For James Sample and his partner Beth Bornstein, a big part of the magic of working on the North American tour of "The Lion King" is experiencing life on the road with their two daughters.

Sample, a Green native, started working on the Disney show, one of the most popular on the planet, in 2004 and served as head electrician for 15 years. Bornstein, who is a stage manager for the tour, also joined "The Lion King" in 2004.

The couple, who have been together for 15 years, saw the births of both of their daughters during their "Lion King" tenure.

"For Beth and I, it kind of evolved into a family thing. We started with one child and she [Bornstein] took 12 weeks off. She came back after each child with three months off,'' Sample said.

Daughters Molly, 11, and Rebecca, 7, have lived most of their lives on the road, where they do online schooling through Odella, a virtual school based in Akron. Molly is in seventh grade and Rebecca in second.

The family maintains a home in Green and returns five to eight times a year to visit family or for doctors' visits.

Sample, 60, is one of 10 electricians on the tour. He now serves in an advance position, working with a smaller crew every time a show moves to another city to load in four trailers before the rest of the show's 18 trucks show up two days later.

He's worked part-time on the show since its North American tour switched from the Gazelle Tour to the more condensed Rafiki Tour in 2017. Last week, Sample was home in Green catching up on doctors' visits with the girls before starting the advance load-in for the Cleveland leg of the tour on Sunday.

Bornstein, 48, was working on the end of the tour's eight-week run in Toronto, where Sample had just covered for another electrician on vacation for six weeks.

Life on the road has been a balancing act for the family, which often has Bornstein's mother, Myrna Bornstein, travel with them for the first week in each city to take care of the girls during load-in. For the weeks she's not there, the couple has hired a nanny agency.

When it's not a load-in week, here's the drill, Sample said: "If I'm not covering a vacation or loading in, then it's more or less daddy daycare and Beth works full time'' at night.

In most cities, stops run three to four weeks. Sample and Bornstein rent short-term, furnished apartments within walking distance from each theater.

 

Educational travel

Growing up with "The Lion King," both of the girls have toured about 80 cities. In each, the family takes advantage of visiting museums and other educational venues. Staying in historical cities including Washington, D.C., and Boston are a valuable part of girls' education.

"It's early American history. We do try to integrate a lot," Sample said.

This family is one of nine, for a total of 16 kids, that tours with "The Lion King." That includes the show's four child cast members. The kids attend each other's birthday parties and even enjoyed a special company viewing of the new "Lion King" film in Toronto, compliments of Disney.

Bornstein, whom Sample describes as "extremely organized,'' stresses maximizing family time together and sharing home-cooked meals before she goes to work for the evening.

"The basic thing is to just stay healthy and happy" on tour, she said. "The girls are older now, so it's a different kind of feeling ... You don't have to worry about them so much and all the needs that they have."

Sample normally drives with the girls between cities in their family car, while Bornstein flies. The girls will be based at home in Green for eight weeks now, during "Lion King's" Cleveland run followed by four weeks in Pittsburgh.

Summertime was camp time for the girls in Toronto, where Molly focused on theater and Rebecca did gymnastics and dance within walking distance from their apartment.

Schoolwork comes first for Molly and Rebecca. But if the timing works out, they see the dress rehearsal for "The Lion King" in each city.

One thing the girls miss out on, being on the road, is having a dog, according to Sample.

"For us, the sacrifices we make are basically the rituals of being in one place,'' such as going to the school play, a friend's house or riding a bicycle in the neighborhood, said Bornstein, a Queens native.

Sample got his start as a stage hand after working as a pavilion cleaning crew member and gopher at Blossom Music Center while he was in high school. That led to a student job in the late 1970s at E.J. Thomas Hall, where he worked as an extra and had an apprenticeship with I.A.T.S.E. Local 48.

His first tours were with the Ohio Ballet in 1979 and 1980, working with famed lighting designer Tom Skelton. Sample also worked with Kenley Players and at Richfield Coliseum early in his career. Before starting with "The Lion King" tour, he was on tour with "Phantom of the Opera," "Les Miserables" and "Cats."

"The Lion King's" Gazelle Tour came off the road and the Rafiki Tour went on in 2017 in an effort to condense the tour and update the show's audio, lighting, carpentry and automation after it had been on the road for 15 years.

The tour now has a quicker load-in, which allows it to play some cities for shorter two-week runs. Set pieces are more streamlined, the stage deck is a bit smaller and some previously automated flying scenery was replaced with manual fly scenery.

As an advance electrician, Sample's job extends beyond stage lighting.

"Part of the job is making sure that the ancillary departments, like puppets, wardrobe and hair and makeup have the power that they need to do the show,'' he said.

 

By the numbers

This is the fourth time the show has come to Playhouse Square. Here are some cool facts about the tour:

• The 134 people who work on the show include 49 cast members, 19 wardrobe people, 18 musicians, 11 carpenters, 10 electricians, five hair/make-up artists, three puppet craftsmen, four props people, four stage managers, three sound people, two creative associates, two company managers, two merchandise associates, a physical therapist and a tutor.

• Lighting designer Donald Holder used nearly 700 lighting instruments to create the show’s lighting plot.

• The show uses 18 trucks to transport puppets, set pieces and other materials from city to city. Fourteen of the trucks are 53-foot semi-trailers.

• The more than 200 puppets include rod puppets, shadow puppets and full-sized puppets.

• The most complicated set piece, Pride Rock, is battery-powered. It's 18 feet long at its fullest onstage and compresses to 8 feet offstage.

• Twenty-five kinds of animals, birds, fish and insects are represented.

• It took 17,000 hours to build the puppets and masks.

• Mufasa’s mask weighs 11 ounces.

• The tallest animals in the show are the 18-foot exotic giraffes seen in “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King.”

• The longest animal, an elephant, is 13 feet long, 11 feet 3 inches high, and 9 feet wide at the ears. It collapses to 34 inches wide to go down theater aisles.

• 300 feet of carbon fiber and 750 pounds of silicone rubber were used to make the masks.

• The Timon puppet weighs 15 pounds.

• The Grasslands headdresses use 3,000 stalks of grass per year.

• Number of hyenas: 39.

• Number of wigs: 49

• Number of wildebeests: 52.

 

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj.