Jason Lewis headed to the gym instead of his hotel room during his first afternoon off from “The Lion King” musical in Omaha.
“I'd rather get those endorphins going,” said the 32-year-old from Long Beach, Calif.
Lewis is the dance captain and a “swing” for the musical, showing at the Orpheum Theater through April 7. He introduces newcomers to the musical's choreography and makes sure everyone knows their numbers during the performance. As a swing, he fills in when people get sick, take vacation or get injured. Occasionally he even jumps into a role in the middle of a performance. He knows every male part in the show.
Lewis joined the cast 10 years ago and has performed thousands of times since.
“Being in shape for this production is very important,” he said.
We spoke with Lewis about staying fit for the show, costly costume changes and why playing a gazelle is so strenuous.
Question: Why is performing in a musical so physically demanding?
Answer: The numbers range from two to four minutes of high aerobic activity. It's similar to interval training at the gym. All of a sudden you go from a level two intensity to a 10 and then you bring it back down. It's a lot of jumping, a lot of running, a lot of lifts. It's already demanding to jump around like a gazelle, for example, but then you add weighted puppets or costumes and still have to execute the moves gracefully.
Q: What's more strenuous: the rehearsals or the performance?
A: The performance. As a professional, you're taught to give 110 percent during the live show. At rehearsals, you'll probably give 75 to 80 percent. Plus, the performance is an adrenaline rush. It's a two-and-a-half-hour show with a 15-minute intermission. For the most part, you're performing from beginning to end.
Q: What is the most taxing part of the show?
A: The opening number, especially as a gazelle. All that leaping in is pretty strenuous. The closing number, which is a confrontation, is very physical, too. The fight between the hyenas and lions is intense.
Q: How does singing play into the physical demands of the show?
A: While we're maneuvering the puppets, we're also singing and dancing. It's not easy — you can't be breathy, so you have to be in good cardio shape.
Q: What's your workout schedule?
A: I lift three to four times a week and do hot yoga four to five times a week. It helps maintain flexibility, which is important for dancing and can prevent injuries.
Q: Do you have to watch what you eat?
A: I watch what I eat because I'm 32 now, so my metabolism isn't what it was when I was 22. I need to eat well to have high energy for the show and fit into my costumes. The unitards are $800 — an alteration would be expensive.
Q: What's your favorite part of the show?
A: It is fun to step into the animal role, to get out of your element, to laugh like a hyena or jump like a gazelle. It's exhilarating. My favorite scene is the “The Circle of Life,” which is the opening number. “The Lion King” is like no other show. It's a visual spectacle. Definitely something people should experience while we're here.
Contact the writer: email@example.com, 402-444-1071, twitter.com/KatyHealey5