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BWW Interview: A Glimpse into the Wardrobe Bunker at THE LION KING

THE LION KING, the Tony winning international hit rolled into Madison this month and wardrobe supervisor Gregory Young generously gave me a behind the scenes peek at how he and his team transform the cast into powerful lions, graceful gazelles and hilarious hyenas.

The vibrant costumes are varied and detailed with each piece specially designed for the cast member. As I was lead into the wardrobe bunker where the majority of changes take place, I was amazed at the variety of silks, spandex, twill, nylon, mud cloth, and knit that make up costumes. I was particularly taken by the hook-and-latch-style method to create the Wildebeest (and Wildebabes, as they are affectionately called) costumes, using yarn, raffia, and leather strips. Also of interest was the sail fabric used to create the Bird Lady costumes. Yes, it is same fabric used to produce sailboat sails.

Young oversees the organization, cleaning, and maintenance of 250 costumes, (plus 100 more for the swings). It takes sixteen locally-trained dressers to streamline up to twelve costume changes per ensemble member in each high-energy show. This is no small task as the actors switch from hand painted gazelle leotards, to silk Dashiki robes, to beaded lioness bodices.

With this volume of costumes also comes the enormous task of cleaning them. Many costumes are cleaned daily, while others are cleaned every two to three days. Specialty costumes are dry cleaned once every three weeks. Can you imagine working at the local dry cleaners when a herd of wildebeest costumes show up? And while I don't know the cost of maintaining the costumes, I did learn that two days a week a team of eight stitchers, beaders, pressers and crafters meticulously work on the constant upkeep of these intricate costumes that range in value from $500 for the most basic, to $25,000 for Scar's wardrobe.

Credit for this gorgeous array of wardrobe goes to multi-talented Julie Taymor, Tony winner for Best Costume Design and Best Direction of a Musical in 1998. It's no accident that the highly acclaimed The Lion King has been seen by more than 17 million theatregoers since its Broadway premiere in 1997. It will capture and mesmerize you from the first note until the final curtain.

Performances of The Lion King at the Overture Center for the Arts continue through Sunday, June 5, 2016. Tickets can be purchased online at www.OvertureCenter.org, by phone at (608) 258-4141 or in person at the Overture Center box office (open daily at 10 am). The Overture Center for the Arts is located at 201 State Street in Madison, Wisconsin.

Photo of Mukelisiwe Goba as Rafiki. Photo by Matthew Murphy

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From This Author Angie Stanton