I was a theater geek in high school. I wasn’t the greatest actor or singer, but I loved being involved. Now, my main theatrical role is that of patron, and while I love theater of all sorts, I am particularly fond of musical theater. I saw The Lion King in London back in 2004, and it was an amazing visual feast. Thankfully, you don’t have to be in London or New York to see a Disney-style musical on stage. At Walt Disney World, a variety of musical theater is available for the price of a single (Park-Hopper) admission.
So, here are four things to do in Walt Disney World if you love musical theater:
1. Finding Nemo—The Musical
If you are only familiar with Finding Nemo the Disney-Pixar film, you may be surprised that there is a musical version of this non-musical movie. This spectacular 40-minute show plays several times a day in DinoLand U.S.A. (don’t think too hard on that one) in Animal Kingdom. It’s performed with puppets akin to those in the musical version of The Lion King I mentioned, and the music is surprisingly compelling. (The soundtrack is available in iTunes.) This is above all the best theater show in all of Walt Disney World, and even if you do nothing else in Animal Kingdom, it’s worth the trip just for this. And, bonus, it’s indoors and air-conditioned.
2. Beauty and the Beast—Live on Stage
A tale as old as time, and a truly lovely musical. This 30-minute show goes on five or six times a day at Theater of the Stars in Hollywood Studios. It’s basically a CliffNotes version of the movie, with all the songs you know and love. The costumes are awesome, and “Be Our Guest” is delightful with dancing cutlery and all. It is outside, which has the downside of getting hot, but it’s usually shaded, and unlike most of the other shows, you’re allowed to come in late—great for when the kids aren’t in the mood to sit still and wait for a show to start.
3. Festival of the Lion King
This 25-minute show is a bit of a hidden gem, tucked away in the obscure Camp Minnie-Mickey in Animal Kingdom. The show features songs from the movie, acrobats, and audience participation. (Do you know what sound a giraffe makes?) It’s performed in the round in an indoor, air-conditioned theater. While I don’t think it’s as high of quality as Beauty and the Beast, and certainly not as good as Finding Nemo, it’s an enjoyable show, and the kids seem to love it.
4. Carousel of Progress
Now, you may not consider this a stage show, because it has no live actors, but I assure you it is. In fact, according to Disney, it’s the longest running show with more performances than any other stage show in the history of American theater. And it may be a bit of a stretch to include it as a musical, but since John leads the singing of “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow,” I’m saying it counts. One thing that makes this show unique (besides the Audio-Animatronic actors) is its capability to have four performances going on at once, so you never have to wait more than a few minutes for the show to start. This is accomplished by staging the 21-minute show in a rotating theater, in which the audience moves to the next scene, rather than the stage needing to be changed. It’s old-fashioned and delightful, and was a special project of Walt Disney himself. The attraction, located in Tomorrowland in Magic Kingdom, usually opens a little later in the morning but then stays open until park closing.
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So, could you do all these in one fabulous musical-theater-themed day? Well, since they span three parks, it would take some commuting time, but it’s doable. I would look at the Times Guides and see which has the earliest performance: Beauty and Beast (Hollywood Studios), Finding Nemo (Animal Kingdom), or Festival of the Lion King (Animal Kingdom). I would start with the earliest show. If it’s one of the Animal Kingdom shows, see the other show before heading on over to Hollywood Studios. If you start in Hollywood Studios, head to Animal Kingdom next. After seeing the shows there, take a bus over to Magic Kingdom and pop into Carousel of Progress. (And watch it over and over . . . did I mention it’s my favorite attraction?)
What’s your favorite musical theater performance in Walt Disney World? Are there any that I missed?