Behind the Curtain of Fantasmic at Hollywood Studios
It is nearing sunset on Hollywood Boulevard in Disney’s Hollywood Studios and you’re heading to Fantasmic! The waves of people making their way down the road are so thick. It’s impossible to see the storefronts that are a mere 30 feet across the road.
As the sun sinks lower, you let yourself be swept away by the slowly moving crowd. You begin to walk towards Hollywood Hills Amphitheater. As you finally make your way to the queue, you pause briefly as you take in each poster depicting the still faces that will soon come to life onstage.
Finally, you crest the hill and can see the massive, bowl-style amphitheater slowly come into view. As you take your seat, silence resonates and anticipation builds in anticipation of my three favorite words “Welcome to Fantasmic!”
Welcome back devoted Behind the Curtain series readers! The latest installment of the article series takes you behind the scenes of my absolutely favorite nighttime show, Fantasmic! In fact, Fantasmic! is my favorite show PERIOD. You should never miss the iconic fireworks over Cinderella Castle, but there isn’t another nighttime show out there that incorporates live performers, an automated set, music, water elements, and fireworks like Fantasmic!, which are just a few of the many features that earns it my high praise!
To truly go ‘behind the curtain’, let’s start at the very beginning. While this article is referencing the Walt Disney World version, the story of Fantasmic! began in California, in the year 1992, when Fantasmic! debuted at Disneyland Resort. At the time, the now-cherished castle fireworks shows were long since up and running and the Imagineers were faced with a new challenge by Park executives eager to entice more guests to stay at Disneyland until park close: develop a new nighttime show.
Imagineers noticed that The Rivers of America section near the back of the park was always one of the first to clear and had the least going for it once night fell on Disneyland Park. They brainstormed a crazy, wild, completely off-the-wall idea for a show that would transform Tom Sawyer Island from a daytime-only experience to a stage for a nighttime spectacular!
The show was billed as the first to incorporate water technology, live performers, pyrotechnics, and an automated set…without a specialty theatre. The Disneyland version opened in 1992 to such great reviews, that construction almost immediately began on the Hollywood Hills Amphitheater; the theatre the Walt Disney World version still calls home.
If you’ve never seen Fantasmic! live, here’s a brief synopsis: Guests are invited to step into Mickey’s vivid imagination as he dreams a fantastic dream that is brought to live through dancing water screens and live character performers as they play out scenes and feature characters from some of the most beloved Disney films like Pocahontas, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and so many more.
Every dreamer knows that nightmares can creep up when they least expect them. Mickey soon falls victim to the taunts and threats of the famed Disney villains as they try to turn his dream into an overwhelming nightmare. Is Mickey strong enough and bright enough to overcome them? You’ve got to go see it to find out!
Mind Blowing Technology
The show opens with a big surprise: Mickey Mouse appears out of thin air in his classic tuxedo and begins to conduct the water screens like a composer of a great musical score. This is the first of many incredible effects that are unnoticeable to the audiences, but we know a bit about how all of that magic unfolds!
There are two different lifts used by Mickey in the show, and both are high-tech enough to go unnoticed while maintaining exceedingly high safety guidelines for the performers who use them. If Mickey isn’t locked into the lift(s) properly, they won’t rise!
The timing of lights, costumes, performers, music, and animated set pieces must be perfectly synchronized each night for the show to go off properly. It requires everyone from costumers to performers to work together. A Cast Member friend of mine told me that, in order to make all their cues in time, the performers in the show actually spend the entire 23 minute duration under the stage where the show is performed!
When you see the show, the various boats that appear to be sailing in front of the stage are actually making a full 360 degree loop…the stage isn’t a stage at all; it’s an island! The performers make their way to the ‘island’ some 20 minutes prior to showtime…and all of them remain there, in very tight quarters, making rapid-fire costume changes and prop swaps until the show culminates. It’s hard to imagine how the giant mountain could possibly be an island, and it wasn’t until I saw this aerial shot that it made sense to me…check it out!
With such an elaborate production, mishaps are to be expected. After all, you’re watching a live theatrical performance play out before your eyes. That means that anything can, and will, happen! I’ve seen the show so many times now (I’m a little obsessed) that I’ve been in the audience for a few blunders and alternate scenes.
For example; the actor portraying John Smith didn’t perform his big rope swing a few months ago. The actor strapped his hands and feet into the rope and just as he was about to take off, he ducked into the rocks as he clearly felt that the safety wasn’t up to par. I don’t blame him…because this is what can happen if the actor isn’t perfectly secure:
Another time, I witnessed a performance when the Sorcerer Mickey lift was experiencing issues mid-show. The Stage Director had to make a split-second decision to play the alternate finale. Instead of Sorcerer Mickey popping up at the top of the mountain, tuxedo Mickey appeared on the stage to perform the same choreography sequence. If I had never seen the show before, I would be none the wiser. Instances like this really do prove that the show must go on!
Behind the Curtain Facts
I could go on and on and on and if left to my own devices, you’d be looking at dissertation-length paper on Fantasmic!. Thank goodness I have an editor to keep me in check, so I’ll conclude writing about my all time favorite show with these super cool, little-known facts about the production:
- Big Show, Big Cast- 48 performers play over 80 characters
- Room for Everyone-Hollywood Hills Amphitheatre seats 6,900 guests
- Fire Breathing Beast- The Maleficent dragon has a wingspan of 50 ft.
- Rare Character Central– If you’re all about the rare character finds, this is the show for you! Rarely seen characters like Mulan, Steamboat Willie, and Moana appear nightly in the show
- Looks Are Deceiving– That gorgeously sinister Maleficent? She’s played by a man!
- Put Out the Fire– Ready-to-use specialty fire extinguishing equipment is on hand for each performance-in case Maleficent’s fire breathing gets out of control!
- Big Spenders– Each performance of Fantasmic! costs $30,000
With so much to see and do at Walt Disney World, it’s easy to skip a few nighttime shows in favor of more attractions- don’t let Fantasmic! be one of them! The show features so many characters and scenes from Disney movies that everyone is going to find their favorite at some point during the 23-minute show, and with a finale that features fire, water, and pyrotechnics, it’s the one show I always make sure to see before I head home.
I know I’m not the only one with an affinity for this production, is Fantasmic! one of your favorites? What is your favorite scene? I want to know, so leave a comment below!
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