Baltimorean works behind the scenes on 'The Lion King'

With a staging as intricate as "The Lion King," the right personnel have to be backstage making everything click into place night after night.

Bruce Paul Reik, a Milwaukee native who calls Baltimore home, is one of the puppet assistants on the national tour of the musical, responsible for maintenance and repair.

"So much has to happen before each show goes on," said Reik. "Getting Scar hooked up is pretty involved. There's a mechanical aspect to his headgear."

All of the costumes are checked out each week; those of the principal characters are checked every day.

"During a show, I'm working in triage in the puppet and mask emergency room," Reik said. "Almost all the time, things run smoothly, but nightmares happen. If you have to stop the show, it gets hair-raising, but people always rally and make it work."

Reik, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee ("My specialty was clay sculpture"), arrived in Baltimore in 1982 to visit a friend one Halloween. "I was inspired by the feel of the place," Reik said.

After relocating here, he had a stint as an art model at MICA, worked for a clothing designer and got into the theater world. Reik performed solo pieces (dubbed "intellectual vaudeville") at various venues. He later became a dresser in the wardrobe departments for shows at the Mechanic, the Lyric and the Hippodrome.

When "The Lion King" came through the Hippodrome the first time in 2005 for a 14-week run, Reik's work was already known to people in the production. He was offered a job.

"I used to make hand puppets and marionettes and put on shows in my parents' backyard in Milwaukee," Reik said. "I never thought it would be an aspect of my adult life."

Luckily, by the time he started on "The Lion King," he was a fan of the musical. Having had a ho-hum reaction to the animated film, Reik reluctantly joined some family members to check out the Broadway version back in its pre-tour years.

"I didn't want to see some stupid kids show," Reik said. "But I was amazed from the opening number, which just took my breath away for the entire performance. I became a convert at that point. Maybe I'm crazy, but I still enjoy the show, 61/2 years later."

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