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'Lion King' ready to roar in Schenectady


'Lion King' ready to roar in Schenectady

When head carpenter Billy Kimbley shouts “Rock moving,” people take notice.
'Lion King' ready to roar in Schenectady
Billy Kimbley, head carpenter with Disney's The Lion King, demonstrates their Pride Rock on stage at Proctors in Schenectady. The workers were preparing for the upcoming shows on Friday afternoon March 18, 2016.
Photographer: Erica Miller

When head carpenter Billy Kimbley shouts “Rock moving,” people take notice.

The pride rock, the centerpiece for any stage production of “The Lion King,” was in Schenectady Friday as the North American tour of the Broadway smash readies itself for a four-week run beginning Tuesday at Proctors.

“The pride rock is an 8,000-pound piece of machinery made of steel and plywood,” said Kimbley, who has worked with Walt Disney Theatrical for nearly five years and has spent 18 years in the business. “It is self-driven, with batteries mounted inside, and it is one of the largest pieces connected to the show. It is 18 feet long, 11 feet tall and 81⁄2 feet wide. It takes up half a tractor trailer all by itself.”

Another pride rock — where much of the crucial action takes place in the show — is currently in use in Durham, North Carolina, where the national tour is still performing. That production will close there Sunday afternoon and head to Schenectady, where Kimbley and an advance crew of 22 workers have been readying Proctors’ stage since Tuesday.

“It takes us about a week to set up,” said Kimbley, an Indiana native who majored in mechanical engineering and theater at Ball State University.

“We have 13 trailers for the advance week, and then five more come for the show. We used to have two North American tours of ‘The Lion King,’ so what we can do now is something called jump set. While the tour is in its final week in Durham, we’re here setting up. On Sunday afternoon they’ll close, we load up and ship everything up here. We unload on Monday, do a dress rehearsal on Tuesday and then in front of an audience on Tuesday night. It allows us to be dark only on Mondays.”

The winner of 11 Tony Awards in 1998, “The Lion King” is based on the 1994 animated film by Disney. It is still being performed in New York City, making it the third longest running show in Broadway history.

The national tour, meanwhile, typically spends at least four weeks in a city, making it an economic windfall for the community it visits.

“I travel with a crew of 22, we have 36 for the show, and then we pick up another 80 to 90 people from the city that we go to to help us load out,” said Kimbley. “Then, there’s an extra 35 that help us run the show each night. For every person you see on stage, there’s two or three people backstage.”

“The Lion King” also has its own musical performers and a conductor at each show, along with help from the local community.

“We have what is our traveling rhythm section with a guitar, a stand-up bass, two percussionists and two keyboard players,” said Kimbley. “We do have our own conductor, but then we also pick up another seven musicians in each city we visit.”

This isn’t Kimbley’s first trip to Schenectady. He has worked on the Proctors stage with such shows as “Les Miserables,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” West Side Story” and others.

“I’ve been on the road for 16 years and I’ve been to Proctors many times,” he said. “The stage here in Schenectady is just a little bit shorter on the left side, but I come with a trained crew of problem solvers and our job as professionals is to make the size of the stage not matter. We come up with our out-of-the-box solutions, and in most theaters we go into, like Proctors, we have no issues.

“The important thing is that what happens on the stage never changes,” added Kimbley. “Here, we have to be a little bit creative back stage, but it isn’t a problem.”

Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]

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