SCHENECTADY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – The Broadway musical “The Lion King” opened Tuesday for a month long stay at Proctors.
Most of the scenery and props arrived in Schenectady last week. The biggest piece of “The Lion King,” Pride Rock, took up half a tractor trailer. But the hundreds of puppets and other set pieces filled enough boxes to pack another 17 trucks.
It took almost a week to set up everything before the actors even took to the stage. They were still performing in North Carolina while crews began work at Proctors.
Running Pride Rock smoothly is a big job that comes down to a little hand control that’s run through a router like a laptop at home.
“We have a few stories of ticket takers being able to drive the rock without knowing it,” head carpenter of “The Lion King” Billy Kimbley said.
Pride Rock has moved for thousands of performances, at theaters across the country, but just as Murphy’s Law says, if anything can go wrong, it will.
“We’ve had the rock stop on stage; we’ve had the rock not able to come on stage before; we’ve had the rock not be able to get off stage before,” Kimbley said. “Some of those things we’ve had to stop the show and fix. Some of those things we’ve been able to work around.”
That’s because a resident director rehearses the cast every few weeks for Plan B just in case.
And then there are the many, many puppets. Three puppet masters keep up with the daily wear and tear on more than 200 puppets.
Some are held by the actors. Some are worn, like the giraffes, which, when mounted, are 14.5 ft. tall.
“From the stage, they’ll bend over, and they look like they’re eating out of the laps of the front row, and this is done by our four smallest female dancers,” Kimbley explained. “There’s not a one of them that weighs over 105 pounds. I don’t know what muscle they have, but I do not possess it. I tried to do it once and darn near fell over.”
Theater has always been a passion for Kimbley even though he was once studying to be an engineer.
“And a show came through and they needed a carpenter, and they hired me,” he said. “I literally ran away with the circus the very next day.”
But the life is tough.
Month in and month out, they put the show together and then break it back down again. One month in Schenectady, and then next month, somewhere else.
And the payoff?
“We hear it almost on a nightly basis: ‘My family brought me to see “The Lion King” and now I’m bringing my family to see “The Lion King,”’ Kimbley explained. “It really sort of is the circle of life for us.”
“The Lion King” can be seen at Proctors from March 22 to April 17.