Designing “Disney’s The Lion King Junior” Part 3: Costumes

Costuming, Directing Without the Drama, Technical Theater Tips, The Lion King Experience

Welcome to Part 3 of Designing Disney’s The Lion King, Junior.  The previous posts will give you some insight into our design process and the set, today we are talking costumes.  If you are just joining us here is some info you may find helpful.

The intention for the design aesthetic for our production of The Lion King, Junior was to do a (mostly) non-masked production that looked very different than the iconic Julie Taymor designs, but still retained some of the scale and magic of the original production, but on a much more modest school budget.  I did not want it to look like a cheesy replica of the original, which it would have if we had tried to replicate the designs. Most schools do not have the time or budgets to create the level of detail and craftsmanship you would see in a Disney production.  We scaled the sets and costumes way back and focused on the essence of the story and characters which proved to be a really smart decision and resulted in a production everyone was really proud of.

Production Concept: Costumes, Hair and Makeup

The overall theme for our production of The Lion King, Junior was Safari Chic.  We humanized all the characters and spent some time working with both the cast and our 8th Grade Stage Production classes researching and pinteresting to create inspiration boards. The essential question was: “if The Lion King characters lived in today’s society who would they be and what would they wear?”

The Hyenas
The Hyenas were one of my favorite designs of this show. We decided on a punk/goth hybrid with the heavy makeup, colored hair extensions and graphic tees.  The Hyenas are the disenfranchised youth who are on the fringes of Pride Rock society, refusing to conform and ready to fight anyone who gets in their way.  They were easily manipulated by Scar and his quest for power.  I loved casting a group of very nice girls to play Scar’s gang and their look was intentionally in contrast to his very put together more high fashion look below.  We went with similar but different for this group to create a cohesive look and color palate with each girl having their own individual look.   We went with combat boots, different patterned silver, gray and black metallic leggings, graphic t-shirts and leather jackets.  The girls were obsessed with their crazy hair, faux hawks and hair extensions, they were not a crew to mess with.

Scar is the Machiavellian evil genius who is pulling all of the strings.  In fact, The Lion King, Junior in some ways is really the story of the rise and fall of Scar.  We went for a very polished, sleek, high fashion look for our Scar.  He is in black pants with gold stripes a fantastic gold patterned smoking jacket (custom made and ordered from Asia), complete with gold cravat and pocket square in the same fabric as Mufasa’s pants.  We even added gold glitter soles to his dress shoes to give him some added pizzaz.  In our production, Scar was the classic second in line to the throne, ostentatious younger brother.  His quest for power and domination was clear in the way he treated his underlings.  We went with a gold stripe in his hair and a small almost tattoo like scar with some gold highlights on his face to keep the slick appearance.

Mufasa is the king of Pride Rock and needs to have stature.  We put him in gold pants and a black and gold patterned long sleeve t-shirt.  We had an identical outfit made for Simba for the end of the show when he returns to Pride Rock.  The patterned jacket with fringe acts as a subtle lion’s mane.  The old fashioned look of the cloak was intentional and the inspiration was that it had been passed down from father to son for generations.  In the first photo you will see a gold crown which was used to show the transfer of power in Pride Rock.  It started out on Mufasa, Scar took it from Mufasa’s dead body to crown himself and then it was taken by Simba in the end.   Mufasa’s costume had more volume than Scar’s to make him appear to be bigger than Scar’s sleek look and more able to win in a fight, when in reality our Mufasa and Scar were about the same height. 

The Lionesses
The Lionesses in our production were played by the gymnastics team and we needed costumes they could easily move in.  In Circle of Life they entered running through the audience and we used spring boards on the floor so they could vault onto the stage with cartwheels, dives and more. I found these amazing gold lame jumpsuits on Amazon and at around $20 each they were a budget friendly, striking costuming solution.  The students thought they were super comfortable and easy to move in.  They have adjustable straps and elastic at the waist and ankles which made them easier to work with when doing back handsprings.   We went with a warrior style single dutch braid in the back and put gold cord through their hair to add some drama.  As flash tattoos were the big thing last spring/summer we used them to add some sparkle, toughness, and individuality to our lionesses. As for makeup, it was an exaggerated cat eye in black, gold and white, gold highlight and gold lipstick to finish off this classy but fierce look.

We wanted to play with the idea that Simba was a slacker kid and teen who was a bit of a troublemaker who then grows into his greatness.  We ordered the same t-shirt and jacket for both young and old Simba in different sizes.  The T-shirt was a great tie-dye lion that we paired with a gold American Apparel track jacket to tone it down and add in some of the gold which was our common lion color.  The jackets matched our lioness jumpsuits, Mufasa’s pants and Scars cravat really well and helped tie the costumes together.  We paired this with khaki shorts.  Young Simba (played by a girl in our production) had a pair of gold heely’s to tool around in and to give her that more kid like feel, where Simba had a pair of custom painted gold converse shoes. By dressing them in almost identical costumes it made the transition in Hakuna Matata clearer for the audience and was a great moment in performance.  You can see in the top two photos below Young Simba and Simba with Timon and Pumbaa.  Simba has a costume change when he goes back to the Pride Lands and is then dressed identically to Mufasa to represent his willingness to grow up and take his rightful place as king.  It also helps to make the confusion of the Lionesses thinking he is Mufasa make more sense.

Young and Old Nala had the same costumes as our Lionesses to identify them as a part of that group.  They had two dutch braids with gold cord running through them to make them look different than the other Lionesses with only one braid.  The girls also used matching flash tattoos, including a striking gold necklace style one, to help show that they were the same person.  Young Nala had gold heely’s and older Nala wore jazz shoes to help show how she had grown up.

The Zazu costume was a massive undertaking involving tons of layers of fabric and sequins.  Our Zazu was a girl so we went with a high low dress with a massive train tail feather in a bright blue.  By using a variety of colors of fabric in the skirt and train we created a really fun and shimmery costume which looked fantastic onstage and made her really stand out in all the scenes because she was in such a different color palette from the rest of the cast.  Her miniature top hat was painted with a variety of blue and purple metallic paints and she had 4 different colors of hair extensions braided into her hair and sticking out to give it a feathered appearance.  She had blue eyebrows and blue lipstick with silver highlight to make her features pop.  She wore a pair of blue metallic Heely shoes so she could glide around the stage as if she was flying. The arm warmer wings were one of our favorite sight gags.  Inside one of the wings was a full map of the Pride Lands that you can see in the photo below.  She would open it up when they were with the Hyenas to show Simba and Nala that they were in the wrong place.

Rafiki is a magical shaman type character who appears unexpectedly throughout the show.  We played with this idea with some great genie type pants with white symbols from a variety of cultures with a great military style vest top and black combat boots. Our Rafiki was fierce and we wanted to give her some power with her costume.  We added on a reversible cape that she wore a variety of ways including with the hood up when she was skulking around in scenes.   One side of the cape is black silk and the other side was a glittery purple swirly pattern that really catches the lights.  The cape was reused from a production of Into The Woods I had directed a few years ago.  Rafiki also had flash tattoos, but in silver, and a really striking but simple black and white makeup design that really made her standout from the rest of the cast.

Timon and Pumbaa
Timon’s costume was very safari inspired, complete with a pith helmet and utility vest.  We found the striped pants in a box of old costumes and they really seemed to fit the character. It was a quirky costume and seemed to really fit Timon.  We had to make a last minute change with Pumbaa, the student who was supposed to play the part skipped three rehearsals the week of the show and our Scar happened to know all of his lines so he played both Scar and Pumbaa in performance.  It was amazing to watch but required some last minute costume alterations.  Pumbaa was supposed to be in the shirt seen here with khaki shorts and flip flops looking very surfer dude.  As a result of the change, the student playing Scar only had time to change the shirt and kept on his Scar pants and shoes. We added this hat which had a blonde wig sewn in for the performances so he would look like a different person and through on a pair of yellow wayfarers to cover the Scar makeup on his face.  The joys of live theater.

Dance Ensemble
Our Dance Ensemble had a black base costume of leggings and leotards which we layered other costumes over.  They were blue and pink birds in Circle of Life.  In the stampede they wore commedia masks (our only use of mask in the production) with brown satin capes to create the stampede.  We created some gold colored grasslands costumes with skirts, head pieces and arm warmers with hanging tule for the Grasslands number and they added large gold umbrellas for I Just Can’t Wait to Be King.  They had green tulle skirts (not pictured) and large green umbrellas to dance with in Hakuna Matata and silver and white bird costumes for Can You Feel The Love Tonight, with our principle dancer in a blue Zazu like costume with tons of layers of fabric.  We tried to keep the costumes simple as they had tons of different changes.

Giant Puppets
Our Giraffe and Elephant were created by our amazing art teacher and one of the 8th Grade art classes.  They are made out of different thicknesses of craft foam with clear flexible plastic pipping, PVC, and lots of hot glue.  They sit on external frame hiking backpacks and were very light weight.  The Giraffe was about 9 feet tall and the Elephant was around 8 feet once the kids put them on.  There is one student in the Giraffe and two in the Elephant. They were painted with spray paint and we were really excited about how well they turned out.  They got a round of applause when they entered during Circle of Life.  This was our nod to the Julie Taymor puppetry of the original production and provided a nice balance with the rest of our costumes and a little bit of wow factor for the opening number.


Tune in next week for some in process photos from the design process! Want to know more details on the different elements of this production or need some tips and tricks for staging The Lion King, Junior?  Comment below and I am happy to help!