10 Jun 2021

The Lion King set to roar at Spark Arena

Technical Director Richard Martin’s connection to The Lion King dates back to the 2002-3 tour which took the original cast to Australia, Shanghai and back to the show’s roots in South Africa. Twenty years on, as a result of the planned tour being curtailed by the pandemic, Richard is just as excited to bring The Lion King to New Zealand for the first time, for different reasons.

The shortened tour started in March 2018 in Manila, moved onto Singapore and then spent six months in South Korea, “We had just began our arena season and completed Taipei, Bangkok and Hong Kong, and were all set to go to China when everything stopped. All the cast and crew were sent home with no idea when we would meet again. By now, we should have been in Europe.”

After having spent the last twenty-five years touring Australia and Asia with all the major musicals, Richard was relieved to hear that the show was to be revived, not so much for himself but for the cast and crew, “I was fortunate enough to have Hamilton the Musical in Sydney and Melbourne, but many of our Lion King crew and cast had already been forced to abandon their careers and shift into other lines of work so they could pay their mortgages.”


The New Zealand government granted permission for the cast and crew to come to New Zealand with strict COVID protocols. With the company made up of sixteen nationalities, it took six weeks to get everyone through Managed Isolation, “The bubble was a godsend for us Aussies but everyone else had to wait for a place to become available in MIQ. We would usually get a new cast and crew together for eight weeks’ rehearsal, but we’ve had to stagger pre-production and ran with five weeks rehearsal time.”

Reuniting has been emotional, “It is like seeing long lost family as we haven’t been together since February 2020. A lot of the existing cast only arrived in New Zealand recently, so they get out of managed isolation tomorrow. You’ll hear the screaming all over Auckland when they meet up with everyone again!”

Bringing in the $20 million of scenery and equipment that it takes to put on The Lion King was also interesting, “We travel with twenty-seven forty cubic foot containers and there are major shipping delays in the Asia-Pacific due to COVID and related work restrictions. We got everything to Sydney but then what would normally be a ten-day process to get it to New Zealand, took much longer. The first six containers took weeks.”

The next challenge was all Richard’s, “I have been working closely with Spark Arena management and their engineers for six months to hang sixty ton of audio and lighting equipment in their ceiling.” Richard has used College Hill Productions and MJF Lighting for additional audio and lighting, “They have been amazing to work with. If I asked for something and they questioned it, I’d look for an alternative, but they were adamant that if I needed it, they’d get it and they did.” The Lion King team have been supported by Spark’s riggers and thirty-two of Auckland Live’s Aotea Centre and Civic crew.

For Richard, aside from The Lion King crew and cast being reunited, transforming Spark Arena into a theatre has been the most stimulating challenge, “I have done a few arenas now and it is always new and exciting to convert them into a lyric theatre. With The Lion King we have to look at the lighting in the auditorium as well as on stage because of the animal parade, and an arena is a huge space to fill with sound so we use an awful lot of speakers. When you see all the line arrays, it looks like it is going to be a rock concert, but it sounds like a symphony.”

Upon the announcement of The Lion King coming to New Zealand, local media questioned the government’s decision to grant the crew and cast work permits that enabled them to apply for places in Managed Isolation. Some felt the government should be supporting local. In reality, The Lion King would not have come to New Zealand without the team – and the gear – behind it. For Spark Arena staff, their riggers, for College Hill, MJF Lighting, the Auckland Live crew and the Auckland hospitality industry, an international musical coming to town is definitely a shot in the arm. It may also be New Zealand’s only chance to see The Lion King.


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