This article originally appeared in Issue 18 (September 2012) of WDWNT: The Magazine.
Like many of you who are reading this magazine, I went to Disney World a lot growing up. And also, like many of you I am sure, there were certain parts of the Walt Disney World experience that you made sure you did on every single trip no matter what. For us, one of those things was the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue at Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground.
The show is an old west style vaudeville dinner show that takes place multiple times each evening at Pioneer Hall near the boat landing in the campground. The show is one of the longest running stage shows in the world, opening in 1974 and playing in nearly the exact same form to this day.
The show features a traveling theater group (three men and three women), who stop in at Pioneer Hall that evening to play a version of their show. It is a fairly standard vaudeville routine with one couple taking the role of the leading man/lady, another the dancers, and the last as comic relief. The songs are all based on classic Americana music (such as Oh My Darling Clementine and Oh Shenandoah). The jokes are corny but still good fun. While the script has changed little in 35 years, there are still some ad libs – mostly from the character Six Bits, who was always the most memorable character for me.
One of the most fun aspects of the show is the level of audience participation. Everyone is encouraged to take part, particularly near the end of the show when everyone in the audience is given a washboard and encouraged to play along. How does one play a washboard? With a spoon of course! But for a lucky few in the audience, they get to take part by actually taking a staring role in the show on stage and in costume. Back in the summer of 1991, I was chosen from the audience to join the company on stage and take the role of The Texas Ranger.
Let me preface this by saying that all this happened 21 years ago and I was eight years old, so my memory may be a tad cloudy with the specifics. But I do have a very good recollection of the evening. This particular section of the show takes place after dinner is served when the cast does a play retelling the story of Davey Crockett. Several members of the audience are chosen to join the company. A child from the audience is always chosen to take the role of the Texas Ranger who comes in to save Davy during the battle of the Alamo. When I was growing up, I only remember them ever choosing a boy from the audience for this role, but a few years ago a young girl from the audience was chosen.
Getting picked to be in the show requires a little bit of luck, but there are some things you can do to help improve your chances. First of all, it helps to be in a table near the stage. If you find yourself in the back of the balcony, you chances are pretty much zero. Secondly, appear enthusiastic for the entire show. They want to take people up on stage who will not fall flat or, in the case of the child chosen, be too shy to participate. As I had seen the show several times by this point and was always outgoing at Disney World, I had no problem getting noticed.
After being picked, I went back stage and put on my costume (basically a sheriff’s hat and an oversized leather vest). I was given my stage directions by one of the members of the cast. When they called to bring out the Texas Ranger, I would walk out on to the stage and use a large foam club to beat at the legs of another audience participant who was playing the Indian Chief (I know, shockingly this show from 1974 has some less than PC moments in it.) They were very clear to only hit below the knees, for obvious reasons.
Still, it seems that many of the kids chosen in the following years did not head this warning as the club has now been replaced by a pantomimed firefight. You can tell from the video that my father took that I really enjoyed this part. What kid wouldn’t? It’s not often you are given explicit permission to hit people with clubs, even fake ones.
The other piece of stage direction I had was my one line in the show. The character of Dolly Drew would thank me for saving them. After asking me how she could ever repay me, I was to lean in toward her microphone and say, “What are you doing after the show?” Thinking back on this, it kind of seems like a risqué line for a child but the audience loved it. This is another thing that seems to have been altered in recent years.
Before returning to our seats, we were each given a certificate making us “Official” members of the Pioneer Hall Players as well as a Polaroid photo with the cast. Unfortunately, this is one of the few pieces of Disney memorabilia from my early years that seems to have gone missing. I have looked everywhere in my parent’s home to no avail.
On a separate occasion, my father also got to take part in the show as well. One of the fathers is always chosen to play the “spirit of Davy Crockett”. This takes one of the men from the audience, dresses them in a pink tutu, wings, and a halo, and has them come out on stage to end the routine. It is obviously a great sight gag and always has the audience, particularly the family members of the chosen, almost in tears laughing. Just another reason we always enjoyed the show so much.
Around the mid–90s we stopped going to the show. The prices had gone up and we decided to try some other experiences having seen Hoop-Dee-Doo nearly a dozen times. It was not until 2008 that I finally went back. While the show did not change too much, it was an entirely different experience as an adult and I enjoyed it just as much as when I was a child. If you have not seen the show in a long time, it is worth going back again.
This is one of the things I love most about Disney. You get to feel like you are part of the show. A lot of people go there intending for an entirely passive experience, which is fine. But you can have so much more fun by taking an active role. The same year as this, I also got to “drive” a jungle cruise boat. It really made the whole experience feel more magical to me. So the next time you are in Walt Disney World and they want volunteers, raise your hand and join in. The experience will be among your most memorable.