‘The Lion King’ musical brings puppets to life

Disney’s The Lion King has once again leaped on to the stage at the Blaisdell Concert Hall.

“I remember my mother taking me to Sesame Street and meeting Big Bird, and I was fascinated by this nine-foot yellow bird. So ever since then, I have always been interested in it,” puppet master Michael Reilly said.

Reilly is literally the king of puppetry when it comes to transforming hundreds of puppets into living, breathing, dancing and singing performers.

“There’s over 230 puppets in the show. One is as big as an elephant and one is as small as a mouse,” Reilly said.

In town for eight weeks, The Lion King musical uses carpentry, electronics, carbon fiber, and other tools to take inanimate objects and bring them to life. Some of the puppets are worth thousands of dollars.

“In The Lion King, we do not hire puppeteers. We hire actors to tell our story and then we teach them to be puppeteers. It’s kind of backwards, but we found that it works much better this way,” Reilly said.

“We learn all the dancing first and then we put the puppets on. And then we add the singing, and then we add the backstage choreography. So we do all that within four weeks,” said Amyia Burrell, ensemble performer.

The Los Angeles native, who studied ballet, jazz, and modern dance, has been performing with The Lion King for seven years as 11 different characters with 14 costume changes.

“I actually use my front arms and hold two sticks here and that actually operates the back legs and my legs actually look like the zebra,” Burrell said.

Burrell watched Animal Planet to prepare for the show, while Reilly spent years perfecting and studying his craft. Both have toured North America extensively thanks to the touring show.

“The puppets are there to accentuate what the actors do,” Reilly said.

Even baby Simba is a puppet.

You can catch The Lion King at the Blaisdell Concert Hall through March 9.

Related story: Disney seeks dancers, singers for ‘The Lion King’

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