In between the pomp and peril of giant roller coasters, barkers hawking barbie dolls and rides that twist and turn lies the most underrated attraction in amusement parks: their multi-million dollar, Broadway-styled stage shows.
Involving two or three years of planning, pyrotechnics worthy of the next Stallone film and musical scores scribed by Broadway veterans, theme-park shows market slick, stylized musicals to their massesall for the price of park admission.
Part hoofer, part Hollywood, shows like Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame, A Musical Adventure, combine dashes of Vegas and Broadway, with stories borrowed from popular cinema. Hunchback, currently playing at Disney's MGM Studio's newly refurbished Backlot Theatre, even premiered the same day as the nationwide release of the film. The 32-minute stage show follows the movie's story closely, taking the audience from Quasimodo's bell tower to the streets of Paris during the Festival of Fools. Gypsies, garbed in multi-hued capes, tell the tale through song and puppetry. Hunchback even features a production team that reads like a who's who on Broadway: from director Fran Soeder (Peter Pan) to scenic designer James Leonard Joy (State Fair) to choreographer Janet Watson (Big River) and lighting designer Natasha Katz (Gypsy).
Universal's WaterWorld-A Live Sea War Spectacular (shown below), set in the same nether world site of the Kevin Costner film, adds fire and thrills to the live-action version of the story. "We try to provide the audience with the Hollywood of bygone ages," said Eddie Newquist, creative director for WaterWorld. "We try to imagine what a guest would like to experience." A constant barrage of special effects, the $12 million show seeks to thrill its audience with jet ski jumps, a giant fireball that rises 50 feet in the air and an airplane, launched from a giant catapult, that lands just 100 feet from them.
Theme parks' shows even have their own famous alumni. . .like "L.A. Law"'s Blair Underwood and Broadway's Taye Diggs (Rent, Carousel) who performed at Busch Garden. A good cast, hard to find in any medium, must be discovered several times, for theme park shows' casts often rotate. Hunchback, according to Director Fran Soeder, uses five casts. Imagine the quest involved finding five Quasimodos: 5' to 5'2" tenors, athletic enough to swing 12 feet in the air from a rope, circle the audience and then land on their feet three times a dayand who'll relocate to Florida for six months to a year. How to Get There: Delta Dream Vacations offers a Walt Disney World Resort package starting at $359 for four days. Call 1-800-221-6666 for more information.
-- By Sandra Mardenfeld