Friday, January 30, 2015

Broadway Buzz: Your Behind-the-Scenes Video Tour of Pride Rock

Did you miss the live Tweet of our Pride Rock tour today? Check it out below for fun behind-the-scenes video, photos and info! 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Broadway Buzz: Learn with The Lion King

Click to download
Disney's The Lion King is more than just a breathtaking spectacle -- it's a chance to learn about  family, character, animals, cultures and so much more. For The Lion King, audiences can get a head start with the show's study guide, offering audiences a chance to go in-depth with the show.

The Lion King study guide is packed full of activities and lessons for teachers and parents alike to share with their students. If you are bringing children to the show and are looking for ways to make the most of your child's first - or 50th! - theatrical experience, this is the perfect resource.

Our local school districts have some extra days off coming up in February that may be the perfect chance to add some fun learning opportunities into those days out of the classroom:
  • Shelby County Schools: Out Monday, February 16
  • Collierville, Germantown, Bartlett, Arlington schools: Out Friday, February 13
  • Desoto County Schools: Out Friday, February 13 and Monday, February 16
You'll also find the best available seats during weeknight performances. In fact, you can still get discounted rates for groups of 10 or more for your family, friends, or schools through Friday, January 30. Call 901-529-4226 or click here to see ticket prices and availability.

Click here to read the story of The Lion King in the production's study guide, including in-depth summaries, behind-the-scenes magic and fun hands-on activities. The Lion King is live on stage at The Orpheum February 3 through March 1, 2015.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Broadway Buzz: You Won't Believe What It Takes to Bring the Savannah to Life

When Disney's The Lion King premiered on Broadway in 1997, the production was unlike anything the Great White Way had seen before. Bringing an animated movie to life on stage was an incredible feat, and we wanted to share some fun facts with you about how the talented cast and crew will create this magic for every performance Feb. 3 - March 1, live in front of a crowd of thousands.

  • The original Broadway production's director and designers, including Julie Taymor, hand sculpted and painted every prototype for the masks you see on stage. Their department of skilled mask makers, sculptors, puppeteers and artisans spent 17,000 hours to build the anthropomorphic animal characters for the original Broadway production.
  • Each mask weighs just under 1 pound and is made of silicone rubber. Simba's mask weighs 7 ounces while Sarabi's weighs only 4 ounces, however 750 pounds of rubber were used to make all of the masks in the show.
  • Keep an eye out for the four 18-foot giraffes in "I Just Can't Wait to be King" -- they're the tallest animals in the production and are the same size as their real-life counterparts. Actors trained in stilt-walking climb 6-foot ladders to fit inside these colorful puppets.
  • The largest and longest animal is the elephant -- nicknamed Bertha -- at 13 feet long and 9 feet wide, and requiring four actors to maneuver. Children will especially enjoy her entrance on show night, so make sure you're watching the aisles.
  • The Timon meerkat puppet weight 15 pounds; Pumbaa's costume, worn like a backpack, weighs 45 pounds and is the heaviest outfit in the show.
  • The yearly upkeep and maintenance of the 20 Grasslands headdresses requires over 3,000 stalks of grass (roughly 60 pounds).
  • Worldwide, nearly 1,100 people are directly employed by The Lion King, including 20 whose sole mission is artistic upkeep of the show. On tour, there are 134 people directly involved with the daily production of the show.

Some quick facts and figures:

  • Puppets including rod puppets, shadow puppets and full-sized puppets:  200
  • Ants on the Ant-Hill Lady costume:  100
  • Wigs:  45
  • Wildebeests:  52
  • Hyenas:  39
  • Types of animals, birds, fish and insects represented in the show:  25
  • Gazelles:  15, five actors each wear a gazelle puppet on both arms and one affixed to their head.
  • Gazelles on the gazelle wheel prop:  6
  • Lionesses:  14 (Nala, Young Nala and 12 ensemble in the ‘Lioness hunt’).
  • Bird Kites:  12, featured in “One By One,” the opening number of Act II.
  • Bird Ladies:  5
  • Bird Man:  1
  • Simba representations:  6 (Baby Simba puppet, Young Simba-actor, Young Simba puppet, Simba Shadow puppet, Rafiki’s Simba painting-Act I & II, Adult Simba-actor).
  • Zebras:  3
  • Elephants:  2 (Bertha and the Baby Elephant)
  • Antelope:  2
  • Rhinoceros: 1
  • Cheetah: 1

There are six indigenous African languages spoken in the show:
  • Swahili
  • Zulu
  • Xhosa (the click language)
  • Sotho
  • Tswana
  • Congolese

The Lion King has been translated into eight languages:
  • Japanese
  • German
  • Korean
  • French
  • Dutch
  • Mandarin
  • Spanish
  • Portuguese
We're honored to present this incredible work of art live on the Orpheum stage for a full month. Click here for a video sneak peek and information about tickets and showtimes.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Broadway Buzz: Disney's THE LION KING Takes Audiences on a Cultural Odyssey

Tshidi Manye as "Rafiki" in the opening  number
"The Circle of Life" from THE LION KING National Tour.
© Disney. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
It's no secret that Disney's The Lion King offers audiences breathtaking interpretations of the African savannah and its native wildlife, all of which set to awe-inspiring choreography and exquisite costumes.  However, not quite as evident to those without a music or puppetry background is that The Lion King incorporates artistic customs inspired not just from Africa, but from around the globe!

First, and most noticeable, is the music.  The Lion King's musical score is influenced by both western popular culture and African rhythms.  The songs and the instruments are used to give the audience insights into each character as well as advance the story. 

When the decision was made to adapt the animated film into a musical, the creative team decided that additional songs would be needed in order to fully tell the story.  Specifically, The Lion King incorporated the work of musician Lebo M.  With his help, the score was able to tap into the complex and beautiful rhythms of South African music.  Lebo M. co-wrote music and lyrics that would add to the original songs that Elton John and Tim Rice created for the film, introducing American cast members to an African style of singing.

"World Music: The Rough Guide" states, "South Africa is distinguished by the most complex musical history, the greatest profusion of styles, and the most intensely developed recording industry anywhere in Africa."  In The Lion King, this passion is evident from the very first note to the final bow.

Patrick R. Brown as “Scar” in THE LION KING National Tour.
© Disney.  Photo Credit:  Joan Marcus.
Also inspired by the cultures and customs of Africa are the masks used to give each actor their animal qualities.  In Africa, masks are considered a functional work of art, and they serve to breathe life into storytelling.  Director Julie Taymor was very inspired by African masks, describing them in The Lion King DVD as "more abstract, much more stylized, much more essential."  She, in partnership with puppet expert Michael Curry, decided to make masks that would not hide the person behind them.  They termed this the "double effect" where every mask allows the audience to see the both mask's fixed expression and the actor's varying and ever-changing face.

Next, we travel to Japan for a taste of Bunraku puppetry.  In The Lion King, we see large beautiful puppets on the stage, but we can also see the puppeteers operating them.  This style is derived from the Japanese tradition of Bunraku, named after its founder Uemura Bunrakuken.  Like the masks, the audience receives another "double effect" by getting information about the characters and the story through both the puppet's and the actor's movements on the stage.

Also used in The Lion King is shadow puppetry.  You may not have realized it, but you've probably practiced this form of storytelling when you were sitting by a campfire or using a flashlight in a dark room, using your fingers to create images on the wall.  It's fascinating that this form of puppetry has been around for thousands of years, potentially originating in Greece or even China.  When we meet Scar, he is hunting a mouse - here we see the Indonesian form of shadow puppetry called wayang kulit, where flat puppets are shown before a muslin screen.

So as the curtain goes up on your upcoming visit to the Orpheum to see Disney's The Lion King, we encourage you to keep an eye out for these fascinating cultural inspirations and take note of how much depth and beauty each element adds to the overall experience.  To discover even more about the show, it's influences, and how it went from screen to stage, download The Lion King's official study guide here.

Disney's The Lion King plays at The Orpheum Theatre February 3 - March 1, 2015.  Tickets are available for purchase at, by calling 866.870.2717, on the Orpheum website or by calling the Orpheum Box Office at 901.525.3000.

Source: The Lion King Study Guide, The Lion King Backgrounder

Monday, December 29, 2014

President's Page: Three Decades with the Orpheum

As some you have probably heard, I recently announced my retirement and will hand over the reins to a new President on December 31st, 2015. But I won't be going far. After that I will be moving over to the new Orpheum Centre for Performing Arts & Education to be part of that project's first year of operation.

By the time I leave, it will have been 35 years of pure enjoyment and reward. I never felt like coming to the Orpheum office each day was "going to work".  It felt more like I was going to my favorite hangout to meet up with great friends and do very neat things. 

Before I get too reminiscent, let me make it clear to everyone who has ever been to a show, made a  donation, sponsored an event or project, or served as a Board member, staff member or volunteer: you all made this time so fabulous and provided the incentive for us to reach for higher mountains each and every day.  As the old adage goes, “It takes a village,” and a village indeed responded!  The Orpheum is a small village within the larger Memphis community, and I truly believe that together we have made a difference.   

While I will be on the job for another 12 months, I have much to do in that short time.  I have some special goals in mind.  First, we look ahead to finishing construction of the Orpheum Centre for Performing Arts & Education.  With the new Centre we will be advancing our current 19 education programs and will fine-tune the addition of several new programs designed to serve an even broader segment of our community, offering opportunities for individual growth and development. 

We’ll also make improvements in the historic Orpheum such as refurbished seating, restoration of the interior gold and silver leaf, and plans for future renovations that will help us in our mission to preserve our beautiful theatre. I’ll be working to offer our patrons like you more fabulous Broadway musicals and a wide variety of concerts and special events.    

The contributions you make as the year ends will help us see our vision for the future come to fruition. Consider supporting the Orpheum Centre for Performing Arts & Education with a year-end gift, or create a lasting memory for your loved ones with a personalized brick in the new plaza entry. Please consider making a year-end gift today.

Throughout my years at the Orpheum, you – the Memphis community – have always supported the theatre.  I look forward to working with you through my last year, which looks to be our best year yet.

Pat Halloran
Orpheum President and CEO

Friday, December 26, 2014

Spotlight: Thanks for a Fantastic 2014

2014 was a tremendous year for Memphis and the Orpheum. Here's a quick snapshot of one of the theatre's best years yet, plus a year-in-review video for you to enjoy: 

Broadway Series: From the land of Oz to Ralphie's air rifle, the 2014 Broadway season was packed with spectacular productions (32 Tony wins collectively!). Watch the video to relive the highlights from all of these great shows: Wicked, War Horse, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Book of Mormon, Phantom of the Opera, Once, and A Christmas Story, The Musical. 

Concerts, Comedians and Special Events: The Orpheum was honored to play host to a full slate of talented performers in 2014, including Gladys Knight, Morrissey, Crosby Stills and Nash, Penn & Teller, Aziz Ansari, Alton Brown and Widespread Panic -- just to name a few. The Grizz Girls also held audition finals right here on our stage!

Summer Movie Series: When you see a film at the Orpheum, you get more than a classic film -- you get an entire cinematic experience! We kicked off the 2014 summer series with a double dose of zombies and a "Thriller" flash mob on May 30. Other special events included an Orpheum-themed Clue game and a Little Princess tea party honoring Shirley Temple.

Education and Community Programs: Our education department has certainly been busy! Here's a quick look at how many students, families and teachers our 19 programs helped this year:
  • 175: Teachers in professional development workshops, 58 for the first time and 21 who teach English as a second language
  • 282: Schools in the tri-state area
  • 825: Students in Workshops and Classes
  • 6,340: Tickets granted to schools and students for education performances
  • 36,326: Patrons in our Family and Student Matinee Series
  • Over 70,000 students, teachers and families in all!
And here's a roundup of "firsts" for our programs:

Annual Orpheum Events and Fundraisers: You all deserve a special shoutout for making our year even more meaningful! We hosted our 36th Annual Auction and Raffle -- congrats to all the winners! -- and the 13th Annual Ken Sossaman Memorial Golf Tournament, as well as several Dinners on Stage. Plus, you helped us kick off our inaugural Backstage Bash and first-ever Break-A-Leg 5K. Your support at each of these events, as well as your patronage at the theatre, are vital to our annual success.

Orpheum Centre for Performing Arts & Education: In March 2014, we broke ground on our new centre. With two floors totaling over 39,000 square feet of space, the centre will provide adequate classrooms for instruction, a large multi-use rehearsal hall, and a state-of-the-art stage and 356 seat theatre – allowing for more musicals, concerts, family programs, and multicultural events. Nine months later, you can really see what the building will become: a true haven for education and community in the Mid-South.

Theatre Headlines: We also shared some important news for the Orpheum and its future:
  • Earlier this month, Pat Halloran announced his retirement and will end his 35-year tenure as President and CEO on December 31, 2015
  • A new, state-of-the-art sound system was installed, the first major upgrade since the 1997 renovation
  • Installation of new seat cushions began this month
  • Plans were put into place to provide additional legroom; to renovate the theatre's bathrooms; and to restore the gold-and-silver leaf in the auditorium in future years.

In all, more than 266,000 patrons enjoyed the Orpheum in 2014 -- wow! Thanks for an incredible year. We have an amazing 2015 planned for you! 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Remembering John Hiltonsmith

John Hiltonsmith and his talents mean a lot to the Mid-South community, and we wanted to provide  a space for friends and fans to remember John. If you would like to contribute to this post, please leave a comment below.

He carefully replaced the broken piano string in my 1908 Steinway and told me that it was probably original, so worth preserving. John neatly bent it into a manageable size and placed it in my piano bench, along with his card noting the information. That was just a little over a year ago.

We had a dress rehearsal for our Lindenwood Christmas concert on December 6th that lasted until noon and John was there, since he was to be the sound technician for our December 7th concert. John and I talked for about 10 minutes after the rehearsal ended at noon and the conversation seemed important to me that day and stuck with me, although I couldn't say why.

I've known John for a long time and he helped me, as well as my family, many times. My son attended MUS and was fortunate to be a member of "Beg To Differ", so I knew John as his director, teacher, and mentor, as well as a fellow musician. I called on John frequently and asked if "Beg To Differ" would perform for various Symphony League events, as well as for Les Passees.  Each time John graciously agreed to perform at these events, contributing to help the organizations.  We also discussed silent auctions for the Orpheum and the Symphony League, to which he generously contributed.  He donated his time, his talent, and his services each and every time I asked.

On Saturday, December 6th, after a memorable conversation, John and I parted ways around 12:20pm.  We had things all lined out for the next day's concert and I just knew it would be a good one, especially with John's help.  Not even two hours later, I got a phone call saying that John was gone. I couldn't believe it then and I still can't today.
Suddenly I remembered the piano string and the note that John left for me in my piano bench.

That broken string, so carefully preserved by John, has taken on new meaning and importance to me since John died. It will forever remain in my piano bench, just where he meticulously put it, a dear remembrance of John. You never know when the small things will become significant. John, however, did seem to know, and I thank you, my dear friend.

-- Lura Turner, member of the Memphis Development Foundation Board of Directors

My most vivid memories of John are from high school at MUS in the '80s or with his girls getting ready for movies.

As education's VP the world has come full circle.

John popped his head inside my office (he'd been playing the organ for 10 year before I got here) and said, "Hey, Alice (knew my name), you went to Hutchison right?" "Nope St Agnes," said a sassy  26-year-old. "Mr. Hiltonsmith what are you doing here?" I'm going to play the organ for the movie,  let me introduce you to my girls....."

That day he became John - my world changed.
-- Alice Roberts, Vice President of Community & Education at the Orpheum

John Hiltonsmith and one of his singing groups, circa 1988.

I loved how cool it was to watch him come up and down from the pit playing the organ, and I loved that he always waved to the audience before descending.  The Summer Movie Series audiences LOVED watching and hearing him play – a lot of people came early to make sure that they got to see the famous organ. 

-- Christina Torres, Press Relations Manager at the Orpheum