so they can be paraded down an aisle between theater seats during the play.

The show also features dozens of hyena and wildebeest costumes, bird kites and intricate masks for the actors playing Scar and Mufasa, along with some headdresses that mimic the African grasslands. About 3,000 stalks of grass are used to make those headdresses each year.

The most complicated set piece is a battery-powered Pride Rock, which extends to 18 feet long and collapses to just 8 feet when it’s moved offstage.

Behind the scenes, there are 19 wardrobe people, 11 carpenters, 10 electricians, five hair and makeup artists, four stage managers, four prop handlers, three puppet makers, three sound technicians, two creative associates, two company managers, two merchandise sellers, a physical therapist and a tutor.

With the cast and musicians, that’s a total of 134 people directly involved with the daily production of the show.

When the show’s over in Spokane, all of those people, props and costumes will be loaded into 14 semitrucks and four other vehicles. Then they’ll be off to the next stop on their tour.