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Wharton Center Seat Removal Makes Way For The 'King'

Jamie Paisley
Stage Hands of the Wharton Center mid-removal of select seats to create temporary aisles for the incoming production of The Lion King

The Wharton Center in East Lansing is making way for the King this week… “The Lion King,” that is, the final show of their 2017-18 season. Disney’s Broadway classic also helps the Wharton Center prepare for some summertime improvements, as WKAR’s Jamie Paisley learned.

The 1998 Tony Awards began with a spectacle, the opening number of Disney’s Lion King, complete with human puppetry coming down the aisles… but when the production comes to East Lansing’s Wharton Center this week, there is a problem in recreating this awesome scene. The Cobb Great Hall auditorium has no aisles.

"The continental seating, obviously, the main implication is that there's no center aisle." explains Steve Heinrich, one of the Wharton Center’s Stage Managers and he is in charge of the season’s final production, The Lion King. "But a feature of continental seating - you can bring each of the rows closer to the stage. but it is impossible for The Lion King to perform, not necessarily with a center aisle but with two aisles that actually go through the seating area itself."

Now, the cast could come down the side entrances, but there are pillars that would obscure the view. "That wasn't very satisfactory for Disney." says Heinrich, "So, in return for booking the show, we had to create two artificial aisles. We do that by starting in Row AA, and going back 18 rows."

The removed seats also means adding a bit of temporary carpeting and some lighting to assist with visibility for the audience… and also the performers. After all, they will have limited visibility and in a few of the larger puppet costumes, decreased mobility. Safety first.

But once Disney’s The Lion King ends its Wharton Center residency on July 29th, Heinrich and crew won’t be putting those removed seats back. "Because [as] soon as the last truck has been packed up and dispatched and the stage hands have had a brief period of rest, we're going to to take out all of the rest of the seats. All 2400-some of the seats are going to leave." says Heinrich.

And while 2400 seats will be leaving the Wharton Center, the new number of new seats will be reduced by about 120. "There's going to be fewer seats for a couple of reasons: One, because of the increased need for a little extra room in the seats themselves, and also that in order to be ADA compliant, we had to add companion seats for disability seating. They couldn't always be assured a seat on the platform with the person with the disability."

Lastly, with the new seats, the color of the Wharton Center’s main auditorium will be getting a makeover as well. Something to better fit into its Michigan State University location. "The new seats were going to be a different color than the red ones that are being taken out. And traditiaonlly, you would match the color of the main drape and the valance with the color of the seats. Well, the new seats are greenish color, so that in addition to all-new seats, we're going to get an all-new main curtain and valance reflecting the color change of the seats."

You can learn more about the national tour of The Lion King coming to East Lansing July 11-29 online at WhartonCenter.com

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