The Circle of Life

Brenda Mhlongo as Rafiki in the opening number, ‘The Circle  of Life’ from ‘The Lion King’  National Tour.  Photo Credit: Joan Marcus. Photos courtesy of Disney © Brenda Mhlongo as Rafiki in the opening number, ‘The Circle of Life’ from ‘The Lion King’ National Tour. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus. Photos courtesy of Disney ©

Dayton shows its pride as the national tour of The Lion King rolls into town

By Brian P. Sharp

Brenda Mhlongo as Rafiki in the opening number, ‘The Circle of Life’ from ‘The Lion King’ National Tour. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus. Photos courtesy of Disney ©

More than 50 million people all over the world have discovered the phenomenon, the magnificence and the grandeur that is The Lion King and this week, the show is roaring into Dayton for a four-week run.

The Tony Award-winning sensational show features brilliant costumes, breathtaking sets and a musical score that’s incomparable. It’s unfathomable that one could even come up with such breathtaking and vivid designs that bring this show into life.

There was planning, designing and building of the sets, and costumes, all of which began over 10 years ago, just so this show could be mounted on the Schuster stage this month.

For some individuals involved with this production, the work began years before that.

Richard Hudson is the ingenious scenic designer for the show and inspiration for his work on The Lion King began at an early age. Hudson was raised on a farm in Africa with his three siblings. As a youngster he knew he wanted to be involved in stage design. He was sent to boarding school early on and there he first experienced theater.

His Godfather, a cabinet maker, built Hudson a puppet theater where he put on shows. He continued to explore his interest in theater by acting, painting sets and working on costumes, but it wasn’t until he moved to England to further his education, that he learned there was actually a course of study in stage design.

His studies landed him in the role of scenic and costume design for some of the most prestigious opera houses and ballet companies in the world. He has designed five times for the Vienna Stage Opera, twice for the Metropolitan Opera, three times for the Royal Opera of London, the American Ballet Theater and is currently working on a project for the National Ballet of Canada … to name a few.

In the midst of these impressive projects came a call from Disney – they had seen his work on a Broadway production and wanted to talk to him about The Lion King. After quickly rushing out to buy the film, which he realized he had never seen, he had his doubts about the screen version transferring onto the stage.

Hudson said, “It could not be mounted on the stage in that version.”

But Disney hurriedly reassured him that the stage version would take on a whole new dimension and would not be a reproduction of the film.

After being offered the job, Hudson took on the biggest task he maybe ever faced: research. The big difference with this show was that it was being run by a corporation, and not just any corporation, but Disney.

“It seemed like an endless amount of deadlines and meetings … almost like someone looking over your shoulder at all times, but all for the ‘good of the show!’” said Hudson.

His research started with all things African, coming from a child raised on a farm in Zimbabwe. He studied textiles, patterns, fabrics, dyes, colors, costumes and jewelry.

There were, of course, major pieces of the show that took careful planning and execution, like the wildebeest stampede and Pride Rock -all things that, according to Hudson, took the longest time and resulted in countless rough models. However, it was thrilling to see it finally on stage.

“It is still amazing to me that people want to talk to me about my contribution to the show, 14 years later,” said Hudson, “… that it is still selling out houses all over the world. You have to love the art of theater [because] it’s hard work and it’s competitive. You have to keep the enthusiasm and there is nothing more thrilling to me than when the curtain goes up!”

Hudson’s set designs for The Lion King have won numerous awards including a Tony in 1998. Another amazing aspect of the show, which has won multiple awards and received countless recognition, is without a doubt the costumes. It’s not possible to forget the elaborate head dresses and animal-like garb featured in Lion King and even better, the wardrobe department of the show has a local tie.

Keith Coultas, who resides in Cincinnati with his partner, is one person who knows the ins and outs of dressing the cast. Coultas, formerly the wardrobe supervisor, is now slowing down his pace with the position of wardrobe assistant.

Coultas grew up in rural Indiana, the son of a minister. He dreamed of moving to the “big city” and working on scenery in the theater.

After high school he went on to the University of Evansville and worked on five main stage shows. He had other opportunities after college – he took a job as a professional gofer for a ballet company, which led him to the costume shop. From there he had the opportunity to work with a touring company of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, doing 65 shows in just four months. In 2001, he moved to New York hoping to land on Broadway.

Knowing that you do whatever it takes to get where you want to be on Broadway, he accepted his first Broadway job — doing the laundry for Urinetown the Musical. Since then, he has worked at the Metropolitan Opera, in Cinderella starring Eartha Kitt and then touring with Eartha Kitt,. He has spent more than six years with The Lion King.

Coultas insists that it is different with a corporation. First, there are many more resources — everything is top of the line: the best fabrics, the best machines and the best designers.

“It’s almost mind blowing,” Coultas said. But, with corporations come rules, guidelines and paperwork. It’s a give and take, and the gives far outweigh the takes, he said.

Coultas said that if he were giving advice to someone that wants to get started in the business, you have to “see it to do it.”

“See as much theater as possible,” he said. “See everything from middle school productions to Broadway … and learn from both. Get involved in community theater. Do everything you can, even if it’s the laundry.”

Local businesses get one with the Lion
The Lion King indeed will be an amazing show for all the Dayton area to see, but perhaps the best thing about it is the opportunity to bring people downtown.

Businesses in the downtown Dayton area are busy coming up with deals and specials in conjunction with The Lion King. Of course dinner and a show is always a perfect night.

Some of the local restaurants have come up with everything from dinner discounts to special entrees to drink specials.

Citilites, located within the Schuster Center Wintergarden, has added South African wines and dinner specials like pork spare ribs in African peanut sauce over ginger jasmine rice and a dessert special called Elephant Tails. Coco’s Bistro located just outside the Oregon District on Wayne Avenue has a special Lion King menu where you can choose from three entrees, salad and dessert for $20.11. The Dublin Pub located at the corner of Fifth Street and Wayne Avenue will transform their patio into the “The King’s Jungle” and will offer a special drink called the “Pride of the Pub” – in addition a discount of 20 percent off your food order (alcohol excluded).

The Dayton Racquet Club located at the top of Kettering Tower at 40 N. Main St. (normally a member-only club) is opening its doors to members and non-members who are Lion King patrons – there is a special pre-show themed dinner menu. De’Lish Café, a newer restaurant located at 139 N. Main St. across from the Victoria Theater is having Mufasa Mojitos and other themed specialty drinks as well as weekly themed dinner specials where you can receive 10 percent off your food orders including the Sunday brunch.

Stars Restaurant and Lounge with bird’s eye views of the city located atop of the Crowne Plaza at 33 E. Fifth St. is offering 10 percent off food purchases and complimentary parking in the Dayton Transportation Center garage.

There are some businesses offering deals simply with your ticket stub from The Lion King. In the historic Oregon District, Blind Bob’s, Side Bar and Thai 9  are all offering 10 percent off your food purchase, while Boulevard Haus and Las Americas Caribbean Cuisine are both offering 15 percent off your food purchase – all with your Lion King ticket stub.

Elsewhere downtown, The Wine Gallery is offering 15 percent off appetizers and Uno Chicago Grill across from the Schuster Center is offering a Lion King themed drink for $4.95. J Alan’s located at 121 N. Ludlow St. is offering drink specials while Boston Stoker located across from the Schuster Center at 34 W. Second St. is open late for theater goers.

But it’s not just about food and drink. That Lion King ticket stub can get you many other discounts. The Cannery Art and Design Center, located at 434 E. Third St., is offering 20 percent off select paintings. Dayton Art Institute, located at 456 Belmonte Park North, is offering a discount on the exhibit “Creating the New Century: Contemporary Art from the Dicke Collection.” The downtown Dayton YMCA located at 316 N. Wilkinson St. is offering $50 off the joiner’s fee when signing up for a new membership during the run of The Lion King. The K12 Gallery for Young People, located at 510 E. Third St., is offering $10 off first visits to DP&L Saturday Studios. Omega Music located at 318 E. Fifth St. is offering 10 percent off new CDs and LPs and 15 percent off used music. Crowne Plaza, located at 33 E. Fifth St., is also offering discounted room rates.

Who knew there was so much value in one little ticket stub?

In this jungle (the mighty jungle) of Dayton, the Lion does NOT sleep tonight!

The Lion King runs from June 14 through July 10, 2011 at the Schuster Center. For complete information, go to or to buy tickets online, visit or call (937) 228-3630.

Reach DCP food critic Brian P. Sharp at

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