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Disneyland’s ‘Salute to the Golden Horseshoe Revue’

“’A Salute to the Golden Horseshoe Revue’ is a Hit with Disneyland Guests”!

That was the Youtube post from the company after the debut of Disneyland’s first ‘Limited Time Magic’ offering. And, judging by the gushing guests featured in the video, such was the case:

“Fun, all-around show… Lively and entertaining.”

“High-energy… western dancing… can-can girls… lot of fun.”

“The music was fun… dancers were really really good… we thought the band was great, too.”

The Disney videographers were out in force opening day as guests left the theater, asking everyone what they thought of the ‘Salute’. Those who were less-than-enthusiastic were thanked and invited to go on their way. Those who were judged properly effusive were awarded online immortality. The result was a record of giddy endorsements as bland and random as the show itself.

Photo by Josh Young

Here’s the first anyone heard of the event, in Disney’s own words:

“The fabled Frontierland show returns to Disneyland park for one month only, bringing back the corny jokes and enduring songs that were often enjoyed by Walt Disney himself.”

Shortly thereafter they back-pedaled… Now the show wouldn’t be a return of the original, but would instead be a “tribute to the Golden Horseshoe Revue”.

In a promotional interview, the event’s young director opined it would be impossible to recreate the original Revue without the talents of Wally Boag and Betty Taylor. Which made no sense to me for two reasons:

First, the original show was performed anywhere from 25 to 70 times a week. Wally rarely worked more than 4 days a week, and Betty only 5. The remaining shows were handled by their understudies. (I myself often did ten performances a day in the summer of 1980, when the park was celebrating its 25th anniversary.)

All the same, the GHR was NEVER performed “without the talents of Wally Boag”. In 1965 Wally was made the GHR show director and he personally saw to it that we knew our stuff and were able to fill whatever holes there were in the original line-up. The content and love of the original show – all that we learned from Wally and company – has never left us… any of us.

And second, the understudies are still here! Terri Robinson, Betty’s #1 understudy, is still around and talented and beautiful as ever, and there are others. Only the male singers are all gone, but with the variety of talent at Disney’s command (and Dana Daniels’ excellent video tribute to Fulton Burley up on Youtube) how hard could it be to teach someone to sing Clancy Lowered the Boom?!

In fact, no fewer than three of Wally’s understudies – Dick Hardwick, Jim Adams & Dana Daniels – were pictured together on the Horseshoe saloon stage only last year (and they still look funny)!

Photo by Joshua Adams

Alright, so there’s the talent needed to recreate the original show. But let’s say none of those people are available or fit to recapture that magic. Does this mean we must resort to the lame-script-and-glad-hand that we wound up getting?

The Golden Horseshoe Revue was never scripted. It evolved through trial-and-error, through addition and amendment; it took in what every new talent contributed, kept what worked (in other words, what got laughs) and quickly dropped the rest. Performers who joined the show might get sheet music with some specialty lyrics for Slue Foot Sue, but the physical shtick and jokes were passed along from performer-to-performer like a family inheritance – or measles.

When I was hired in Wally asked me, “What do you want to do?” I told him I’d do a combination of my own proven material, and some of his lines; I wanted to carry on the traditions he’d started. Once he judged that my performance met his standard, he was fine with all of it. (Indeed, one of the great moments of my life was the night Wally Boag told me, “You made me laugh.”)

The point is that he trusted me to do what would work, just as Walt had trusted him – and as all performers in the original show were trusted – to make the show great from 1955 to 1986. We were hired because we knew music and comedy and audiences and because we loved the Golden Horseshoe and knew our jobs better than any staff writer/director ever could.

Watching that taped interview with the ‘Limited Time Magic’ show director, I couldn’t help thinking of a funeral orator who speaks in glowing generalities about the deceased because he never met him.

Photo by Josh Young

So instead of three headliners we got ‘Miss Lilly’ and some Happy Generic Western-types, who grinned and nudged each other with every lyric for no specific reason.

The Can-Can Dancers seemed too young to be saloon girls… and The Band was hap-hap-happy in a way the originals never were; because the originals were part of an 1871 saloon show and these guys were working for ‘Diz-nee’.

But that’s nit-picking, isn’t it? The authentic, historic attitudes that made the original GHR such a stand-out in this Land of Pre-Packaged Family Entertainment don’t come quickly and would be difficult to recreate in such a short run (that is, without an experienced hand in charge). Ah, well…

The show – what there was of it – might be more accurately described as a distilled version of the thoroughly-scripted Golden Horseshoe Jamboree which supplanted the original Revue in 1986 (small wonder – they were both scripted by the same staff writer). The overture was straight from the Revue (with a shiny, new arrangement), but the rest was an amalgam of moments, taken out of context and paraded in the name of nostalgia.

Nostalgia, though, needs to be something unique to the past that we feel passionately about today; something we’ve lost whose return inspires deep emotions. This ‘Salute’ was more of the same generic performance we get every day in the parks. The level of writing, wit and personality of the original Revue were nowhere to be found.

I prayed the show might begin with a sentimental segment on the theater’s history; using the stories of Walt and the cast to set the stage for a rousing return to the laughs and spectacle of the original Revue. Instead –16 minutes into the 20 minute show – Miss Lilly started talking about the theater as if she only just learned its history. She presented a few bits of information, universally known or somewhat inaccurate, doing her giddy best to make them sound like the most exciting, insightful behind-the-scenes trivia imaginable.

We reached the height of nostalgia when Lilly confided that Walt Disney had hand-picked, “the Disney Legends of Fulton Burley, Betty Taylor and  WWWWWALLY BOAG!” After leading the expected applause, Lilly introduced the can-can, everyone sang their goodbyes and the ‘Salute’ was over.

Photo by Josh Young

Dear Reader – Most of the people who actually saw the show will tell me that they loved it and I’m out of line.

The few aging Mouseketeers with vivid memories of the original Revue might wish I had been more charitable, or might mourn with me the opportunity that was so unnecessarily missed this past month.

Or you might fall somewhere in between.

Personally, I believe Wally would have considered it a greater tribute to see the people and material he’d created and approved up on that stage, rather than a synopsized version of the ‘Jamboree’, a show that he had nothing to do with.

But whatever our thoughts, this much is certain: The Original Golden Horseshoe Revue could have and always can be revived.  More to the point, any show can be as strong and funny and memorable and beloved as the GHR, if the cast and content – and tradition – are treated with love and wit and respect.

Painting by Emma Leavitt

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One Comment

  1. Posted March 28, 2013 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    I agree. If they had added a male comedian [who was good] and had done original material from the Revue, it would have been so much better. I did see one annual passholder evening show of the tribute. Disney was right; The female lead was great, the dancers were great, the band was great, but it was like eating a 3 course meal where they forgot to bring the main course. Maybe a bit misleading to take all those comments from guests and not mention there was no male comedian.

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