The Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue is one of the three nightly dinner theatre shows at the Walt Disney World resort in Orlando Florida. Be sure you come hungry as this Revue is known for its all-you-can-eat buckets of ribs and fried chicken, plus a multitude of other country fix’ins as well as all the beer, sangria, and soft drinks you can drink. While you are eating, you can also enjoy watching two hours of rousing Wild West dancing, singing, and zainy Vaudeville comedy. In 2019 this foot-stomping, hand clapping, and loud laughing show will celebrate its 45th continuous year of great family food and fun. Throughout this time very little has changed about the show itself, so let’s explore what has made this originally “temporary” show one of the longest-running shows in American theatre history.
When Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort opened with Walt Disney World in October 1971, it offered a nightly dinner show entitled the “South Seas Luau”, which is now known as the Spirit of Aloha dinner show. This show proved immensely popular with audiences, selling out night after night and constantly ended up having to turn away more than willing guests. Fast forward a few years to 1974, still very much in Walt Disney World’s infancy, and Disney executives were constantly on the lookout for new sources of income and ideas on how to keep guests, and their money for that matter, on Disney property after the Magic Kingdom closed for the day. Finally, an idea came to mind: Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground; it was a perfect location for some night time entertainment options considering it was close to the Magic Kingdom. Not only that, it had a multitude of transport options to get to and from the resort including the gorgeous boat ride over Bay Lake and had plenty of space for expansion.
The decision was made to create a new “community centre” venue which would be called “Pioneer Hall”. Originally, the plans for this venue were quite simple: it would become an extension of Crockett’s Tavern which was the lounge and restaurant next door. After guests received their food from the Tavern, the hall would become a sort of “town meeting place”. It was to be a place to play games, hear lectures, and watch some of the Disney True-Life Adventures from the 50s and 60s as you ate.
Disney Imagineering constructed Pioneer Hall from over 1,200 hand-fitted pine logs from Montana, and 70 tons of stone from North Carolina designed to recreate the look of a Northwest Territory Lodge from the late 1800s. It officially opened in April of 1974 as the “Fort Wilderness Dining Hall”. However, not too long after opening it was decided that surprise surprise, guests didn’t want to pay to see Nature Documentaries or even the “Star-Spangled Washboard Band” which would play in the venue until Hoop Dee Doo opened.
Ultimately, Disney figured out what vacationers really wanted was entertainment, and it was quickly decided that Pioneer Hall would become home to a musical show. The only problem was nobody knew quite what the permanent show would entail, so it was decided to quickly throw together a temporary show in the meantime… and thus the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue was born!
Since the show wasn’t planned as a permanent addition, Disney went for the cheap route and started auditioning college students for the lead roles. These students happened to be a group of talented young entertainment majors attending a summer internship to work for Disney whilst earning units of college credit, information from industry professionals, and occasionally some on-stage experience in shows such as “Kids of the Kingdom”. This program, which served as a form of pre-cursor to the currently huge Disney College Program, was called the Walt Disney World Fine Arts College Workshop and was mainly filled by eager students from the California Institute of Arts, a school from which many alumni have gone on to work for Disney. This program supplied a cheap and keen cast for the opening of the still temporary Hoop Dee Doo when it opened in June 1974.
This show was one of the first shows on-property not featuring any Disney characters, and it only showcases one segment referencing Disney’s version of Davy Crockett. Instead of the typical Disney characters, this Revue includes an eclectic mix of six performers – Claire de Lune, Johnny Ringo, Dolly Drew, Six Bits Slocum, Flora Long, and Jim Handy. The show began with the group explaining they were on their way to another performance when their stagecoach conveniently broke down right outside Pioneer Hall. Whilst their stage-coach is being repaired, they decided to come inside the dining hall and put on a show
Most of the songs included in the show are parodies of songs previously recorded by top artists including classics such as Oh My Darling Clementine and The Hokey Pokey. One of the most popular songs in the show is the “All-State Song” a parody of “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain”, which was originally designed for an unfinished live experience in Frontierland at the Magic Kingdom. This song features a possible verse for every one of the 50 US states, as well as verse for the more visited foreign locations such as an Australian verse of “Came into the Hoop Dee Doo rode in on a Kangaroo”. In this song, the performers are each given a certain list of states and countries to memorise. In the song they move through the audience asking guests where they’re from then, the performer who has that state in their repertoire sings a verse related to the audience member’s visiting state, though eventually, performers who had performed in the show multiples times started to memorise and perform every state.
Walt Disney World had no expectations for the Revue other than it temporarily filling a gap whilst a permanent show was designed. Most of the performers and people who worked on the show thought it would be cancelled within the first few weeks, or quietly finished after its initial eleven-week run. However, the production was so well-received by guests it was an unexpected success. At the end of the summer the college students returned to school, and since the 5th of September 1974, their roles have been staffed by professional performers.
Changes over the years:
In over 40 years, only a handful of changes have been made to that original show which testifies to the pure enjoyment the show brings to guests. In fact, the first change to the show came about due to safety reasons. Originally during the finale of the show whilst waving your checkered napkins above your head, you were asked to stand up on your chair and do so. Obviously, for safety and liability reasons, this didn’t last very long and was swiftly changed to the seated napkin waving you see today.
The only change made to the delicious food offerings took place in 1979 when the original dessert of apple pie, and its accompanying song “The Apple Pie Hoedown”, were retired and replaced by the crowd-favourite Strawberry Shortcake Walk in which the servers do their best high kicks before bringing out strawberry shortcake for dessert.
The most significant change to Hoop Dee, however, happened in 2011 when the opening song of the show was changed. The original opening song entitled the “Hoop-Dee-Doo Polka” was composed by Milton DeLugg and first published in 1950, just a mere 24 years before the show debuted. When first written, this lively song became a huge hit and was even occasionally used as background music on game shows. When the song was reused for the Hoop Dee Doo, the lyrics were rewritten to reflect the theme of the show but the upbeat tune stayed intact. The only issue was that in the rush to put together a temporary show, nobody at Disney had thought to retrieve the rights for the use of the song. Everyone just assumed that it had always been around and was in the public domain, or that surely someone else would have checked and cleared the rights. Many years later when the situation finally came to light, DeLugg was not angry at Disney and had no intention of taking legal action against them. However, the family of the song’s lyricist Frank Loesser found out and they were enraged at the theft of their late family members intellectual property. They proceeded to threaten legal action
against Disney, aiming to recoup decades of unpaid royalties and establish payments for any future use of the song. Disney realised their mistake and quietly settled any outstanding royalties with the family, however, they elected to not keep the song and replaced it with one specifically written for the show that continues to be used to this day.
Over 40 years later after minimal changes, the Hoop-Dee-Doo is still going strong. Originally only performed twice nightly it is now performed three times a night. Today one of the original college program cast members Marilyn Kay Magness, who originated the role of Dolly Drew, is now the Executive Director of Creative Entertainment for Disney Parks.
Each day the servers dish up around 900 pounds of fried chicken, 400 pounds of pork ribs, 12 pounds of corn, 400 pounds of potatoes, and 30 gallons of baked beans. In other words, that must be a fair amount of mouths to feed! This show has proved incredibly popular over the last 44 years and it shows no sign of stopping. I’ve had the pleasure of attending the Hoop Dee Doo three times before, and would easily go again if I ever got the chance. Also be sure to ask for the Mac n’ Cheese for your table to share which happens to be on the kids menu, but if you ask your server nicely they’ll bring you out a nice big serving for the table!