Celebrating the San Diego Zoo’s centennial, a packed Spreckels Organ Pavilion was treated Saturday night to a half-hour Broadway-style stage show including 250 local performers.
Grammy and Tony Award-winning singer Heather Headley, who originated the role of Nala in “The Lion King” on Broadway, belted out: “Reach out and touch somebody’s hand.”
Many were touched — and amazed, including three generations of women in one local family.
Jean Mader of Allied Gardens, a San Diegan since 1952, was accompanied by her 59-year-old daughter Charlotte Raymo and 21-year-old granddaughter Lydia Raymo, both of Bonita.
Mader, 89, whose husband was a pastor, loved the light show painted on the pavilion, saying it “helps us understand how God loves beauty.”
Daughter Charlotte said: “I thought the elephant was real” at first.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Councilman Todd Gloria (whose District 3 includes Balboa Park) read parts of a script on stage — a history of the zoo.
With a white mane of hair, 64-year-old Joan Embery, the famed zoo ambassador for three decades, also took part as well in the production by Mark Joseph Creative.
Two dozen puppets made in the New York studios of Eric Wright’s Puppet Kitchen were operated by 30 dancers. Th colorful creations depicted an elephant, rhino, giraffes, monkeys, flamingos — and a lion who emerged from a huge gift box.
A 53-piece orchestra, accompanied in parts by a 130-person choir, played an original score, composed to represent each animal species featured in the show.
Earlier, San Diego’s official civic organist Carol Williams gave a 20-minute concert at the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ.
With Plaza de Panama thronged by thousands under cool and overcast skies, the Balboa Park event was part county fair, Broadway Show and food truck extravaganza (at least a dozen) — with a Guinness World Record hand-puppet show to boot.
Guinness record adjudicator Kim Patrick of New York made the announcement around 8 p.m. — that 508 people taking up 25 middle rows at the organ pavilion had set an inaugural world record.
It was a new category, she said.
Only 250 were needed to set the record, organizers said. One of several “Dr. Zoolittles” (this one with a British accent and 25 years at the park) acted as emcee, and rehearsed the paper-bag-puppet crowd in elements of the story — about how Dr. Harry Wegeworth was inspired by Prince the lion of the original 1915-1916 Panama-California Exposition to start the San Diego Zoo.
At front row center, with his own puppet, was Robert “Bob” Wiese, chief life sciences officer of San Diego Zoo Global. He was among perhaps hundreds of zoo employees and volunteers to staff the event. (The zoo was closed Saturday night.)
With two stages and a series of bands — plus face-painting and activity booths — the interior of the park was a fun zone for children. A second Dr. Zoolittle invited children and adults to sample a protein treat — dried insects like mealworms.
Wright, 34, said the stage production and animal-puppet show was 1 1/2 years in the making, including visits to the San Diego Zoo for research.
“We drew a huge amount of inspiration,” he said.
Guinness World Record Caps Roaring Good Time at Zoo Centennial was last modified: May 15th, 2016 by Ken Stone
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