Hidden inside the Pioneer Hall at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue is a 90 minute foot-stompin’, hand-clappin’ family friendly musical starring six young actors set in the Wild, Wild West, and offering endless buckets of fried chicken and ribs. And, surely, plenty of corn and cheese to go around the table the whole night.
When it launched on June 30, 1974, the high-energy dinner show was created in the heyday of dinner theaters for Walt Disney World guests with a summer college intern cast. This September, the musical dinner show celebrates its 40th Anniversary.
“Hoop-Dee-Doo was upbeat, and guests came for the corny jokes, good food and lots of fun,” said Forrest Bahruth, show director, Disney Parks & Resorts Creative Entertainment and the original choreographer for the dinner show. “Forty years later, the heart is still in it, the energy is still there.”
Marilyn Kay Magness was one of those summer college interns who played the part of Dolly Drew in the original cast, and is still with Disney over 40 years later. Today, she is executive creative director, Disney Parks, Creative Entertainment and she accompanied us recently on a media dinner to showcase the 40th anniversary of the dinner show.
Throughout the night, you could feel that Marilyn was watching the latest cast for the musical revue with a careful eye and commenting on the little changes here and there to the routine that had been made over the years.
For example, the routine for the dessert was originally “Apple Pie Hoedown” until it was replaced with “Strawberry Short Cake Walk” in 1979 when Disney discovered that the strawberry shortcake could be made with a little higher profit margins.
As that first summer ended and guests were clamoring for more, Walt Disney World Entertainment already was auditioning a full-time cast, and Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue opened as a permanent show on Sept. 5, 1974. Today, it’s one of the country’s longest-running dinner shows and has presented more than 37,000 performances. More than 10.5 million guests have seen the high-spirited show.
And while Hoop-Dee-Doo has been fine-tuned over its 40-year run, the heart of the show never has changed: a slice of Americana, old-fashioned family fun and heaping helpings of good, down- home food. It was like what nostalgia would feel like if you were growing up in America in the 1850s.
Performers sing, dance and act their way through the timeless classic. “I love to go and hear kids squeal with delight at Six Bits, but also hear strong American ballads,” says Vazzana. “Families tell me it’s the first time they’ve seen a Broadway-style show – it’s obtainable and accessible, quintessential Disney.”
In true Disney fashion, Walt Disney Imagineers designed Pioneer Hall in authentic Wild West style with 1,283 hand-fitted pine logs from Montana and 70 tons of stones from North Carolina to re-create a look from the late 1800s. The building opened April 1, 1974.
Themed entertainment is always part of the Disney story. While Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue was being written and cast, a group of country-Western musicians called The Star-Spangled Washboard Band opened in Pioneer Hall, according to an historical timeline by Larry Billman, author/writer and Disney entertainment consultant, who was the author and writer of the original show.
Bob Jani, the director of Entertainment for both Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort, saw the potential for a “dinner theater show” and hired Billman. After multiple rewrites (the first version was called “We’re With You, Mother McCree!”), Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue was born.
Students from the Disney World Fine Arts College Workshop program, an 11-week work experience program, auditioned for the three female and three male character performers in Hoop-Dee-Doo: Six Bits Slocum and Dolly Drew (comic relief), Jim Handy and Flora Long (the singers), and Johnny Ringo and Claire de Lune (the dancers).
“The college students sent us video auditions, and we had more than 600 applicants,” said Bahruth. The cast arrived at Walt Disney World Resort in early June for quick rehearsals, and the show opened on June 30, 1974.
Through the decades, the show saw some small revisions to songs and dance numbers, but the basic premise – a Wild West show in an old-timey music hall with a romantic leading lady and man – always remained as the guests clapped, stomped their feet and sang along, all the while sharing an all-American dinner around a communal, “please pass the cornbread” table.
Today, servers dish up about 900 pounds of fried chicken every night, and cooks spend about six hours each day just breading the chicken. Add 400 pounds of pork ribs, slow cooked starting at 11 a.m. daily on a big outdoor smoker.
For sides, there’s 120 pounds of corn, 400 pounds of potatoes to be mashed and 30 gallons of baked beans. It takes 15 gallons of strawberries and 12 gallons of whipped cream to make the strawberry shortcake dessert.
Servers are part of the show, happily slamming all-you-care-to-eat metal buckets of ribs and chicken on the tables as they sing and dance their way through the dining room. Beer, wine, sangria and soft drinks are part of the menu.
The Show Today
With three shows nightly at 4 p.m., 6:15 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., guests can select from three different seating options based on floor or balcony tables. (Price includes tax and gratuity.)
Ages 10 and older
Category 1 – $66.99
Category 2 – $61.99
Category 3 – $56.99
Age 3 to 9-
Category 1 – $35.99
Category 2 – $30.99
Category 3 – $29.99
Category 1 is first-floor level with tables nearest the stage. Category 2 is either a table on the first floor behind the Category 1 seating below the balcony or in the center of the balcony. Category 3 tables are on the right or left side of the balcony on the second floor.
For reservations, book online or call (407) WDW-DINE up to 180 days prior to your visit.
• Today one member of the original cast from the college program still works for Disney – Marilyn Kay Magness, who played the part of Dolly Drew. She’s executive creative director, Disney Parks, Creative Entertainment.
• An early draft of the show was titled The Whoop-Dee-Doo-Revue, which was revised to Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue.
• Principal songwriter was Tom Adair, who also wrote words for the score for Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” and the “Mickey Mouse Club.”
• In 1979 the song “Apple Pie Hoedown” was replaced with “Strawberry Short Cake Walk” when shortcake replaced apple pie on the menu.
• The writers added a nod to Disney legacy with “The Legend of Davy Crockett,” skit, complete with a coonskin cap and bear puns.
• Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue was part of the opening entertainment at Tokyo Disneyland in 1983, with Larry Billman and Forrest Bahruth directing and staging the new version. The show played there until 1995.
So. Much. Fun.