Theater Thursday: The Key is Theming – Theatrical Shows in Theme Parks

I am about to head out for a vacation to a very famous theme park, and one thing I always think about are the attractions I am going to check out. One of those specific things on the list, no matter how many times I go to said theme park(s) are the shows available to see. The theatrical productions that one can experience range from the terrible, the cheesy, the great, and then the bizarre. They usually are different from anything you’d see on Broadway, but work to offer a similar, shorter, performance for those that have never been near The Great White Way. But does it always work? Eh, that remains to be seen.

The place that probably offers the most variety in theatrical experiences is any of the Disney resorts. They have offered us some excellence in the way of theater in the past, along with some truly epic duds. Here we can find a perfect example of all the possibilities mentioned above:

In terrible would be the Pocahontas live show that was around during the 90’s. Whoever was cast as Pocahontas at the time really was not a good singer (when I saw it), and nothing was offered in the innovative department. As for the cheese, I’d definitely say The Beauty and the Beast production in Hollywood Studios is the king of that category. From the dated costumes, to the awkward lip syncing, it definitely needs an update. As for the great, most people will tell you that Festival of the Lion King remains the best production on Disney World property, where as Disneyland’s version of Fantasmic is the superior rendition.

And if you wanna go with bizarre, look no further than Disneyland’s short lived Snow White musical. Though it had some incredible set design and effects, look at the clip below just to see how…. “unique” it was. From super awkward deer dancing, to narration by the magic mirror (who for some reason is now in support of Snow White), this show is full of weird choices. The pacing is also just all over the place, and our leading lady sings in a range far lower than her animated counterpart. If you can’t tell this is kind of a hot mess.

Now let’s turn our sights to Universal Studios, one of the other big internationally recognized brands. This “thrill rides” series of parks has housed quite a few shows. But unlike Disney’s variety, Universal is more known for their failures rather than their successful productions. I’d say the best they’ve ever done is the Bill and Ted Halloween show for Horror Nights, but I can’t speak too much on that since I haven’t seen it recently. But I can easily describe to you what would be both their most bizarre and worst creation….. meet The Creature From The Black Lagoon: The Musical.

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Oh, where do I begin. First off, though this show had an incredible amount of production design and effects, these couldn’t save it from the god awful script and the even worst music that went with it. Sure, theme park shows are not required to be Shakespeare, but this thing just screamed “Rush Job” in the sense of its book and score. Though the parody elements were entertaining at times, the amount of sexist jokes and sex moments in general made this just an incredibly awkward production. And of course, the ending, though technically interesting, is just….. confusing? But I don’t want to spoil the magic you can see in the clip below. Considering The Creature is my favorite Universal monster, this was a big disappoint for this sci-fi nerd.

Of course there are tons of other shows from various other theme parks, but there was one particular one that remains the most ridiculous from my childhood memories. It took place at a theme park called Dutch Wonderland, in which everything is a cheap, poor man’s rip off of Disney’s attractions. But nothing, and I mean nothing, compares to their theatrical production of The Adventures of the Frog Prince . From the rented costumes that looked like they were made by a blind man, to the “water ballet” portions, this thing was one of the most depressing things I’ve seen, on stage or otherwise.

So yes, as we can see, theme parks can offer both the best and the worst. But at the end of the day, these are supposed to be bite size portions of the real deal, and if this is the gate way for kids and non-theater folk to get into musicals and plays, then you can’t really hate on them. I just wish that these productions would get as much care and attention into their books or overall shows, as they do in their effects and puppetry. But, lets face it, we can’t all be Wicked (which, fun fact, plays in a shortened version at Universal Studios Japan.) So I will now be off on my way to experience more theatrical theme park productions, hopefully ones that are not as awful as the ones above.

What are your favorite and least favorite theme park shows? Comment below with your thoughts and memories!

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