Thursday, March 02, 2006
Restoring Walt Disney’s Disneyland: The Golden Horseshoe Revue
There are many differences in today’s Disneyland experience from that of Walt’s classic Magic Kingdom. And it’s not just a matter of old rides that are missing or replaced, but of a different tone and texture.
There was a time when the environments of Disneyland were more like a time-machine: the frontier, the turn-of-the-century, the future - - all these lavish sets were meant to transport the guest to that idealized time and place, to sort-of a living movie-lot - - not just a modern day “themed” experience, like Las Vegas or Solvang or Outback Steakhouse.
Part of that immersive show was the live entertainment that evoked the times portrayed, whether it was the Dapper Dans singing barbershop on Main Street or a wild saloon show in the old west.
Slue Foot Sue’s Golden Horseshoe Revue was the showplace of Frontierland from opening day clean through to the Eisner era, when it closed as the longest-running stage show of the day.
A passionate vaudevillian at heart, Walt Disney proudly presented a full-bodied, over-the-top, corn-fed interactive burlesque show right out of the history books, and audiences ate it up with a silver spoon.
With a saloon madam, her dancing girls, an Irish tenor and a cowboy comedian (and their band), The Golden Horseshoe Revue didn’t try to be relevant to the times in any way, but transported guests back into another era of entertainment; to the days before movies and television when seltzer and pantaloons reigned supreme.
Wally Boag, Betty Taylor and company made the show fresh for close to thirty years. During times of amazing political and social change and upheaval in the real world, the show continued to shoot from the hip. Despite the onset of several wars, civil rights, feminism, hippies, disco and rap, the girls of the Golden Horseshoe kept kicking their heels to the delight of the most diverse audiences…
Into the 80’s, Pecos Bill was still spitting teeth, the girls were still posing for the Police Gazette and Sue was still looking for her Big City Beau. Audiences never seemed to tire of the show.
Even though history had marched on, the old west remained the same – and so did the burlesque. It was, after all, supposed to represent another era. As spectators and participants, we learned about what that era may have been like. We didn’t look for our own social reflections and moog synthesizers in their frontier antics.
But the coming of political correctness and entertainment expense cutbacks (as well as the retirement of the original cast) finally called a halt to the old time fun.
Sadly, Frontierland has gone from boomtown to ghost town in the process. The Golden Horseshoe was the gold-digging, gunslinging heart of Walt’s old west. Now Frontierland more evokes Boot Hill.
The Revue’s replacements have been less ambitious and uniformly less-successful: from children’s shows (Woody’s Round-Up) to hillbilly bands (Billy Hill) to Seven Brides for Seven Brothers-style cabaret shows (Golden Horseshoe Jubilee), some had charm, but none captured the wild & wooly west of Hollywood and Disney lore like Slue Foot Sue and her spirited Can-Can girls.
So why have those saloon girls stayed away so long? Even a stripped down cast of just the madam and her girls would fill the bill if costs of a large cast were an issue (and surely a well-heeled backer could again be found - - the Revue was historically sponsored by Pepsico).
But one suspects that PC is the real issue – and perhaps marketers who want Disneyland to reflect the “relevant and compelling” world of the modern consumer. They think this sort of entertainment is “quaint.” After all, what kids today would relate to that stuff? Who would line-up to see it?
Well, guess what? That sort of entertainment was way out of date in the 1960’s too – - As kids, we didn’t relate to it either, or get the timely gags - - we just thought it was cool! We loved being able to go to another time and place. And those girls were great dancers with a contagious joie-de-vivre!
The spicy, sexy (but totally wholesome) doings at The Golden Horseshoe helped to make Disneyland an experience for the entire family, not just the parents and tots of today’s targeting. After all, Disneyland’s charms can naturally lean a bit too heavily toward Mom, Princess, Kitten and Uncle Arthur, rather than to Dad and Bud.
But The Golden Horseshoe’s shapely Can-Can girls, along with the hula dancers at Tahitian Terrace and the go-go girls of Tomorrowland… and those crop spanking Disneyland ambassadors… provided some eye candy and entertainment that men’s men of all ages could appreciate with a wink and a smile to their wives and girlfriends (and significant others).
What’s so wrong with that? Sex appeal is a whole level of the Disneyland dream that has vanished over time - - and perhaps not coincidentally, those demos have grown weaker.
Again, old Walt knew what he was doing.
That this celebrated aspect of Disneyland's history did not return for the 50th anniversary is a travesty of executive planning. I hope one day we Can-Can go back again to kick up our heels at Slue Foot Sue’s.
The stage awaits their return – and ours.