SALT LAKE CITY — When Broadway crosses the country, it is not an easy feat — especially when it requires re-creating Africa in a new city every few weeks.
Disney's "The Lion King," one of Broadway's award-winning musicals, is set to open at the Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City next week. But before then, about 100 workers will spend more than 75 hours setting up the landscape.
"The show runs very nicely, and we've got a great crew," said Michael Carey, head carpenter for "The Lion King's" national tour.
The seats in the theater are currently filled with colorful props and jaw-dropping spectacular animal puppets instead of eager audience members awaiting their chance to see Simba, Nala, Mufasa and Scar come to life.
One-third of an ominous elephant graveyard rests on the stage, while the other parts are tucked away in the dusty rafters. Every city is like a new puzzle for Carey, who has to make all of the pieces fit.
Starting Monday, 18 trucks full of scenery and wardrobe arrived at the Capitol Theatre. On opening night Wednesday, five more trucks will show up. Carey said the crew faces many day-to-day challenges as simple as, "Will that fit through the door?"
Pride Rock is the centerpiece to Disney's most successful musical.
The enormous piece of scenery weighs more than 8,000 pounds and is expandable and retractable for easier storage. With its eight steps and striped sides, Carey can operate Pride Rock with a hand-held remote control. The amazing piece of scenery can be brought to the stage in mere seconds, ready for the actors to utilize.
The show doesn't always go on without bumps, however.
"Oh, there are too many horror stories," Carey said with a laugh.
He fondly recalls the time the elephant graveyard died on stage during a performance.
"It wouldn't move," he said. "So I actually went out there, dressed in my show black clothes and sat on the end of the graveyard and manually drove it — in front of an entire audience. It looked ridiculous, but we carried on."
Not having to stop the show for equipment malfunction is always a measure of success in Carey's book. He said he has to account for everybody in all departments. So when something goes wrong, the blame rests on him.
Carey has been on the road since 1989. When he finally decided to take a break in his hometown in Kentucky, "The Lion King" was growing roots nearby. The technical director, with whom Carey had worked on another show, called him up and asked him if he would take on this new project.
"The Lion King" has a very successful history. The original movie premiered in 1994. The musical opened on Broadway in 1997 and earned six Tony Awards. The touring company has entered its second decade of sold-out shows.
Since 2002, Carey's life has been full of lions, hyenas and music.
He has to essentially juggle and coordinate for two productions at the same time. While he is in Utah setting up shop, the rest of his crew is in Vancouver for the show's final week there. The set he's working on now will be sent to Norfolk, Va., after its run here. The set in Vancouver will travel to Chicago.
"Usually by the time we're in the act of putting the show on here, I'm already working on the next city," Carey said. "They see me pulling my hair out and looking a little stressed, but I'm not stressed for here. I'm stressed about the next city."
Despite everything, he's still smiling — his vacation is next week.
"The Lion King" runs Wednesday through Sept. 26 in the Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South.
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