Tucson native finds her home backstage with ‘lion king’

click to enlarge Tucson native finds her home backstage with ‘lion king’
(Michelle Scalpone/Submitted)
Michelle Scalpone says she fuels up on Eegee’s when she returns home. She’s in Tucson as the assistant stage manager for “The Lion King” at Centennial Hall.

Tucson native Michelle Scalpone worked in New York and for Disney, but she’s coming full circle as the juggernaut’s Broadway show, “The Lion King,” rolled into town.

Scalpone grew up in Tucson, she has worked in New York and for Disney, but is back in Arizona this upcoming July for the national tour of Disney’s Broadway show, “The Lion King.”

“The Lion King” stages at Centennial Hall through Sunday, Sept. 25.

As assistant stage manager, Scalpone creates schedules, ensures everyone’s signed in, communicates with the crew and maintains safety.

“Can’t say we do everything, but we kind of do everything,” she said.

When Scalpone was 13 years old she saw a touring production of “Beauty and the Beast” and was inspired.

“We had one of those seats where you could see backstage; they were so far over,” she said.

“I remember more things that happened in that wing than what happened on stage and I immediately went to my middle school and went, ‘OK, how do I do that?’” she said.

In high school, she was a stage manager and then attended UA and Juilliard. Currently, she is working toward a master’s in arts management with an emphasis in outreach and advocacy online through the University of Denver via the Disney Aspire Program.

Disney hired Scalpone 10 days before the pandemic. She was working on a different Broadway show when her mentor texted her, asking if she wanted to go on tour.

“An hour later I was interviewing for ‘The Lion King’ and two days later I was hired,” Scalpone recalled.

Disney, she said, is her dream job.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “I count my stars every day. I get excited in a very Disney fan way, I’m like, ‘There’s a Mickey Mouse on my paycheck. There is a Mickey Mouse on my ID.’”

As the stage manager, she travels to all of her destinations by car. That way, she isn’t restricted to luggage weight limits, and she can pack for her and her two cats, Jack and Maggie.

“We will close the show on a Sunday, as stage managers we get out somewhere between 10 or 10:30, maybe 11 p.m.,” she said.

“I’ll get a good night’s sleep and do the rest of the packing. It takes about a day and a half or two days to get somewhere.”

She admitted the job can be difficult and there were times when she wanted to leave the field. But it never came to fruition.

“You stay in it for the kind of show you’re on that brings passion to you,” she said. “I have always loved film and going to shows. I just love the art.”

One of the shows that made her stay was “The Lion King” — and its “The Circle of Life” scene.

“‘The Circle of Life’ still brings me to tears because it is just so beautiful and it is this massively beautiful show and it is beautifully complicated backstage,” Scalpone said.

“It’s so amazing to be a part of a production where everyone is excited to be there.”

On tour, Scalpone draws inspiration from her peers.

“When I see my peers doing well, that inspires me to do well … in a help each other out kind of way,” she said.

Being a stage manager helps Scalpone connect to her peers.

“This is the only department where I get to talk to everybody… it all kind of comes back to us.”

Though stage managing is important to Scalpone, she also finds time to pursue her other passions.

“I will always try to find a hotel with a kitchen because I love to cook … I love to bake. I’m an avid reader. I can read a book a week, so I try to read a chapter every day.”

Scalpone does a lot of sightseeing because she drives. In her free time, she likes to explore the tour stops.

“I try to do something touristy or local in every spot.”

Though she enjoys seeing new things, Scalpone can recall places in Arizona that are important to her.

“I’m a big fan of Eegee’s. I can’t get enough of Eegee’s,” she said. “Every time I come to visit my parents or come to town on a show, I might as well just be fueled on Eegee’s.”

Scalpone also enjoyed visiting places with water features in Tucson, and heading north to the Valley to hang out at Lake Pleasant or the Salt River.

She has worked on many shows throughout her theater career, but will tour with “The Lion King” for the time being.

“It just hits home every day for me,” she says.

Broadway in Tucson’s “The Lion King”

WHEN: Various times through Sunday, Sept. 25

WHERE: Centennial Hall, 1020 E. University Boulevard, Tucson

COST: Tickets start at $40

INFO: broadwayintucson.com

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