When thinking about a trip to the Walt Disney World Resort, there are almost as many planning strategies as there are attractions. But in addition to planning your schedule around attractions, shows, and parades, many guests also plan their days with an eye to meals and dinner shows.
Having presented over 35,000 performances to more than 10 million guests, the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue is one of the most popular dinner shows at the Walt Disney World Resort. Located in Pioneer Hall at the Fort Wilderness Campground, the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue is performed three times a night, seven days a week, at 5:00, 7:15, and 9:00 pm. Guests call months in advance for reservations to try to get one of the coveted seats, and there is almost always a line of people hoping for cancellations at each show.
Whether you are a loyal follower of the show or one of those who haven’t yet seen it (but will), we are going to explore the history and creation of this loveable wilderness goofball of a vaudeville dinner show.
One the creators and writers of the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue was Ron Miziker, who also created many classic pieces of entertainment for the Walt Disney World Resort (see our previous Main Street Electrical Parade article).
The show is considered the longest continuously running musicals in American theatre history. It holds a special place for everyone who has seen the show. Often when you first try to describe the show to someone, they will typically be skeptical, but interested. It’s not until someone experiences the show for the first time do they understand the undying love and affinity for the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue.6
Despite its longevity, the evolution of the Hoop Dee Doo Revue has just as many do si dos as a square dance.
Recreating a sturdy lodge in the Northwest Territory, Pioneer Hall was assembled with 1,283 hand-fitted logs. Since Florida pine trees were not tall enough, nor was their bark suitable, a six-month search went on to find the right trees. The search ended in Montana where Western White Pines had the exact specifications needed. They were packed up and shipped by rail across the U.S. to the Resort.4
Originally the Imagineers designed Pioneer Hall as a complement to the cafeteria. The Hall was meant to serve as a “meeting place” or “town hall” where, after getting their food from the cafeteria, guests would go to play various games, hear lectures, and watch nature films while eating.
After the Magic Kingdom had opened, there was a company-wide directive to find ways to increase revenue streams from all the divisions. Card Walker and other park executives were pushing to maximize the Resort’s facilities to bring in additional revenue.2
Due to the high cost of construction, Pioneer Hall needed to generate as much revenue as possible. Card reviewed the plan proposed by the Imagineering department and decided that no one would pay to see nature films and hear lectures. So Card asked Bob Jani, Vice President of Entertainment, and his team to come up with a pioneer-themed show for the Hall. At the time, Bob had three division directors reporting to him: one in charge of show operations at Disneyland; one in charge of show operations at Walt Disney World; and one in charge of show development, responsible for creating, developing, and producing projects at all Disney Parks, as well as special large events and shows Disney was asked to do. This third person was Ron Miziker. Larry Billman, the show director, reported to Ron along with 35 other individuals. Typically once one of these shows opened, it then became the responsibility of that particular park’s operating director to manage the show.
With this new directive, Bob’s Entertainment Division looked at the final designs for Pioneer Hall and realized that what was being proposed would not be conducive for a live stage show. Their two biggest objections were the proposed size of the balcony and the size and placement of pillars. They won one battle, and lost the other one.
The Entertainment Division objected to the placement and size of the pillars inside, claiming that they were too wide and would ruin the sight lines for the guests. The pillars, originally constructed from 70 tons of rare ebony stone from North Carolina,4 remained as they were, but over the years the width of the pillars was reduced. Imagineering had also wanted to install a wide balcony to accommodate multiple rows of tables. The Entertainment Division objected, instead proposing a single row of tables. The reasoning was that those not in the first row would be so far back they would see little to none of the show. The Entertainment Division won.
Pioneer Hall actually opened before the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue was complete. When Pioneer Hall first opened in 1973, it temporarily housed Crockett’s Tavern, a full-service lounge and dinner restaurant featuring wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling Davy Crockett memorabilia. Additionally, the Star Spangled Washboard Band, a New York-based group of country-western musicians, began performing at Pioneer Hall.
This musical group, along with others was probably booked by Sonny Anderson. Sonny, who somewhat independent of Jani’s three producers, was responsible for booking all the musicians, bands, and headliners, for the parks. When each team needed a specific act for a regular or holiday show, Sonny would work with that division to find that act. For example, when Ron needed a circus-style dog act for a Christmas parade, Sonny found and hired the act. Once hired, Ron’s team was responsible for integrating them into the parade.
CASTING THE SHOW
Since the show wasn’t planned as a permanent show, but something to fill the space and bring in some additional revenue, Walt Disney World started auditioning college students from the summer intern program – the Disney/CalArts Work Experience. The Disney/CalArts Work Experience was an 11-week work experience program in entertainment that involved both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. The intern program was beneficial to both the students and the company. The students would gain valuable show experience, received classroom instruction and eight units of college credit (and possibly future employment), and the company was able to have an inexpensive source of labor for busy periods. Traditionally there were 97 participating students each year; coming from over 50 universities.
In the spring of 1974, auditions were held for the three female and three male character performers. Those roles were: Six Bits Slocum and Dolly Drew (comic relief), Jim Handy and Claire de Lune (the dancers), and Johnny Ringo and Claire de Lune (the singers).
Three of the six original cast included Marilyn Magness, Tony Christopher, and Gary Goddard. Marilyn has held a number of jobs in the entertainment industry including working on projects for Ron’s company, Miziker Productions. Today, Marilyn is back at the Disney Company as Creative Director of Parks and Resorts Entertainment. Both Tony Christopher and Gary Goddard went on to successful entertainment careers together and individually at Disney and on their own.
The interns opened the show in April 1974 and performed for the next several months. When the summer was over and the college students headed back to school, the Hoop Dee Doo, which proved to be an incredibly popular show, continued on. Auditions were again held for the permanent roles, and on September 5, 1974, the show began its run with these new permanent performers.
Ron’s team wrote the script for the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue as a collaborative effort. As with many Disney shows and productions, the writers tried to incorporate something that was a nod to the Disney legacy. In the case of the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue, the choice was obvious: Davy Crockett. Davy was woven in to the show via the coonskin cap and killing the bear. A large section of the show is the Legend of Davy Crockett, complete with bear puns and jokes.
When asked how much of the original script has changed over the years, Ron said that the script is exactly the same as it was in 1974, except for one thing. The finale in the original script calls for the troupe to ask the audience to stand up on their chairs with their red and white checkered napkins in their hands and wave them high above their heads. Due to safety and liability issues, that part was removed. Other than that the script is virtually identical to the original. The cast generally follows the script for each performance. However, some of the long-time performers will ad lib from time to time.
The principal songwriter for the show was Tom Adair. Tom’s first work with Disney was in the fall of 1954, and two years later, his first big project was to write lyrics for George Bruns’ score for Sleeping Beauty. When the Mickey Mouse Club started production, he wrote a few songs for the first season, collaborating mostly with Jimmie Dodd.
Over the years Tom picked up enough music theory from his many associates to try handling some composing. His work can be heard on The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, then Hazel and The Ann Sothern Show. While working on the latter he met writer James B. Allardice, with whom he formed his newest partnership. Together they wrote scripts for some of the most popular television sitcoms including My Three Sons, I Dream of Jeanie, Gomer Pyle, The Munsters, Maude, and, F Troop. He also wrote Annette Funicello’s first hit record, “How Will I Know My Love?”1
Ron Miziker praised him: “Tom was brilliant. You can tell him the idea, theme, or play some music and he would have the lyrics for the song in no time. He was the quickest songwriter I ever knew.”
Most of the songs in the show are parodies of actual songs previously recorded by top artists. One of those songs is the opening song of the show – “Hoop Dee Doo.” The song, written by Milton De Lugg and Frank Loesser, was first recorded by Perry Como in March of 1950 on RCA Victor Records. (Como initially didn’t want to record the song. He is rumored to have said, “I hate that song. It makes me sick.” It stayed in the Top 10 for almost 5 months.) Years later, when Ron was producing Perry’s popular television network Christmas specials he asked Perry about the song and if he had ever seen the Hoop Dee Doo show. Perry said to Ron, “Why would you ever select that song?” Then Perry asked… in his typical style… if Ron could get him comp tickets to the show!
Most of the Hoop Dee Doo song’s original music score was kept, but the words were changed to suit the show. And it is typically the song that you will hear most of the guests humming or singing on the way out of Pioneer Hall.
Another popular song in the show is the “All-State Song.” Two years earlier, a tune called the “All-State Song,” was written for an unproduced Magic Kingdom live experience in Frontierland.6 The song was resurrected for the Hoop Dee Doo show.
The “All-State Song,” which was a take-off of the American Folk song, “She’ll Be Coming Around The Mountain,” written in the 1800’s,1 was written with a verse for every state in the U.S. as well as verses for some of the more visited foreign countries including Canada. Each performer was given a set amount of states / countries and they memorized those verses. The way it worked was when all the performers moved into the audience and talked with the guests – they would indentify a guest and mention their state to the crowd. If the state were not part of their repertoire then the performer whose state it was would sing the verse. Eventually those performers who had performed the show multiple times started to memorize the other performers’ states and perform those parts as well.
A 1974 brochure states, “The ‘Pioneer Hall Show’ features frontier entertainment nightly in two exciting dinner shows. Adult, $11, Junior (12-17), $8.25, Child (3-11), $5.50.” Today the price structure is not only based on adults and children, but also seating sections or categories. Prices begin at $50.99 for adults and $25.99 for children.
Today the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue performs three shows a day, every day. Over the course of its history, the menu hasn’t changed much. The salad course, along with the cornbread, is pre-set on the table. When the players come bursting out they get the show started and continue until the main course is ready to be served. At that time, the servers come through the dining room, literally slamming small metal kettles of fried chicken, smoked barbecued pork ribs, mashed potatoes, and country-style baked beans not on your table, but right down on your plates. For dessert, originally apple pie was served, but now the Pioneer Hall Players not only introduce the dessert, strawberry shortcake, but the servers come parading off the stage with the dessert right to the tables.
The Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue is one of those shows that may not be on the top of the list for first-time visitors, but is often near the top of the list for return visitors. If you have not yet experienced the majestic Pioneer Hall, feasted on all-you-care-to-eat vittles, and been thoroughly entertained by the Pioneer Hall Players, hopefully understanding what went into creating this toe-tapping revue will put it at the top of your list on a future visit.
2. Ron Miziker interview www.miziker.com
4. Since The World Began – Walt Disney World The First 25 Years
5. Walt Disney World – The First Decade