Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!: Show-stealing animals on stage
There’s scene-stealers in every Broadway and West End show. Whether you watch a musical because you’re a fan of the story, you want to see certain cast members in a new role, or you’re planning a fun-filled day at the theatre, you’ll probably walk away wanting to find out more about a show’s cast.
But forget falling in love with actors now. There’s a menagerie of animals taking over the West End and Broadway. Sadly, we can’t take the animals home. And perhaps even worse, these animals don’t actually exist. Instead, they’re brought to life by incredible puppeteers and actors who make it seem as if animals are living and breathing before our very eyes.
Here’s a roundup of all the show-stealing animals you can see on stage right now.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Forget the Pevensie children and the enchanted dresser that serves as a portal to another world. Aslan the lion is the real star in this magnificent Narnia tale. The mythical lion guides Narnia’s four guests around the land, and eventually sacrifices himself for the kingdom’s future survival. See The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in the West End.
Life of Pi
Richard Parker the tiger may have a name more suited to a human than an animal, however by the time you’ve seen Life of Pi, you’ll be forgiven for thinking he’s real. Seven actors breathe life into Richard Parker in the Life of Pi play — the performers even made history as they won a joint Olivier for Best Supporting Actor in a Play.
Bruiser isn’t just a dog. He’s part of the family. And in Legally Blonde at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, Bruiser isn’t a puppet dog or even a real chihuahua. Bruiser is played by a human: Liam McEvoy. There’s no pictures of Bruiser either, so you’ll have to see the musical live. Woof woof!
“Reindeers are better than people,” sings Kristoff in Frozen. And maybe he’s right. Sven the reindeer is a Frozen scene-stealer, and by the end of the show, you’ll want to keep the Nordic animal for yourself. See Sven climb the North mountain with Anna, Kristoff, and the gang in this wintry Disney hit.
The Music Man
“The Wells Fargo Wagon is a-comin’ down the street,” and it’s being pulled by an animatronic horse in the background of The Music Man on Broadway. While the cast sings the Act 1 closer “Wells Fargo Wagon” and anticipates what goodies might be in it, audiences are watching the horse gallop through the Iowa hills and all but steal the show. See the Wells Fargo Wagon, Hugh Jackman, and Sutton Foster in The Music Man now.
Winnie the Pooh: The New Musical Adaptation
If you’ve ever read the Winnie the Pooh books or seen the Disney movies, you know what kinds of animals live in the Hundred Acre Wood: a bear, tiger, donkey, piglet, owl, and kangaroos. Pooh and all his friends come to life with puppetry in Winnie the Pooh: The New Musical Adaptation, and it looks like the books’ illustrations came right off the page. Actors visibly manipulate these life-size animals and sing their parts, too! The sight and sound of it all is sweeter than honey.
The Lion King
The life-size, hand-carved puppets that bring African wildlife to life were groundbreaking feats of design when The Lion King premiered on Broadway. Tony-winning director Julie Taymor designed them, and what makes them so unique is that they don’t hide the actors’ bodies like a mascot costume, but they also aren’t fully separate entities from the actors, either. The puppetry is incorporated seamlessly into the actors’ costumes, and it makes for a spectacle like nothing else on stage. Besides lions, you’ll see gazelles, hyenas, giraffes, birds, and so much more in the circle of life.
One of the key characters in the original Wizard of Oz book and movie is the Cowardly Lion, who makes a brief appearance in the story’s prequel, Wicked, as a (stuffed) cub. (His adult self shows up later, in tail only.) But the real animal stars of Wicked are the flying monkeys, performed by actors who climb the walls of the stage once Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, magically equips the monkeys with wings. One monkey even defies gravity off stage as they fly over the audience’s heads!
One of the main Wicked characters, Dr. Dillamond, is also an animal (a talking goat, in this case), who’s costumed as such with makeup and prosthetics.
There aren’t any animals on stage at American Buffalo on Broadway — unless you count Teach (played by Tony nominee Sam Rockwell), who at one point knocks over a stores’ worth of trinkets like a bull in a china shop. The buffalo in the play’s title is merely pictured on a valuable nickel that the show’s characters plot to steal. But there is a life-size, lifelike buffalo in the lobby of the theatre, and you can take pictures with it. Naturally, its name is Nickel.