When it comes to sharing the stories that WDW cast members tell me, I always have to be a little careful. Particularly since the most unlikely sounding tales (EX: Six months ago, I had an MGM insider tell me that that theme park's long-empty Superstar Television theatre would soon become home to a new "American Idol" -themed show. And I actually laughed when I heard this because ... Well, the very idea that WDI would even consider a show like this -- especially so soon after "Who Wants to a Be a Millionaire: Play It!" had petered out -- just seemed so laughable) have this nasty tendency to turn out to be true.
Which is why -- when I got a call last week about that field trip that WDW Entertainment had reportedly made to the Orlando Premium Outlet Mall -- I was torn. Part of me thought: "I really shouldn't write about this. I mean, there's just no way that Burbank will ever go for this. This is literally outside-the-box thinking." And yet another part of me said: "This is actually is a pretty clever concept. And even if Disney management opts not to go forward with this project, people still need to know that the Mouse at least toyed with this idea. So that they can then know that Mickey is capable of thinking outside-the-box."
What am I talking about? Well, did you hear about how the Orlando-area franchise of Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede dinner attraction chain abruptly closed its doors back in January? Supposedly because Dixie Stampede's parent company got an offer from the Chelsea Property Group (i.e. The company that actually owns & manages the Orlando Premium Outlet mall) that it couldn't refuse.
Photo by Jeff Lange
Now -- as I understand it -- CPG (Which -- in itself -- is a subsidiary of the Simon Company) purchased this 13-acre parcel along I-4 because it eventually plans on tearing down that 115,000-square-foot show building and then adding additional retail space to this Vineland Avenue mall. But that's not going to happen for a couple of years yet. And -- until then -- the Dixie Stampede building is just going to sit there, empty. Which is where WDW Entertainment comes in.
The way this story was told to me ... WDW Entertainment allegedly toured the Dixie Stampede complex earlier this month because they're toying with the idea of leasing this now-vacant facility for a few years and then turning it into a Disney's "High School Musical" -themed dinner theatre experience.
Now I know that this may sound like a very bizarre idea. But please keep in mind that the Walt Disney Company is continuing to look for ways to cash in on this still-popular brand. And if offering WDW guests a chance to visit a faux version of East High, where they could then eat off of cafeteria trays while they watched performers recreate numbers from "High School Musical" & "High School Musical 2," could be a new way to milk the HSM cash cow ... Well, you can then understand why Mouse House management is reportedly at least giving this idea some semi-serious thought.
Copyright 2006 Disney. All Rights Reserved
"But if Disney really wants to do a 'High School Musical' -themed dinner show, then why don't they just build a facility on-property?," you ask. To be honest, there isn't enough time.
To explain: Disney senior officials genuinely believe that -- in spite of the fact that "High School Musical 3" is due to be released to theaters on October 24th of this year -- that the HSM phenomenon will soon blow itself out. That's one of the reasons that Disney -- working with Feld Entertainment -- put three companies of "High School Musical: The Ice Tour" out on the road at the exact same time last year. With the hope that they'd then be able to cash in before this tween favorite fell from favor.
And given that it would take Disney at least a year to construct an on-property facility that could then be used to house a "High School Musical" dinner theatre experience ... By the time construction was completed, the whole "HSM" craze could have crashed & burned. Meanwhile, that 1086-seat Dixie Stampede theatre is just sitting there, empty.
Photo by Jeff Lange
This is why WDW Entertainment is reportedly looking to lease the Parton show building. So that they can then get a "High School Musical" dinner theatre experience up out of the ground as quickly as possible. Perhaps as early as this Fall.
Now before someone trots out the "Disney will never do this. The company will never send guests off-property to attend some show that's being presented at an off-site facility" argument ... Please keep in mind that the Walt Disney World Resort -- thanks to its on-going relationship with the Mears Transportation Group -- regularly puts guests on buses and then sends them off-property. To the Disney Cruise Line terminal at Port Canveral and/or aboard Disney's Magical Express to Orlando International Airport. So having to truck people less than a mile off-property to the old Dixie Stampede dinner theatre isn't really going to be the deal breaker here.
Mind you, what could prevent this "High School Musical" dinner theatre experience from happening is if Jay Rasulo, the head of Disney Parks & Resorts, refuses to buy into WDW's Entertainment's idea. After all, Jay's the guy who then has to persuade Bob Iger to sign off on the project. And then there's the Chelsea Property Group. If Disney can't persuade CPG to first lease them the Dixie Stampede theatre at a very low price and then includes language in this contract that allows the Mouse to quickly opt out of that deal should the public suddenly lose interest in HSM ... This show ain't happening.
But that said ... Wouldn't it cool if WDW Entertainment could actually pull this off? So that you could then board an East High bus at your Disney World resort for the trip over to the "High School Musical" dinner theatre experience?
Although I'm not a fan of HSM, I think that this is a very smart and fun idea.
Not something I'd be interested in going to but I gotta admit the idea has potential if cultivated properly. Otherwise that show building is just a pathetic waste of empty space along I-4. Plus after seeing the crowds for the pep rallies at DHS I gotta believe it could work. Now if Disney threw in some Hanna Montana stuff and really worked the theme, (maybe having the guests take school buses to the show?) I could see this working for the 2+ more years the fad probably has left.
Frankly, I'm not so sure about all this. Why does any company (but especially Disney) have to bleed every dime from every project?
Isn't it this kind of thing that ultimately hurts the company? Don't people simply come to see it as over-hype and get turned off in the process?
Instead of creating unique and timeless classics that can capture audiences for generations, Disney simply jumps on the latest trend (beanies, pins, Who Wants to be a Millionaire and all things HSM for example) and rides it out for as long as it can -- even if the company and its shareholders lose tons of money when the bottom falls out.
This doesn't mean that a HSM cafeteria dining experience and showplace won't be good ... I hope it will be, but I'm skeptical.
Besides, have you been to Wal-Mart, Toys "R" Us or any mass market retailer? There's no shortage of HSM items available for the Tweens, everything from clothes to dolls, toys, games and electronics.
Then factor in that there's not a children's theater group who hasn't done or isn't looking at doing some local production of HSM.
In addition, the company's decided to make HSM3 a theatrical release ... and some parents will probably squawk at having to shell out bigger bucks at the multiplex -- than they would for a free showing on The Disney Channel or the $15 or $20 to purchase the extended footage DVD production.
I already think there's a bit of an erosion at the box office for U.S. studios because more and more people are wondering whether they should spend $40 or more to take a small family to the multiplex or wait 5 or 6 months for a DVD or Blu-Ray to hit the store shelves to buy or NetFlix and Blockbuster to rent.
HSM3 better be the best sequel since "Godfather II" or "Toy Story 2" if Disney doesn't want to alienate fans -- but with the glut of stuff in the pipeline already, I'd be surprised if there already hasn't been a little erosion of HSM's marketability. A lot of people were a bit disappointed in HSM2 and many people thought HSM was more engaging.
I do not like the idea but i think it might work. Parents did not have a problem spending big money on a Hanna Montana 3d movie or hundreds or concert tickets. I do not see them having a problem spending a few bucks on food and entertainment
Since the building would be leased by Disney, it technically would be a piece of Disney property, so I don't see it being a big deal to bus people over there. I really like the idea of using school buses- if not real school busses, then busses that sort of look like them...
Yesterday I was at Downtown Disney at WDW, and a mom was telling her kids, "I can't believe that you're spending your money on 'High School Musical' stuff". Obviously, kids are still crazy about the franchise (I'm not even a kid anymore, and I'm still crazy about the franchise). If this show does happen, though, it'd be great if it could start in the summer...I mean, then the HSM3 songs would have to be incorporated later, so it may not be worth it, but the longer it's open, the more money they'd make. Who knows how long the HSM franchise will be popular for? Milk it while you can!
The tween market is a fickle place...so getting what you can from HSM while you can makes sense from a marketing standpoint. Will HSM be looked back on fondly in 20 years like Grease? who knows, so might as well make the money off it while you can.
As I said in an earlier post about this subject:
Milk it, milk it, milk it. Milk it 'til it runs dry.
Then bury it until all the fans of today are old enough and have their own buying power to look at as nostalgia and will pay big bucks to introduce their kids to the franchise.
As for me, I will gladly give up my seat and remove myself so those who do enjoy it can do so.
(blackcauldron85, I just finished reading to the end of your post - if I read it earlier I could have just said 'ditto'!)
This is positively ludicrus. I can't say how much I hate this idea. It feels cheap and sleazy. It feels like something Universal would do, not Disney. I am a very big fan of the HSM franchise... but this feels stupid.
If it's going to die out, then let it. There's no need for creepy stunts like this. Just keep selling t-shirts and things until it's over.
Seems like a neat idea. Money the Mouse makes from HSM is money that can be used to reinvest in all the things the rest of us love.
I wouldn't be caught dead there, of course. =)
Too bad Xanadu was torn down. Imagine the possibilities. And how about Mystery Fun House? Is that anything anymore? Oh -- and here's one: convert the Bay Colony Plaza in Ocoee into Zack & Cody's Suite Life Suites!
Trust me, I'm not making fun, just having fun. Anything can happen in the wacky world of "worlds" that is Central Florida.
I think it sounds like fun. My 3 daughters would love it.
Disney buses people off property only when they are coraled into another Disney ship or if they are going home. If they bused them to the theater, they would be coraled for that evening, but then people might look behind them and see the big, gigantic outlet mall sitting there. Do you really think Disney wants to let people know about this? If someone is only familier with Orlando as a Disney resort, and always uses the Magical Express, they could easily not know this place existed, even if it is just a mile outside of the park. Don't see this being approved.
It sounds like a money-maker, so why not. I'm just wondering why they can't hurry up and finish the work on the Backlot theatre/stage at DHS and do this there. From what I hear, they are adding A/C and enclosing the building. Is it perhaps too small a venue for this? Are there no other buildings on-property that could house something like this?
Great article Jim!
I'm not a fan of HSM either. But I do love this idea. Seems ideal for Disney: Very little upfront investment, very little risk... and SO MUCH potential for cash. I hope they do it!
It sounds like a fun concept. Why not give it a try. Especially as someone posted previously, using school busses to bus guests. My 13 year old daughter would like it.