Hakuna Matata

Costumes, makeup and puppetry combine to create Lion King magic in Austin

Costumes, makeup and puppetry combine to create Lion King magic in Austin

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Jelani Remy as “Simba” and the ensemble in “He Lives in You” from THE LION KING National Tour.  Photo by Joan Marcus
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Gregory Young, Wardrobe Supervisor for The Lion King. Courtesy of THE LION KING National Tour.
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 Buyi Zama as “Rafiki” in the opening number “The Circle of Life” from THE LION KING National Tour.  Photo by Joan Marcus
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“The Cheetah” and “Giraffes” in the opening number “The Circle of Life” from THE LION KING National Tour. Photo by Joan Marcus
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 “The Zebras” in the opening number “The Circle of Life” from THE LION KING National Tour.  Photo by Joan Marcus
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For nearly three decades, Gregory Young has been transforming performers into characters in theaters across the country. The former fashion student at Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan has been working wardrobe since 1985 and was with The Lion King for its 1997 beginning, working with the original New York production for 10 years.  

As Wardrobe Supervisor with the national touring company, Young is responsible for managing approximately 250 costumes, from keeping track of all of the pieces, to making sure everyone is dressed on time and that the laundry gets done. He'll do his part to help coordinate The Lion King's many moving parts during the production's three-week run at Bass Concert Hall beginning January 16.  

It takes three departments to get the majority of The Lion King performers in character: Wardrobe, Hair and Makeup and the Puppet Department. Young says effective coordination between the departments is critical to everyone being ready for that opening number.

 "I find myself leaving the theater and eavesdropping on different conversations about how we touched peoples' lives. They enjoy the show so much they want to come back, and I think that’s what gives me the inspiration to want to keep doing this show." - Gregory Young

"Everyone has to be in at a certain time. Hair and makeup comes in an hour before show time. Wardrobe is in an hour and a half before to give the actors their under wear — that is anything that touches their bodies. They have to be in that before they go for makeup... and then all they have to do is put on their costume.  So it’s all coordinated time-wise." 

Getting everyone ready also requires a lot of extra hands. Young has two assistants and also hires 16 local dressers in each town. He also has one dedicated laundry person working six days a week to make sure all pieces are properly washed, primped and ironed.  

The costumes that help bring the Savanna to life in The Lion King were groundbreaking when they were first introduced on Broadway in 1997. The combination of wardrobe, makeup and puppetry helps create a visual spectacle designed to allow the audience's imagination to run wild. 

Young says the puppetry is purposely not hidden from the audience.

"That way you have the two effects. You have the actor and then you have the character, and you see how everything is being operated," he explains. "They’re actually transforming the performers with costumes into animals and plants so it’s really unique — something you have to see and there's so much to look at. Every time you look at it you see something different." 

And as with every Disney story, The Lion King sparks the imagination while tugging at the heartstrings.  

"I find myself leaving the theater and eavesdropping on different conversations about how we touched peoples' lives," Young explains. "They enjoy the show so much they want to come back, and I think that’s what gives me the inspiration to want to keep doing this show."

The fifth longest-running musical in Broadway history will bring its untamed creativity to Bass Concert Hall this Wednesday until February 10. Young will be working hard backstage to make sure all of the Kingdom's subjects are appropriately attired to make their two and a half hour journey through the Circle of Life.

"It’s amazing to look at and the story line of one coming into themselves — it’s just a feel good story."