Fifteen years ago, around the time when The Lion King was seven years into their Broadway run, the company realized that, with a hit, they were likely to continue missing out on family Halloweens. So they decided to do what they do best: make theatre.
Since then, the cast, crew, company management, and full Disney Theatrical team has created a Broadway haunted house. On the last Saturday in October (between the matinee and evening performances), performers, backstage crew, make-up artists, props masters, dressers, and more dash to construct the multi-room, bi-level haunted house in 15 minutes flat.
Beginning at stage level, visitors travel through the male ensemble dressing room, the Minskoff backstage area, past a quick-change booth, through the lower level hallway to the female ensemble dressing room, and finally back into daylight in the Minskoff lobby. (Flip through the full gallery below.)
This year, each area sports a different theme—from a drag show of Hocus Pocus’ Sanderson Sisters to the Spooky Sea. Last year, in anticipation of the final season of Game of Thrones, they took their theme from the HBO smash, building a giant and a dragon and tricking out the place a la Westeros.
Lion King ensemblist Jacqueline Rene has been at the forefront of planning for the past eight years—which is a year-round responsibility. “Some of us start planning as soon as we’re done,” she says, standing in a costume of kelp . “We start making stuff during the summer—Theresa [DiStasi in wardrobe] who decorates the bottom of the stairway, she starts making stuff from January.”
Rene, who has seven-year-old twins, relishes celebrating with her kids this way. “They get a little bit of Halloween with dad and something with mom, too, since I’m always on the schedule,” she says.
Though the Halloween celebration began as a way for the Disney performers to celebrate with their families, it has expanded over the years to include the full Broadway community. “It’s just gotten bigger and bigger, and we’re like, ‘Why don’t we just invite people who have kids, or kids in shows, who don’t necessarily have the chance to trick or treat?’”
The Minskoff lobby buzzes with Halloween spirit. Assistant company manager Kendra Moore, dressed as Wonder Woman, shepherds groups into the haunted house, while stage manager Ron Vodicka serves snacks to kids in costume, and Chondra Profit Ardrey, who plays Sarabi, serves pizza, and James Brown-Orleons, who plays Banzai, DJs the whole affair.
“This is probably one of our favorite traditions because everyone has their hands on stuff,” says Rene. “The props help us, the puppet department gives ideas, everyone has their hands in it and they are so willing to help out.”
An hour later, there’s barely a pumpkin in sight as the door to the Haunted House closes and the team readies for the curtain to rise on the evening show.
Take a virtual look inside The Lion King’s 2019 Haunted House and Halloween celebration: