dsm magazine was offered the exclusive opportunity to visit the wardrobe bunker at the Des Moines Civic Center to see what goes on behind the curtains of Disney’s “The Lion King.”
Wardrobe assistant Gretchen Heidenreich holds up a lioness costume and discusses the importance of the design’s silhouette as part of the visual experience.
After Mufasa’s death, the lionesses pull tears from their eyes for theatrical drama. Gretchen shows how the dancers pull on the masks’ eyelashes to unroll a strip of fabric to mimic a stream of tears.
To be hired to work backstage in wardrobe, each dresser needs to be unionized through the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. A total of 17 stagehands were hired locally for this show, including electricians and experts in wardrobe, lighting and sound.
Each dancer could have as many as 13 changes during the show. To keep everything organized, photos of each look are taped to the back of the dressing area.
The jungle pod dresses have yards of layers to create the look of foliage. Because of all of these layers, some costumes can weigh up to 40 pounds.
The costumes are made mostly from natural fibers to add texture and depth as well as to catch the light. Many garments are made from grasses, silk, horse hair, turkey feathers, cotton and wools.
There are times when a dancer has only a few minutes to change from one look to another, which is why trained dressers are essential.
Laundering and caring for the garments is a full-time job for many of the stagehands. Here, a professional dresser steams the roping of a grass skirt. The team is constantly dry cleaning the costumes to remove body paint that has been sweat onto the costumes and for general upkeep.
The baby elephant, nicknamed “Bertha,” is made of Tyvex, the same lightweight material that makes up USPS Express Mail envelopes.
The giraffe costumes require dancers to stand on stilts.
To prevent slipping or falling, each dancer playing a giraffe is strapped into stilts for safety. Gretchen reports that to date, no one has fallen while walking on the stilts.
The movement of each mask starts in the helmet, where a special head crank secures the helmet to the head of each dancer, allowing them to move the mask freely and securely. The original design was created by Nike Corp. but The Walt Disney Company eventually bought out the patent.
The bird lady hats are one of the prettiest, most whimsical designs of the costumes.
Before each performance, every prop is examined to make sure there is no need for repair.
In its 18th year, “The Lion King” remains one of the world’s most popular stage musicals. To keep the show’s aesthetic consistent from state to state and from country to country, everything–down to the floorboards–is shipped in on trucks.
Tony Award-winning show director and costume designer Julie Taymor used principles of puppeteering to bring the costumes to life. This cheetah costume uses strings that attach the head of the costume to the dancer’s head to emulate natural movement.
Old-fashioned ropes, pulley systems and the manipulation of simple backdrops create the show’s stage effects. Rigging and motors, instead of CGI (computer-generated imagery), are used.