Jelani Remy as "Simba" from The Lion King National Tour.  Photo/Joan MarcusSun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our MyCapture site.
Jelani Remy as "Simba" from The Lion King National Tour. Photo/Joan Marcus

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our MyCapture site.

It's party time at Broadway in Boston, now in the midst of its 30th anniversary season of presenting Broadway shows in the theater district.

And what better way to kick off its 2014-2015 season than with Disney's The Lion King? The landmark musical, with its strutting giraffes, swooping birds and leaping gazelles, roars into the Opera House Sept. 9 through Oct. 12. It marks the 10th anniversary of the refurbished venue, which re-opened in 2004 with -- what else? -- The Lion King.

Ben Lipitz was here in 2004 and again in 2009, playing Pumbaa, the big-hearted warthog and cheerful sidekick to Timon, the meerkat.

The pair help young Simba defeat evil Scar and sing the upbeat "Hakuna Matata.

The Lion King
Sue McLaughlin, the keeper of the puppets (photo by Selena Moshell)

Lipitz hasn't tired of playing Pumbaa off-and-on for 12 years.

"Everyone loves Pumbaa; he's larger than life and has this incredible outlook. We should all strive to be like that," Lipitz said by phone from Montreal.

Playing him requires agility.

"I have a three-foot wig and wear a 45-pound puppet that makes him come alive. I stay in shape just to manage the costume," he quipped.

Behind the scenes, Sue McLaughlin makes sure Pumbaa's outfit and more than 200 other puppets are kept in perfect shape for the performers.


The Lion King
Nick Cordileone as Timon and Ben Lipitz as Pumbaa (Photo by Joan Marcus)

From giant giraffes to grasslands headpieces, the Lion King puppets are McLaughlin's domain.

"Three of us tour with the company, maintaining, cleaning and repairing the 230 puppets and masks," said McLaughlin, who is from Milford, N.H., where she interned in the 1980s at the American Stage Festival.

Whether onstage or backstage, Disney's The Lion King is a treat for the company, Lipitz and McLaughlin say. And they promise that for audiences, too.

"Working with The Lion King is exciting and rewarding," said McLaughlin.

"And we can't wait to bring it back to Boston," noted Lipitz.

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Thirty years, 7 million patrons and more than 250 productions later, Broadway in Boston is one of the key players in revitalizing the theater district and keeping it strong.

No one is more excited with its success than Rich Jaffe, president of Broadway in Boston.

"It's been a great 30 years bringing the best of Broadway to Boston," Jaffe said recently.

Highlights include the investments that Broadway in Boston has made to renovate the city's historic theaters: the Colonial in 1995 and 2002, the Wilbur in 1996, the Opera House in 2004 and the Charles Playhouse in 2014.

Each season, Jaffe features new musicals, direct from Broadway, and fan favorites back for return engagements.

"We try to offer different types of shows to appeal to a variety of audiences," said Jaffe. 

Personally, he is most excited about Disney's The Lion King, "one of the most creative shows ever produced." He also looks forward to seeing audiences "dancing in their seats" at Motown the Musical and bringing in Kinky Boots, the "surprise show" of the season with its "message of accepting people for who they are."

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The 2014-2015 Broadway in Boston season:

Disney's The Lion King, Sept. 9-Oct. 12, Boston Opera House

Mamma Mia!, Oct. 28-Nov. 2, Citi Emerson Colonial Theatre

Motown, The Musical, Jan. 27-Feb. 15, Boston Opera House

Dirty Dancing -- The Classic Story on Stage, April 28-May 10, Citi Emerson Colonial Theatre

Disney's Newsies, July 23-July 5, Boston Opera House

Kinky Boots, Aug. 11-23, Boston Opera House