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Don't overlook live shows for theme park entertainment value this summer

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Published: July 1, 2013 at 2:23 PM

Millions of fans come to theme parks every year for the rides, but smart theme park fans don't overlook some of the live shows also playing at many of the world's top parks.

Here in Southern California, our parks recently opened two major new live shows. We've already reviewed Disneyland's Mickey and the Magical Map and SeaWorld San Diego's Madagascar Live! Operation Vacation, when it opened at sister park Busch Gardens Tampa last month. But over the past couple weeks, I got my first opportunity to see these shows.

Rapunzel
Rapunzel sings during "Mickey and the Magical Map." Photo submitted by Brandon Mendoza

Each of these shows runs 20 minutes, making them a great way to get off your feet and out of the sun for an enjoyable extended break in the middle of the day. Mickey and the Magical Map plays in the outdoor (but covered and shady) Fantasyland Theater in Disneyland, while Madagascar Live plays in the indoor (and air conditioned) Mission Bay Theater at SeaWorld San Diego.

But if you're paying theme park prices for a day's entertainment you want more than a cool place to sit for 20 minutes. Both shows deliver that entertainment value with energetic casts performing popular songs from their source material, as well as an original tune created just for its show. Another plus? While it's worth showing up 20-30 minutes early to ensure getting seats together for each performance, neither of these shows will subject you to an hour-plus wait, as you might find at many popular rides this summer.

If there's a knock to be made against these shows, it's that their premises are whispy-wafer-thin — just flimsy excuses to get to the music. But with a 20-minute show time, I'd prefer less set-up and more time for singing and dancing anyway. (If you want more plot and dialogue in a Southern California theme park show, take in a performance of Aladdin at Disney California Adventure.)

There's no faulting these casts, though, at least not at the performances I watched (and recorded for your enjoyment). The vocalists, dancers and instrumentalists bring it, entertaining the audience with fun songs you'll have playing over and over again in your head for the rest of the day.

Follow the links below to rate and review these shows, if you've seen them already. Or just leave a thought in the comments.

Madagascar Live! Operation Vacation:

Mickey and the Magical Map:

If you're looking for an even cooler entertainment experience in a Southern California theme park, Knott's Berry Farm also just debuted its newest Peanuts-themed ice show. But I haven't had the chance to see it yet — comments about that show are welcomed, too.

What are some of your favorite live shows at theme parks?

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Readers' Opinions

From Frank Forrester on July 1, 2013 at 2:55 PM
My favorite entertainment show of any of the parks I have visited is Celtic Fyre at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. I am a Platinum Pass Holder for the Busch/Seaworld parks and BGW is my home park. I go to the park at least once to twice a week and always go to see multiple showings of Celtic Fyre. Unlike most theme park shows where the show is going to be the same no matter when you see it as they stick to a script and never stray from it, they are allowed to improvise some in Celtic Fyre. If you go to a show earlier in the day and come back latter to see another show, you will usually see different cast doing the different parts and depending on the cast members who is doing the show you will see different things happen. A couple of weeks ago during one of the shows two of the cast pulled off an amazing hat trick that was done in the spur of the moment that it even got gasps from the cast that saw it happen. One of the singers took his hat off and put it on one of the dancers during one of the dance routines. The dancer didn't even stop and while doing the routine took the hat off and tossed it backwards over his head where the singer caught the hat squarely on his head. Luckily somebody at the show caught the moment on video and posted it on YouTube. This is why I love seeing this show multiple times as you never know what tricks they may pull. Here is the video of that trick. Celtic Fyre Hat Trick
From Rob Pastor on July 1, 2013 at 3:34 PM
Yes, we also love the theme park shows. No matter how many times we see classic shows like Beauty & the Beast or The Blues Brothers (Blues Brothers does about 3 or 4 slightly different versions)it never gets old to us as tourists. AP's may have a different view though. A disturbing trend though is that live entertainment offerings seem to have been cut at some parks. BGW, while having excellent shows in their Ireland Theater, has cut many of their other shows since Blackstone bought the park. Also, I took my nephew to Hershey for a day trip last week, and their live shows were greatly slashed from when we went three years ago. They used to have at least a half dozen really good professional shows. When we were there, there were only a couple of shows and they were very poor quality with threadbare sets. A couple of character meet & greets were in the spot that previously had high quality professional shows.Just hate to see this happening, especially if its a trend. Guess the excessively high CEO pay has to come out of someones budget.
From 107.219.189.242 on July 1, 2013 at 8:35 PM
We always try to see Aladdin when we visit California Adventure, or see the parade at Disneyland.

We caught the Snoopy ice show at Knott's on the passholder preview day. It was a fun summer show. We've only seen the Snoopy holiday ice show in the past -- this one is more sexy (but still okay for kids) and not as unified in theme. Still, the sets, music, and skating are all top-notch.

Even more fun at Knott's was Boomtown, their Old West version of cirque acrobats, new this summer. A 20 to 30 minute version of a Cirque du Soleil show with gags, a loose story, and impressive acrobatics. Not for people who hate cirque shows, but a nice condensed version themed to its Ghost Town location.

From Mark Kausch on July 1, 2013 at 8:47 PM
Two of my favorite shows are also pretty new and happen to be at the same venue: Beauty and the Beast and Tangled at the Royal Theatre in Fantasy Faire at Disneyland. Huzzah!
From Anon Mouse on July 2, 2013 at 9:23 AM
I always enjoy a good show or two when I visit the theme parks. After you visit the theme park and you go on rides for at least 3 to 4 hours, the rides can get a little tiresome. You need a break. Sometimes, it is a snack or lunch break. Other times, it is a show break.

I quite enjoyed the "Mickey and the Magical Map" show. The musical numbers were very good, but the story portion featuring Mickey Mouse is rather tedious. The painting of the "dot" became the main trust of the story. There was nothing magical about this storyline. Nonetheless, when I saw it, there was a technical glitch that delayed the show for 5 minutes.

Aladdin is still the best theme park show. Knott's ice skating show is the second best. Sea World's cirque show is good, but I prefer the dolphin show as the best show at Sea World San Diego. The Samu evening show with fireworks is better than the daytime show.

From Brian Emery on July 2, 2013 at 10:30 AM

Busch Gardens Tampa has quite a few live shows. Sitting down watching a live show will make you Park adventure more enjoyable and allows you to rest you tired legs...


From 208.54.4.249 on July 5, 2013 at 7:26 PM
I enjoyed seeing the new stage show at Disneyland this summer, Mickey and the Magical Map. The performers did a great job, and the King Louie character was especially impressive with how expressive it was in movement.

The bugs didn't seem worked out in early June, though. I saw it three times over the course of about a week, and the first time the show took a ten-minute delay when a prop was not in place on stage for Mickey--it seemed like the production was figuring out the right place to synch the audio and video around the point where the show had stopped.

The third time I saw the show, the screen had been showing a weird computer message off and on during the show. With about ten minutes remaining, the production came to a stop. After the audience waited for 5 or 10 minutes, the P.A. came back on and said the rest of the show had been cancelled.

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