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Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Mango's Orlando launches new show in the latest sign of I-Drive's recovery

Posted By on Tue, Dec 14, 2021 at 4:37 PM

click to enlarge Dancers in the new Mango's Live show - IMAGE VIA MANGO'S TROPICAL CAFE ORLANDO
  • Image via Mango's Tropical Cafe Orlando
  • Dancers in the new Mango's Live show
Despite another new variant threatening to upend the progress the travel industry has seen over the past few months,  there’s a new optimism in the air in Orlando's tourism district.

Construction is active on the Epic Universe site, and conventions are slowly beginning to return. The recovery of International Drive can also be seen at one of its most famous dinner shows.

Mango’s Tropical Café began welcoming guests back nearly six months ago. Still, without the convention crowds, there’s been less demand for the special events spaces and large dinner party accommodations. Most of the dining room remained dark early in the evenings as owner Joshua Wallack focused instead of making do with the nightclub model the venue previously only ran on late nights. Multiple concerts and special events helped draw crowds back to the venue, without the large-scale dinner show performances that made Mango’s famous.

That changed last week when after a more than twenty-month long pause, a newly reimagined live show debuted to a packed house of local celebrities and dignitaries, including multiple local politicians.

Wallack is quick to acknowledge the only reason the reopen was made possible is thanks to federal pandemic-related relief funds.

“The last time I saw this show live on the stage, it was March 16, 2020. God bless America for the past two presidents; one passed the shuttered venue grant and one expanded it. Thanks to that, a place like Mango’s can rise again, with live musicians and performers,” he said.

Unlike many other small businesses, the family-owned and operated Mango’s opted to not use the Paycheck Protection Program 2 loans in the hopes that other options would allow them to reopen. That came in the form of two SBA grants focused on shuttered live venue operators. In Orlando, Mango’s received more than $9.5 million, one of the largest grant awards in the city, rivaled only by the City’s own downtown venues.

Reflecting back on the process it took to reopen, Wallack states it was the most challenging projects he’s ever undertaken and one of the most difficult periods in Mango’s decades-long history.

“After our last [Orlando] show on March 16, 2020, I posted on my social media, ‘in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.’ It's the final lyric from the last song the Beatles recorded. I didn't know if we were ever going to be open again. I certainly didn't imagine it was going to be nearly two years," he said. "I mean, my God, how can any small business last that long? So, we really made some strong strategic moves. You know, my dad and I stuck together on everything. It was hard not taking the PPP 2 loans and going for the shuttered venue grants. Getting those secured gives us a chance to rise again with this incredible show that we see now, Mango’s Live.”
click to enlarge A Michael Jackson set from the new Mango's Live show - IMAGE VIA MANGO'S TROPICAL CAFE ORLANDO
  • Image via Mango's Tropical Cafe Orlando
  • A Michael Jackson set from the new Mango's Live show
According to Wallack's estimate, the Mango’s team had to dedicate more than 600 hours to the application process.

“We were eternally grateful to the United States government, both sides of the aisle, for coming together to see how much the live events sector was decimated by COVID-19," he said. "It was an extinction-level event for many, many small businesses.”

With money in hand, Wallack was able to rehire many of the performers who had been furloughed since last spring. It also brought new work for many of the auxiliary trades required to successfully relaunch the Mango's Live show.

The new show features a cast of nearly two dozen and includes a dizzying number of costume changes. The previous show, heavy on Latin music, was similar to the South Beach version. With sets dedicated to Queen, Lady Gaga, and Kris Kross, this new show is noticeably more geared towards the diverse but U.S.-dominate clientele Orlando attracts.
click to enlarge IMAGE VIA KEN STOREY
  • Image via Ken Storey
The new, more pop music-focused Mango’s Live comes as Orlando’s tourism industry is still carried mainly by domestic leisure travel.

“We're seeing a tremendous upwelling in leisure travel; I think domestic leisure is what’s strongest right now,” explained Wallack. “People are completely displaced from other typical destinations, like New York or LA, so they're coming to Orlando. Disney World is packed; every weekend you're seeing it. That and we don't even really have international travelers. I mean, we barely have a trickle of that back yet, let alone convention and business travelers.”

Despite the lack of traffic near the convention center, many parts of the tourist district look to be rebounding. Just down the street from Mango’s two record-breaking thrill rides are getting their final touches ahead of an opening in just a few days. The two new rides at ICON Park sit not far from Ripley’s Orlando Odditorium, which used the slowdown to completely remodel.

Soon to join the already rapidly changing skyline in the tourism district is Joshua Wallack’s next major venture. A dynamic art digital screen will begin being installed on the northern and west walls of the Hollywood Plaza that sits adjacent to Mango’s in the coming weeks. More than 500 anchor holes had to be made in the parking structure to install the steel.

click to enlarge Concept art, as seen in the permit application, sent to Orange County. Parcel 36-23-28-3787-00-010 - IMAGE VIA ORANGE COUNTY | AOA
  • Image via Orange County | AOA
  • Concept art, as seen in the permit application, sent to Orange County. Parcel 36-23-28-3787-00-010

For Wallack and most of the tourist district, the focus now is learning from the extreme situation of the past two years while preparing to welcome all visitors to the City Beautiful once again. Toward the end of the conversation with Orlando Weekly, Wallack pointed to his soon-to-be tenant in the Hollywood Garage as to why Mango’s can reopen.

“With 9/11 and in 2008, we saw a decline in business, but we never went down to zero. With the pandemic, we went to zero. We had to furlough everybody. It was terrible. … Some of the stuff that we were reading in 2020 was apocalyptic," he said. "We are so thankful that Florida, led by Disney World and Universal, really attempted to figure out how to get people back in having fun again in a safe manner.”

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