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Minnesota has more than 10,000 lakes. "The Lion King" has had more than 10,000 performances on Broadway, where it is the highest-grossing show in history with $1.9 billion in box office sales and counting. And it all started in Minneapolis.

Come Wednesday, Simba and Scar will again square off in their climactic clash for power on the same Orpheum Theatre stage where the show premiered in summer 1997. Twin Cities director and actor Peter Moore, who was present at the creation, will be paying close attention as the show returns to its natal stage.

As stunt coordinator, Moore worked on ensuring that fight scenes were safe. And his work, like that of all the other creatives assembled by imaginative director Julie Taymor, helped to make the show a masterwork that has grossed $8.2 billion worldwide and has been seen by more than 112 million people, a figure that exceeds the combined populations of France, Canada, New Zealand and Jamaica.

"We knew it was something special, but we didn't know just how special," Moore said. "It's the best combination of art and commerce that I've ever seen — a box office smash that's absolutely brilliant and that changed the theater field."

The Star Tribune talked with Moore, retired theater executive Fred Krohn, Tony-winning choreographer Garth Fagan and Tony-nominated orchestrator Robert Elhai about their work on and around the show. Except for Fagan, a New York resident, all live in the Twin Cities. Here's an edited transcript of their remembrances.

Q: How did "The Lion King" get to Minneapolis?

Krohn: Recounting a story that he also tells in his memoir, "Standing in the Wings: My Life On (and Mostly Just Off) Stage," Krohn explained that he went all out to entice Disney to agree to have the show premiere in Minneapolis. The first thing he had to do was make changes to the stagehand contracts. He also agreed to offer a free rehearsal period at the Orpheum. And he and his ushers spent a week at Disney University learning "how to treat ticket-buyers as guests rather than customers."

Krohn also teamed up with theater impresario Jim Binger, a Twin Citian who owned five theaters on Broadway, to lobby Disney. "Disney had already had a good experience in the Twin Cities because 'Beauty and the Beast' had a pre-Broadway run here," Krohn said. Even so, Krohn explained, it was not a sure bet.

Q: How did you get the job?

Moore: Well, I'd been doing a lot of fight [choreography] at the Guthrie, and they called them and asked for someone, and the Guthrie referred me.

Elhai: I had been working on movies with Elliot Goldenthal, Julie's partner. When Julie signed on with Disney, Elliot didn't want to do it, but I said I could represent Elliot's aesthetic.

Fagan: Julie Taymor — the amazing Julie Taymor — saw my work at the Joyce Theater. When I met with her, she said the dancers would be in these unusual costumes with extended arms, but what she liked about my work was the isolation and detail of the movement I set on the dancers. She liked the character of my movement. She wanted me to help use movement to tell the story of the environment and to show the spirit of these characters. And you know what, we turned out to be artistic soulmates.

Q: Tell me about the most striking challenge or setback you saw or experienced?

Both Krohn and Elhai remembered Taymor going in for emergency medical care during the 10-week rehearsal process, although each specified a different removal surgery (appendix versus gallstones). They both agreed that Taymor showed remarkable bravery.

"She showed up at the very next rehearsal, working from a Lay-Z-Boy recliner that had been set up over the front seats," Krohn said.

Fagan: Some of the dancers didn't think that they could do the dances. They said they'd never moved like that.

Elhai: Making everything sound like one coherent piece even though the music came from all these different worlds. There were pop songs by Elton John, African music by Lebo M and Hans Zimmer's film music from [the Oscar-winning] Hollywood film. And none of them were from the theater.

Q: What is your proudest moment?

Elhai: One piece that we worked hard on was the finale in act two. That was a huge project to fit Hans Zimmer's underscoring with Mark Mancina's music that was written to go along with the fight part of it. It all had to be stitched together. And the timing was really critical because I was creating underscoring that hinged around the dialogue. That was a really successful chunk of the piece.

Moore: There's a scene when Simba is up on Pride Rock being threatened and he's crawling toward the edge. I had them put a strap hidden at the top of the rock for Simba to put his hand in, in case he fell off the ledge. And sure enough, in one of the previews, it happened. The strapped saved him.

Q: What were the most gratifying responses to your work?

Elhai: A lot of times people are dragged to see musicals because of kids or something, or they went to see it because they'd heard about Julie's work. This is a theatrical experience that's not cheesy and it satisfies people who are not die-hard musical theater fans.

Fagan: This show has meant everything to me. I will never forget the opening night when the first number ended, and the audience roared. I was just bursting with joy once I heard that because the audience was with us. Then they kept roaring again and again and again.

Q: Was there a moment when you were star-struck?

Moore: Every day, really. Working with Julie Taymor is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Some of it so simple but so brilliant. When the waterhole dries up, that's just a blue piece of fabric pulled through a hole in the floor. The sun rising is just a pleated piece of fabric being raised up. But wow.

Krohn: Well, superstar Glenn Close was dating one of the stagehands, and I fondly recall sitting with her near the guts and computer controls the first time that Pride Rock rose from the stage to announce the birth of Simba. Amazing. Elton John was a no-show for opening night, but my 14-year-old niece, Lindsey [Vonn], who would become the most celebrated skier in U.S. history, walked up to [Disney executive] Michael Eisner's table at the after-party at Dayton's and began chatting with him about the show.

'The Lion King'

Where: Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.

When: 7:30 p.m. Wed., 1 & 7:30 p.m. Thu., 7:30 p.m. Fri., 2 & 7:30 p.m. Sat., 1 & 6:30 p.m. Sun. Ends April 28.

Tickets: $39-$199.