Courtesy Fee/Hendrick Family Entertainment
Published February 10, 2014
Nothing stays the same for long in show business, which means there’s always something new to enjoy in the world of group entertainment.
Shows have long been important parts of group travel itineraries, and some destinations have built their visitor appeal on the wide array of live entertainment options available both day and night. Places like Branson, Pigeon Forge, Myrtle Beach and the Wisconsin Dells all pack a powerful entertainment punch, and they all have new developments in the show scene for 2014.
Here’s an update on the latest show offerings in each of these destinations.
Branson is the mecca of entertainment in America’s heartland, with enough shows to keep groups entertained for days and nights on end. The city has three new shows garnering considerable attention.
Perhaps the biggest production is “Jonah” at Sight and Sound Theatre.
“It’s just tremendous,” said Lynn Berry, director of communications for the Branson Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It was one of the most popular shows when it played at Sight and Sound in Lancaster, [Pennsylvania]. The set is just incredible, you’re going to feel like you’re with Jonah inside that fish.”
“Jonah” isn’t the only big show, though. “The Adventures of Marco Polo,” which opened on a limited engagement late last year, will be coming back with a larger production for 2014 to tell the story of Marco Polo’s journey through Europe to the exotic Orient.
“It uses 300 costumes and a troupe of 60,” Berry said. “You have ballet; you have sheer acrobatics and the most beautiful Chinese singing and vocalization that I’ve ever heard.”
There’s more international music at the new “Dublin’s Irish Tenors.” This show features five Irish singers performing Celtic classics, opera, pop and swing music, as well as a female group called the Celtic Ladies.
“This new show is really akin to what we see on television specials, with women performing with the men and an orchestra onstage,” Berry said.
Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
Wisconsin Dells first gained exposure as an entertainment destination decades ago with the debut of an outdoor water-skiing show, which still runs today. Now there are numerous other shows in town.
The newest entertainment option for groups is “Paul Bunyan’s Northwoods Lumberjack Show,” a competition-style show that takes place in an amphitheater outside Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty.
“It’s a traditional lumberjack show, with all of the various competitions taking place,” said Tifani Jones, director of sales at the Wisconsin Dells Convention and Visitors Bureau. “They include the show with meals there at the restaurant.”
The show runs during the summer-month tourist season, with both afternoon and evening performances. Groups can have a family-style meal on site before or after either performance.
When the show starts, visitors will see professional lumberjacks and lumberjills from the area taking part in many of the famous events that are shown in televised competitions.
“They have events like a standing block chop, an ax throw, log rolling and various other competitions that take place in the show,” Jones said.
There are also new developments at the Wisconsin Opry. In addition to the 90-minute country music show, the company has added flea market space and a cafe and can now offer sing-along events and hayrides for groups.
— www.wisdells.com —
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Long renowned as a scenic getaway set in the middle of the Great Smoky Mountains, Pigeon Forge continues to grow as an entertainment destination as well. The city has 14 shows and entertainment options now, in addition to the wide range of performances that take place at Dollywood theme park.
Fee/Hedrick Family Entertainment, a company that operates several of the area’s most popular shows, is making changes to all of its productions to make them more attractive to younger group audiences.
“We’ve noticed that the group market is beginning to skew a little bit younger,” said Leslie Thomas, the company’s senior vice president. “So we’re trying to adjust to these younger groups.”
Those adjustments will show up this year in the form of special effects, immersive set pieces and updated musical repertoires. “The Smoky Mountain Opry,” a full-scale variety show, has incorporated a rescued white lion into the show, along with a new ice-dancing segment.
At the “Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Show,” producers have added numerous special effects, such as exploding outhouses, and have extended the show’s set pieces into the audience seating area.
“The Comedy Barn Theater,” the company’s first show, will have a new facility renovation, to debut this year, with wider seats, a private group entrance and an optional dinner component.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Numerous theaters dot the Grand Strand of the South Carolina coast, where Myrtle Beach and the surrounding communities attract visitors with sun, sand, shopping and plenty of entertainment. Groups visiting this year will find a variety of revamped shows and guest artists appearances.
The staff at “Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament” has completely revamped that arena show experience. Visitors still eat medieval-style food with their hands while watching jousting, swordplay, horsemanship and costumes. This year, though, the show has been reimagined, with new lighting, costumes, choreography and a new musical score.
The theater also has a new educational matinee show for student groups that opened last fall.
The Alabama Theatre is bringing in a host of guest artists and special events this year. Three Dog Night will perform at the theater in April. June brings the Happy Together Tour, which will feature 1960s artists the Turtles and numerous other musical performers from the era.
The Palace Theatre has revamped and expanded both of its signature shows for 2014. “Hot Jersey Nights,” one of the company’s most popular productions ever, features the hit songs of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
In 2013, the theater also debuted “Illusions of Magic.” The full-scale magic production includes dancers, special effects, elaborate scenery and multiple performers, including a former “America’s Got Talent” contestant.