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Cast of Universal Studios Florida's new Superstar Parade spent weeks rehearsing by starlight

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Cast of Universal Studios Florida's new Superstar Parade spent weeks rehearsing by starlight

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When you're someone like Lora Wallace (i.e. the show director of Universal Studios Florida's new Superstar Parade) , and you've spent weeks in the pre-dawn darkness teaching your young, energetic cast the proper way to move through that theme park ... It's kind of ironic that the light at the end of your tunnel  turns out to be the sun.

Photo by Nancy Stadler

"Yeah, the rehearsal phase -- when it comes to the launch of a new parade -- can be pretty brutal," Wallace admitted when the two of us talked this past Saturday night. Which was the very first time that Universal's Superstar Parade had ever been performed in daylight and in front of the paying customers. 

"Our parade talent would typically arrive at the park at 11 o'clock at night. We'd all get warmed up backstage and then get costumes on.  So step-off might be at 12:45. And once that parade rehearsal had moved through the park, we'd then do another whole different step-off at 3 o'clock in the morning. Which means that we'll be here 'til 5 o'clock in the morning," Lora explained. "But that's our schedule for weeks at a time when we're in rehearsal mode on a new parade. The cast typically did two full parades every night inside of an empty theme park."

Photo by Nancy Stadler

But all of that dedication & determination definitely paid off this past Saturday night as Wallace and her team got to watch Universal's Superstar Parade roll through the New York section of that theme park and then down Hollywood Boulevard. Where this parade then performed one of their two in-park show stops. Where many of the characters from "Despicable Me," "SpongeBob SquarePants," "HOP"  and "Dora the Explorer" came off of their respective floats and began boogieing to the beat.

That moment was especially gratifying to Lora. Given that she has been involved with the Superstar Parade project back before there were any floats or colorful costumes. Back when this entire project was just a blank sheet of paper.

Photo by Nancy Stadler

"Two years ago, we were tasked by Universal management to come up with a parade that the entire family could enjoy, a show that would appeal to both the littlest person as well as the oldest," Wallace recalled. "Creating something that would cut across that many demographics was kind of a tall order. But we jumped right in and then began talking about which characters & franchises we should build this show around."

And to hear Jim Timon, the Senior Vice President of Entertainment for the Universal Orlando Resort, an awful lot of thought went into coming up with just the right mix of characters for Universal's Superstar Parade.

Photo by Nancy Stadler

" That was an interesting process. We had a lot of discussions about which characters should actually be in this parade. Who's got that high level of kid awareness & family awareness. While -- at the same time -- which characters would make great show. Who's interactive and got that level of energy that we're looking for," Timon remembered.

The first set of characters that Jim & Lora settled on were from Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment's 2010 CG family comedy, "Despicable Me."

Copyright 2012 Universal Studios. All rights reserved

"Obviously 'Despicable Me' is a huge property for us right now and everyone just loves the Minions. So that one was kind of natural," Timon stated. "Given that Universal Studios has this great partnership with Illumination Entertainment and Chris Meledandri, 'Despicable Me' and its characters were part of this parade from Day One."

Likewise a certain cartoon character who lives in a pineapple under the sea was a very early add to the line-up of Universal's Superstar Parade.

Copyright Universal Studios. All rights reserved

"Everybody loves SpongeBob. I mean, you can't go wrong with adding a character like that to your parade. The demographic that SpongeBob cuts across is absolutely huge," Jim stated." Given that he's already so popular with our Guests, SpongeBob SquarePants just had to be part of this parade along with all of the other residents of Bikini Bottom."

A similar sort of decision was made when it came to putting the Dora & Diego characters in Superstar Parade. Folding those Nickelodeon characters into this show then made sure that this parade had elements which appealed to the youngest members of the family. Which brings us to "HOP."

Copyright Universal Studios. All rights reserved

" 'HOP' was added to the Superstar Parade line-up fairly late in our creative process," Timon admitted. "But as soon as that Universal and Illumination Entertainment film came out last Spring, we immediately saw the potential. We could use this movie and its characters as a way to bring a lot of energy and color into our parade. So we quickly got to work designing that float."

But for Lora Wallace ... Well, when she saw E.B. drumming in "HOP" (the movie), she immediately saw a way to drop a piece of her past into this production.

Photo by Nancy Stadler

"I was a drummer in high school. I played marching snare drum, so I know from personal experience how drums can fire up a crowd. Which is why I felt that it was really important for our E.B. character -- when the Guests see him in this parade -- that he be playing a drum set live just like we saw that character do in the 'HOP' movie," Wallace said. "Those auditions were kind of tough. We were looking for drummers with lots of enthusiasm. Because we knew that -- once we threw them in that costume -- they'd have so much fun with this part."

Speaking of fun ... The crowd at USF this past Saturday night genuinely seemed to be having fun as they took part in the soft opening of Universal's Superstar Parade. Which isn't to say that there weren't some Guests complaints about this new piece of live entertainment. With the chief one being that ... Well, Universal's Superstar Parade is kind of on the short side. Just four highly themed floats and their supporting vehicles. Even with those two three-and-a-half-minute-long show stops in New York and along Hollywood Boulevard, Universal's Superstar Parade moved pretty quickly through that theme park.

Photo by Nancy Stadler

In Universal Orlando's defense, these parade floats and the characters that we see riding & dancing upon them aren't just going to be glimpsed once a day. Universal Entertainment has decided to something pretty bold with these new creative assets. Which is to regularly roll individual parade floats out into the park over the course of the day and then park them in the street. In essence, making them rolling stages for mini-shows that will then be presented several times daily.

"That mini-show idea is something that we workshopped back in November. Once we saw that it was viable, we pressed ahead with developing four different mini-shows," Wallace explained. "Take -- for instance -- the Dora & Diego mini-show. Where we're going to teach our Guests to count in English and Spanish by making use of these light-up butterflies that float as props. Or when the 'Despicable Me' float comes onstage and then parks in front of Mel's and the Pantages Theatre. After Gru and Vector get into out there in the street for a bit, the minions and the girls will then come out and invite the Guests to come dance to 'Boogie Fever.'"

Photo by Nancy Stadler

So when you take into consideration those new mini-shows that will be going on all around Universal Studios Florida over the course of the day ... Universal's Superstar Parade then becomes, in essence, a victory lap. The Guests' one last chance to see and interact with the characters that they've been playing with all day.

Which then brings us to the big question. If you've gotta pick a part of Universal Studios Florida to catch this parade's show stop in, which should you choose : New York or Hollywood Boulevard?

Photo by Nancy Stadler

"That all depends on the type of Guest experience that you're looking to have," Lora said. "Hollywood Boulevard is a far tighter street. So if you want to get up-close and personal with the characters, have them be right there in front of you, Hollywood Boulevard is where you want to be. Whereas in New York, the street is a lot wider in that part of the theme park. So that's where you can stand in one location and -- by looking up and down the street -- see more of the show. So if you want the full panorama of performers & floats & performances, New York is probably where you want to be."

Just be aware that -- in the coming weeks -- now that Universal's Superstar Parade has shifted from its after-hours rehearsal schedule to being performed daily in front of Guests in the park that this live show may change as Wallace and her team make tweaks.

Photo by Nancy Stadler

"It's one thing to roll a parade through an empty theme park or perform your show stops in front of an invited group of Universal employees -- who kind of know what to expect in regards to interaction from parade performers -- and quite another to now perform in front of the public. Who don't know what to do or where to look," Lora said. "So we'll be making all sorts of adjustments as we go along so that we can then deliver the very best Guest experience."

But what will make Wallace's life a whole lot easier to deal with is that -- now that Universal's Superstar Parade is officially in soft opening mode -- these tweaks & changes can finally be made in daylight.

Photo by Nancy Stadler

"It was good today to actually be able to watch the people watching this parade. To hear the reaction of the real Guests, not only to the parade but also to the interactive stuff," Lora concluded. "Don't worry. Our parade performers are just going to get better & better as they go along here. Especially now that they no longer have to live like vampires and can finally begin catching up on their sleep."

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  • Great Story thanks! I don't know if this was pure luck or not but Nancy Stadler's photo of the "two fish" in that Spongebob picture is well, picture perfect! You see; that fish to the far left, the one with his leg bent up ibehind him, actually mimics a running gag in the Spongebob series in which that fish character will frequently yells, "My leg!" anytime an explosion or mass mayhem occurs in Bikiini Bottom. The odd hapinstance that the picture was taken at the exact moment to show  his "LEG" is kinda funny as I'm fairly certain the performer didn't do this on purpose. If so, then kudos the the fishy performer for going above and beyond to recreate the character to a T. A great rehersal can make a or break a parade. It looks like they're having a good time regardless of the many hours they practiced. They're efforts appears to be rewarded!

    Great Pictures and Article.

  • Wow! Costumes, floats and vehicles look fantastic! I can't wait to see this parade in August.

  • I'm quite impressed with the quality of those floats! Can't wait to see this when I go this summer.

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