I’M standing on stage at the West End theatre which has been home to The Lion King for two decades.

The cast have taken their bows, the matinee audience has filed out, and there’s a still quiet in the auditorium. The stage is covered with black jagged lines which, I’m told, represent the scratch marks of a lion. “Even if the audience don’t see them, the performers do. It keeps it authentic,” says Laura O’Toole from the backstage team.

It’s the meticulous attention to detail that goes into this spectacular Tony and Olivier award-winning musical that brings the African savanna and its animals to life. From the lionesses’ hand-sewn beaded corsets to the real horse hair manes of hesian zebras, the show is lovingly crafted by a skilled creative team.

This month is the 20th anniversary of The Lion King in the West End. It premiered in October 1999 at the Lyceum Theatre, which remains its London home. The show has been performed in nine languages and as well as the West End and Broadway there are currently productions in Germany, Spain, Japan, South Korea and America.

Next spring The Lion King comes to Bradford. Disney Theatrical Group’s much-loved show will be at the Alhambra for seven weeks - the only Yorkshire venue on the UK tour. “What you see here is what you’ll get in Bradford,” says Laura, leading me backstage at the Lyceum, for a fascinating glimpse at how the West End’s biggest show is put together.

The story of young lion Simba’s epic journey towards becoming king is brought to the stage with 232 puppets and over 350 beautiful costumes reflecting a range of cultural influences. Puppets and masks portray 25 species of wildlife, from tiny birds to a life-size elephant.

The show’s distinctive look, blending ancient theatrical techniques with modern staging devices, is the brainchild of Julie Taymor, the first woman to win a Tony for Best Director of a Musical. Drawing from the puppetry and movement of her epic theatre and opera productions, and using African and Indonesian influences, she created hundreds of masks and puppets, with co-designer Michael Curry, and designed the costumes.

“She was drawn to the humanity of the story - the grief and coming to terms with responsibility,” says Laura. “With the puppetry, you see both performers and animals they represent on stage. The human face is visible, conveying emotion.”

Beneath the dazzling costumes and show-stopping numbers is the simple, touching story of a lion cub who finds himself lost and, thanks to love and friendship, manages to return home. Some of the show’s biggest moments, not least the buffalo stampede scene, use old theatrical methods. While the stampede, drawn from the Victorian ‘forced perspective’ technique, is thrilling and fills the stage, a tense shadow puppet scene where Simba follows villainous Scar into danger is striking in its simplicity.

Up close, the puppets are beautiful. Standing in the wingspace, where sets, props, masks and costumes are stored, I’m surrounded by handpainted carbon fibre animals - antelopes, grinning hyenas, Mufasa and Simba masks (one of five representations of Simba on stage), long giraffe legs, a cheetah harness. The piercing gaze of Scar’s mask appears; his mane a spiky tuft, the eyebrows asymmetrical, sculpted bamboo giving him a haunted, skeletel appearance. “He looks unbalanced, untrustworthy, edgy,” says Laura.

Zazu, Scar’s bird, is operated by a Japanese form of puppetry. His feathers are handpainted and stuck on by hand. “The wardrobe team works around the clock; there’s a lot of wear and tear which means ongoing maintenance work, from pasting masks to sewing on beads,” says Laura, handing me one of the lioness corsets. It’s heavy, covered in handsewn beads from around the world. “Each corset is different; the designs reflect the age and hierarchy of the lionesses.”

The wingspace is where performers get changed, often quickly, between scenes. The make-up is very specific and applied with brushes specially designed for the show. The cast are taught to operate puppets; opening eyes, flapping wings, moving necks and walking like animals. “The puppets become an extension of them,” says Laura. “And as well as wearing masks and operating puppets and harnesses, they’re performing in a very specific way. There are many dance techniques - ballet, hip-hop, street, Indonesian. The show has its own choreography.”

This is a huge show to take on the road. It will arrive at the Alhambra in 23 trailers - and a dedicated, highly skilled team of people, on and off stage, will bring it to life.

* The Lion King is at the Alhambra from April 30 to June 20, 2020. Tickets are on (01274) 432000 or bradford-theatres.co.uk