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Puppeteers lovingly bring the Lion King alive one performance at a time

Puppeteers devoted to bringing the Lion King alive one performance at a time
Puppeteers devoted to bringing the Lion King alive one performance at a time 02:53

SAN JOSE -- Every day, Jürgen Hooper, brings the character of Zazu to life in the North American touring stage production of Disney's The Lion King. 

It is a show that has been mesmerizing audiences all over the world for over 20 years.  

Zazu is just one of 200 puppets used in the show which also features a puppet giraffe that stands 18-feet-tall to a 13-foot-long elephant that takes four actors to carefully walk it down the orchestra aisle.  

For Hooper, playing a role like this was an exciting challenge, not only does he have to sing, act and dance but he also is tasked with maneuvering his puppet. 

"I had a kind of intensive rehearsal process for about two weeks before coming out to join the show, where I had to do a three-step process, first figuring out where Zazu lived in my body and then figuring out the mechanics of how this worked and thinking about the acting and blending the two together." Hooper said.  

It is a unique role that brings humans and puppets together as one on stage. Michael Reilly, who is the puppet supervisor for the Lion King, says the mixture of actor and puppet throughout the show is intentional. 

"So one of the main tenants of the show is not to hide the puppeteer, so a lot of puppet shows would have the actors dressed in black so just the puppet would be seen, this is the absolute opposite of that. We make the actor and the puppet the focuses of the show and both of them are working in tandem," Reilly said.  

Reilly spends most of his workday overseeing and maintaining each of these beloved characters.  

"Every principal puppet gets a full workup, so any damage that they have, paint, and then they get cleaned, and then we move on the ensemble puppets and we do the same thing for them and then putting out the puppets for the show." Reilly said. 

The show features so much more than the familiar songs and puppets on stage, the actors also play a big part in bringing the landscape and the beauty of the environment to life. 

Just the yearly upkeep and maintenance of the 20 grasslands headdresses requires over 3,000 stalks of grass. 

The story of The Lion King focuses on family, love, and community, and for Hooper he is grateful to be part of a show that brings us all together, 

"Being called together in this space, to hear the story that is about family, responsibility and about duty, I think it's perfect for the moment," he said. 

The Stage Production of The Lion King is playing at San Jose's Preforming arts center until August, 21st.  

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