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How Disney World's Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue almost didn't make it

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How Disney World's Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue almost didn't make it

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It's the show that many Disney World employees thought would never make it through the Summer of 1974. Let alone still be going strong 37 years later.

"On our opening night at Pioneer Hall, our audience consisted of six tables worth of Guests. That's one table per member of the cast," recalled Gary Goddard, one of the many talented folks involved with the creation of the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue. "By the end of our first month of performances, things were looking somewhat better. We were playing to half-empty houses by that point. But things were so touch-and-go for a while there that we wondered whether Disney World management was actually going to give this dinner show the time that it needed to catch on with the Guests."

Mind you, you can understand Mouse House managers' frustration. The Arab oil embargo (which had run from October of 1973 through March of 1974) had had a horrific albeit temporary impact on WDW's attendance levels. And now that there was enough gasoline available around the country that tourists could once again drive down to Orlando and vacation with Mickey, the pressure was really on to make sure that every facility on property was focused on turning a profit.

Workmen put the finishing touches on Fort Wilderness' Pioneer Hall in February of 1974.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Now Pioneer Hall had just opened in April 1, 1974. And WED's original plan for this new Fort Wilderness facility was that it would serve breakfast & lunch to the Guests who were staying at the campground. But as to what would happen inside of Pioneer Hall once night fell ... Well, given that the Imagineers had hoped that most WDW visitors would still be inside of the Magic Kingdom at this point and/or be enjoying one of the Vacation Kingdom's other recreational opportunities, they didn't put a whole lot of thought into Pioneer Hall's nighttime entertainment line-up.

"My understanding is - given that Fort Wilderness was supposed to be the place where WDW Guests would stay if they wanted to get closer to nature - that the nighttime programs that the Imagineers had initially envisioned for Pioneer Hall were to have reinforced that idea," Goddard continued. "So they were originally going to present animal programs in there, so that campers and their kids could then get to see some Central Florida wildlife up close. Plus there was talk that they might screen some of Disney's  old True-Life Adventures movies in there on a nightly basis."

But - again - all of that changed in the Spring of 1974. Where - on the heels of the Oil Crisis - every dollar now counted. Which is why WDW execs turned to Bob Jani (i.e. the then-Vice President of Entertainment for both Disneyland and Walt Disney World) and tasked him with coming up with a concept for a new live dinner show that could then be presented inside of Pioneer Hall.

Cast of WDW's Polynesian Revue from the early 1970s. Copyright
Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"The luau at the Polynesian was doing so well at this point that it was selling out every night. They were actually turning Guests away. And the feeling in-house was that - if Disney World were able to get another nighttime dinner show up & running somewhere else on property ... Well, that show might then be offered as an alternative to the Guests who were disappointed about not being able to get a reservation for the Polynesian Revue," Gary explained.

The only problem was that Pioneer Hall hadn't really been designed as a performance space. The wide stone pillars that held up the building's balcony had a pretty detrimental effect on this hall's sightlines. And then there was the matter of there being absolutely no money in WDW's entertainment budget when it came time to hire the cast of this proposed new nighttime show.

"That's why the original cast of the Hoop-Dee-Doo were all members of Disney World Fine Arts College Workshop program. These were kids who'd come down to the Resort to perform over the Summer. They thought that they'd be dancing in the Magic Kingdom or singing at the Top of the World. But they wound up in our backwoods show instead," Goddard laughed.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

The initial plan for Hoop-Dee-Doo was that it would run for just 12 weeks over the Summer of 1974. But as I mentioned at the top of today's article, the audiences that initially turned out for this new offering at Pioneer Hall were so small that ... Well, the show's creative team & cast allegedly heard rumors that Mouse House managers were thinking about pulling the plug on this production just two weeks into its run.

"But that was only because no one knew - at that time, anyway - that we were out at Fort Wilderness doing this new fun dinner show. And given that there was no money in our budget for promotion of Hoop-Dee-Doo, I took it upon myself to start advertising the show," Gary remembered. "I personally made up a set of flyers and posters which I then hand-delivered to each of the on-property Disney hotels. I then made a point of meeting with each of the concierges at these hotels and inviting them to come see Hoop-Dee-Doo. So that they'd then start talking up the show to the Guests."

And - in the end - Goddard's effort paid off. The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue eventually grew to be so popular with WDW visitors that, for a time, the Imagineers actually toyed with moving this nighttime dinner show out of Pioneer Hall and then restaging it outdoors on a far grander scale.

Dorothea Redmond's concept painting of the performance space which was proposed
for that greatly expanded outdoor version of the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"When I was initially hired by WED in 1975, one of my very first assignments was to help create some additional entertainment offerings at Fort Wilderness. I worked with Marc Davis to help design this walk-thru funhouse called the Old Barn," Gary said.  "I also helped design this new outdoor version of the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue which was going to be staged on this full-sized Western street. Where you wouldn't have just heard the cast pull up outside in a stage coach, you'd have actually seen that stage coach roll onstage pulled by a team of live horses. And an audience of 1500 people could have watched this live show all at the same time - with chorus lines of dance hall girls & epic gun battles & stuntmen falling out of rooftops -- from across the street, where they sit eating inside of the Deadwood Steakhouse. Which was going to be this big open-air restaurant."

And even though Card Walker, the then-Chairman of Walt Disney Productions, reportedly thought that this greatly expanded version of the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue was one of the greatest ideas that he'd ever heard and actually proposed using a network TV special as a way of making would-be Disney World visitors that this new entertainment alternative was now open at the Resort  ... This obviously promising concept never quite made it off of the drawing board.

Which is why - to this day - people have to make reservations six months in advance in order to secure a seat inside of Pioneer Hall. In spite of presenting three shows nightly of the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, Disney World still can't meet guest demand. Which - given that it's been more than 37 years since he initially worked on this show with Bob Jani, Ron Miziker, Larry Billman and Tom Adair - still amazes Gary Goddard.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"This was a show that only could have happened at Walt Disney World in the early 1970s. Back then, management was far more hands-off. More to the point, because we were working out of Pioneer Hall at the Fort Wilderness campground, we were really off the Company's radar for quite a while. So we then had the time we need to fine-tune this show, add new gags, change the order of things," Goddard smiled. "Of course, once Dick Nunis and Bob Matheison came around during our second months of performances and saw that we had cast members jumping from the balcony down onto the stage ... Well, for safety reasons, they had us restage that part. But beyond that, they really loved the show."

And so do most Walt Disney World visitors. Which is why - since June 14, 1974 - the Hoop-Doo-Dee Musical Revue has been presented over 35,000 times. Which makes this nighttime dinner show the most popular & longest-running live entertainment production that The Walt Disney Company has ever staged.  

Which - when you consider how close Pioneer Hall came to being this place where campers could go at night to see live animal demos of creatures that had been shipped over from Discovery Island and/or watch screenings of "The Living Desert" or "The Vanishing Prairie"  - is just kind of bizarre.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

So how many of you JHM readers are among the 10 million WDW visitors who have seen the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue over the past 37 years? And - if you have seen this nighttime dinner show - what's your favorite bear-related pun from that "Mammoth Historical Pageant" which closes out these proceedings? Mine is "How could you do this to my next-of-skin?"

Your thoughts?

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  • I've personally seen this show three times and am going with my family for a fourth in just a couple of weeks.  It truly is a gem of WDW.

  • Next time you revisit the Hoop Dee Doo Revue, definitely interview Marilyn Magness!

    She helped start the show with Bob Jani and is such a wonderful woman full of creativity and nostalgia who remembers the lessons learned from every production she's done... with the Hoop Dee Doo Revue being one of the credits that she says helped frame her philosophy of what makes 'good' entertainment.

    After moving on to do a ton of outside things like Super Bowl halftime shows, she came back to Disney to create Block Party Bash and is now in Glendale as Entertainment VP for all atmosphere entertainment (think Steve Davison's job, but for atmosphere entertainment rather than parades and spectaculars).

  • While I have loved the Hoop-Dee-Doo for more years than I'd like to admit....It is the Melvin the Moose breakfast show in Pioneer Hall that I wish would come back.  I still have one of my kazoos!  M-E-L...V-I-N....

  • I've been told that I've seen this show twice, but I really only remember the first time--when I was 3-1/2 years old. I distinctly remember two things about that trip (way back in 1981): first, riding Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, where my Grandma kept telling me to, "grab a beer," as we would go by the saloon scene. It was January, so there were few crowds and we rode again and again. Second, the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue, where I had so much fun playing the washboards with spoons.

    Surprisingly, I don't have distinct memories of the second trip to the show,  even though I was in 4th grade at that point. I was probably overwhelmed by all that was new to me: EPCOT Center and the just-opened-that-week World Resort Marriott, complete with birds flying about the glass lobby, where we stayed while my Mom attended a Tupperware convention. I'm glad the Revue is still going, and plan to return someday.

  • Wow! What a great story. It goes to show how much Disney in the end can make when they pace something right, instead of going for the quick cash (1,500 seat venue). It's one of the dining experiences where you're allowed to be messy. I lost count a long time ago, but I've probably seen the show atleast 10 times. It definitely is a one of a kind on the property and in addition to ticket sales, it probably has brought tons of addition revenue and awareness to Fort Wilderness. Why else would I go out there?

  • My family has been countless times and even had my daughter's baby shower at the Hoop-Dee-Do Review.

  • What a great read, Mr. Hill! Lots of details I had never heard before. Thanks for interviewing Gary Goddard - and I also suggest talking with Forrest Bahruth, Marilyn Magness and Reed Jones (who has been revising the show). When a show reaches it's 37th Birthday, it has taken lots of wonderful people to keep it alive and growing.

  • "Call me butter, I'm on a roll!" - Not bear-related but it's my favorite. Love this show, always a treat to see it. I don't stay at Fort Wilderness, so it's also a treat just to get out there to that area of the property. One question - I thought the Golden Horseshoe Revue was the longest running (with 45,000 performances)?

  • Brian --

    RE: Golden Horseshoe Revue versus Hoop Dee Doo Revue ... If you talk with the Entertainment folks at Disney, they will admit that this Disneyland stage show did rack up more performances than this WDW dinner theatre experience (39,000 to 35,000, to be exact).  But the clear distinction that these Entertainment veterans make between these two shows is A) the Golden Horseshoe ended its run in October of 1986, whereas the Hoop Dee Doo is still going strong [which means that it could someday beat the Horseshoe's performance record) and -- more importantly -- B) you could attend a performance at the Golden Horseshoe for free with admission to Disneyland, whereas if you wanted to go to Pioneer Hall and catch a performance of Hoop Dee Doo ... Well, that's always been a hard ticket / separate admission sort of situation.

    So -- just to clarify here -- we're talking about a still-on-going production that -- because Disney still manages to sell out three performances a night at Pioneer Hall -- makes tens of millions of dollars for the Company on an annual basis. So at least as far as Disney Entertainment management (more importantly, the sharp pencil boys over in Accounting) are concerned ... Comparing Golden Horseshoe to Hoop Dee Doo is kind of an apples & oranges situation.

    Does that explanation help, Brian? Hope so.

  • I just came back from our now it seems to be annual vacation at Walt Disney World and saw the Hoop Dee Doo Revue (we have been there for 4 out of the past 6 years and will be going back next year, and have seen Revue on all our vacations), and have noticed a LOT of empty tables, primarily at balcony level.  I doubt it is hard to get a ticket as it was some years ago.  Food is always the same, but am happy that they changed the dessert a little (though it is still a strawberry shortcake).  I think the economy has some say in the empty tables.  It is costly to attend, and could be a large crimp in someone's vacation budget.

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