Remember when Mom or Dad went away on business and didn't bring you back a souvenir? I just spent a week at Disneyland, and you're not even getting a lousy T-shirt. But I have returned with news of new developments that you'll soon see imported from California's Magic Kingdom to Central Florida's.
That west-to-east flow is the opposite of what Mouse-watchers have mostly seen in recent decades. While Anaheim's original Magic Kingdom obviously influenced Walt Disney World's opening-day lineup, more post-'90s bicoastal attractions originated in Orlando, from Buzz Lightyear and Innoventions to MuppetVision and Tower of Terror. (Soarin' is a notable exception.) Backstage, WDW recently sent Animal Kingdom VP Michael Colglazier to run the Disneyland Resort, receiving Disneyland's George Kalogridis as president in exchange. And strict enforcement of FastPass return times spread west this week from WDW, where cast members have been cracking down on tardy guests for months.
Now the tide appears to be turning. For starters, since Disney's recently announced 4 percent attendance increase was attributed almost exclusively to Anaheim's relaunched California Adventure park, look for that venue's vision of immersive E-Tickets integrated with retail and dining to direct local development. Orlando's half-completed New Fantasyland expansion is the first in a series of new environments that will include Animal Kingdom's Avatar-land (providing Disney's Imagineers and accountants can gestate James Cameron's grandiosity) and a rumored clone of California's kick-ass Cars Land in place of Disney Hollywood Studios' outmoded Backlot Tour. After enjoying Anaheim's exquisite new areas, I'd say any additions to WDW's aging attractions (even if less than original) can't come quickly enough.
Next, I got an idea of why the personalization aspects of WDW's upcoming MyMagic+ system might appeal to guests. Disney's brave new RFID-based tracking system will let attractions identify guests by name. At Disneyland, I experienced the old-school equivalent of this in the form of fantastic flesh-and-blood employees. From being welcomed by name at the turnstile to chatting with servers and shop clerks, I found the cast members I encountered a far cry from the apathetic automatons often populating Orlando's parks. It's a shame Disney requires Big Brother to reproduce the effect here.
Finally, the Eli Wallach of this good/bad/ugly incoming trio: Starbucks. When Disney began bringing Seattle's world-dominating java to their stateside parks, I didn't balk because their previous brew, Nescafé, was so nasty. But the Starbucks outlet that opened in Disney California Adventure last June is overcrowded, understaffed and overpriced. Worse, Disneyland is evicting Main Street's Market House (a fan-favorite fixture since 1955 that offered free refills) in favor of more burnt beans. Look for the mermaid to imminently invade Epcot's Fountain View Café, shortly followed by the rest of the resort.
While absent, I did note some local theater news. I was saddened to learn of Rollins professor Kevin Gray's sudden passing. I didn't know the Broadway veteran personally, but was once lucky enough to sit with him during a performance of Phantom of the Opera (a show he starred in more than 1,500 times) at the Bob Carr. My condolences to his colleagues and family.
Speaking of the Bob Carr, hot on the heels of Florida Theatrical Association and the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center settling their skirmish over touring productions for downtown's under-construction auditorium, FTA has announced their 2013-2014 Broadway Across America slate. FTA's Ron Legler bills their 25th annual series as "celebrating our final season at the Bob Carr," which may disappoint anyone who hoped to see headlining hit Book of Mormon on DPAC's new stage. Still, after a year of memorizing the soundtrack, I'm thrilled to finally experience Trey Parker and Matt Stone's Tony-winning scatological satire in October without paying premium New York prices.
Even more exciting is December's arrival of War Horse. The human story in this World War I tale is somewhat trite, but the majestic puppet horses in the Lincoln Center production brought me to tears. I'm eager to see how the innovative circular staging is adapted to the Carr's proscenium.
Also anticipated are Once, a charmingly intimate Irish romance, and a revival of Evita, arguably Andrew Lloyd Webber's strongest work. As for musicalizations of the movies Flashdance and Ghost … well, four out of six ain't bad. Now, if only we didn't have to drive to Tampa to see American Idiot in May.
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