Meet 'The Lion King' Puppet Masters in Denver

We went backstage to learn how some of the 230 puppets come to life in the national touring production of Disney’s The Lion King, which is performing in Denver through Nov. 29 at the Buell Theatre.

Puppet Master Michael Reilly and Scar from 'The Lion King.' Photo by John Moore. Our guests include Puppet Master Michael Reilly and actor Drew Hirshfield, who explains what makes the persnickety red-billed hornbill Zazu tick. And flap, and talk, and blink those beady eyes.

The puppets range in size from a mouse to an elephant. Each one is inspected before every show.

Hirshfield talks about what creator Julie Taymor calls the “double event,” which means allowing the audience to see openly both puppet and puppeteer. “You can look back and forth between the puppet and the performer operating the puppet and notice that they are both having the same experience,” said Hirshfield, who has been playing Zazu for about a year. “There is a magic in that, because you see the mechanics. You can see that it’s actually just a bird made of wood and paper and glue. But it comes alive through a connection with the actors.”

(Photo above right: Puppet Master Michael Reilly with the Scar mask from ‘The Lion King.’)

Remaining seats for the Denver run of The Lion King are very limited (information below), but Disney’s next brings Broadway to Denver when Newsies visits The Buell Theatre from March 23 through April 9, 2016.

Video by David Lenk and John Moore for the DCPA’s NewsCenter.

Video: Go backstage to see how the set pieces work

Go backstage for a tour of The Lion King costumes in Denver

Photos by John Moore for the DCPA’s NewsCenter. To download any photo, click “View original Flickr image.”

Disney’s The Lion King: Ticket information

  • Through Nov. 29 at the Buell Theatre
  • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
  • TTY: 303-893-9582
  • Groups of 15 or more: 303-446-4829
  • Also: Purchase in person at The Denver Center Ticket Office, located at the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex lobby. Buy and print online at DenverCenter.Org.
  • Accessibility performance: 2 p.m. Nov. 28
  • Please be advised that the Denver Center for the Performing Arts – – is the only authorized online ticket provider for Disney’s ‘The Lion King.’

    Previous NewsCenter coverage of The Lion King:
    Gareth Saxe‘s Lion King homecoming
    For South Africans, Pride Lands are the land of opportunity 
    Circle of Life: The Lion King tour returns to Denver birthplace
    Technical director David Bencken on hanging 12 tons of equipment
    Original The Lion King orchestra member plays 15 different flutes
    Official show page

    'The Lion King' Puppet Master Michael Reilly and actor Drew Hirschfield (Zazu). Photo by John Moore.
    ‘The Lion King’ Puppet Master Michael Reilly and actor Drew Hirshfield (Zazu). Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

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