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and Team / Co
Jul 22, 2013
Arlington, VA
As many of you know, I was bullied once again into watching all of the shows at Busch Gardens Williamsburg (BGW), this time for Howl-O-Scream.  I won't say this trip was as much fun as last time, because there was so much more audience participation, but being there with friends always makes the experience better.  Of course Tony joined me, as well as Zimmy and Zachary.  In addition, Alpenghöst, Applesauce, Luke, and Matthew accompanied me on my journey of pain.

As before, let me preface this with my personal biases.  I am a trained dancer, so that is really the aspect of any show that will have the greatest impact on me personally.  I also loathe cheesy dialogue and detest audience participation, both of which will dramatically taint my opinions of otherwise adequate shows.  In addition, I would like to point out that with the exception of Blood Banquet I have never seen any of these shows before, so my assessments are based entirely on the 2014 performances.  2012 may have been some kind of HOS theatrical golden year; I don't know, and frankly, I think it is fairly irrelevant to this review.

In any case for everyone's reading enjoyment—or possibly consternation—here are my thoughts on the HOS shows, ranked least hated to most.  I will not comment on the food at either dinner theater, but I will say up-front that I don't like buffets in general, anyway.

Igor's Fright Feast (IFF)
I actually liked this show.  In fact, I believe all eight of us really enjoyed the performance. Igor had great comedic timing and moved incredibly well.  The Nurses, clearly well-trained dancers, were showgirls not strippers.  The choreography was appropriate and even clever. Most surprisingly, none of the dialogue annoyed me at all; I laughed the entire time.  The singing was only adequate.  I would voluntarily pay to see FF again.

Monster Stomp on Ripper Row (MSoRR)
Excluding IFF all of the shows were varying degrees of "bad" for me.  MSoRR was the least objectionable of those four.  Like most people I enjoyed the "stomp" elements of the show.  I even understood the concept behind the rapping, if not the execution.  That said, there was one "percussionist" who was consistently off-beat, and it set my teeth on edge.  The skeletons were clever, but frustrated me, as well, because they had poor lines and weren't in sync.  The singing was quite honestly painful.  The dancing was mixed: the guys were much better than the women.  

None of that, however, bothered me as much as either the pre-show audience warm up, the story line, or the 4D effects.  I honestly couldn't see or hear most of the things the actors were doing down in the audience, so I can't really comment on that.  The guy who came out to get us PUMPED, however, annoyed me.  Why on earth would I want to do the Wave in a theater? Or shout random slogans? Or even wave my hands in the air, like I just don't care?  By the way, BGW, you should find out the right way to do the "M" in "YMCA."  It is supposed to be an inverted point in front of your chest, not an imitation of a monkey on top of your head.  

Anyway.  Many aspects of the script perplexed me.  Why were there random tribal dudes in Victorian London?  Was it set on a London street or in a graveyard?  Why did the female lead have short hair?  When and how did the Ripper die?  And where was the denouement?  The show just suddenly ended with no warning, other than some streamers.  

Finally, the gawdawful 4D effects.  Why, BG?  I actually missed the climax of the show entirely, because I was distracted by jets of air assaulting the back of my head.  For the love of all that is holy, allow the performers to practice their craft without adding unnecessary and irritating sensory experiences.

Night Beats (NB)
I actually enjoyed some of the singing, and Ulrich clearly is a great performer.  Open Casket and Casket Club suit each other well, and the music playing outside creates the right tone for the show on the inside.  I like the idea of a live band, integrated into the show and interacting with the singers, as if it were a classic "nightclub" performance.  I wish the musicians were allowed to play live, however, and that the dialogue between them and the singers were not scripted.  All that said, there were far too many problems this year.

Strike One: Unpleasant Venue.  Night Beats is staged in Das Festhaus.  I really, really dislike sitting on uncomfortable benches with 20 or so strangers.  The sound mixing is terrible there, as well.  The music was incredibly loud, but the singers were almost impossible to hear.  On the other hand, I didn't especially want to hear many of the performers anyway.  Some of them were very weak singers, and at least once I noticed that they got the lyrics wrong.

Strike Two: Senseless filler.  As with so many other shows at Busch Gardens, audience participation and cheesy dialogue were inflicted on everyone to distract us from the quality of the script. Ulrich actually asked, "Do we have any Americans?"  Seriously? There is annoying audience participation, and then there are just dumb attempts to get everyone "engaged."  I wrote "Please, shut up!" several times in my notebook, in response to the no doubt "witty" repartee.

Strike Three: Bizarre staging. In what is becoming a epidemic at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, the choreography was nonsensical and pointlessly over-sexualized.  The shimmying and wriggling paired with the often inappropriate costuming just left me puzzled.  Even when they weren't pumping their pelvises, the choreography rarely matched the music or genre.  Why were they doing ballroom to West Side Story?  Why were there classical ballet lifts in the ballroom section.  Similarly, why were they costumed like clowns for the disco section; forced into ill-fitting outfits throughout the show; and dressed in practice gear on stage at all?

Blood Banquet (BB)
Honestly, I had a hard time determining which was worse: Blood Banquet or Fiends.  In the end I decided that BB was better at being what is is designed to be.  BB is a campy, cheesy show based almost entirely on bad jokes and audience participation. I believe that it did those things well, I just happen to despise both of them.  

I am a huge fan of the Fourth Wall, as both a performer and an audience member.  Being constantly under threat of being dragged right into the middle of the performance was, quite frankly, terrifying to me.  The jokes and dialogue were incredibly annoying to me, as well.  I wrote in my notebook, "Leave me alone," "Make it stop," and "Please shut up."  Nothing seemed funny to me at all.  The performers, themselves were not bad.  I thought the werewolf moved incredibly well, and the zombie butler was a good singer.  I didn't really understand some of the choreography, but is was generally well-executed.

Unlike BB, Fiends completely missed the mark.  They were clearly aiming for "burlesque," and hit "strip show," instead.  The question of why the park needs a cheap rip-off of Rocky Horror Picture Show aside, nothing about Fiends was clever or coy or charming.  The entire show was comprised of stylized sex scenes, except that none of the performers ever managed to take off their clothes.  They humped the walls, the props, the audience, and each other.  Anything at crotch level was rubbed by someone's groin.  One Nurse seemed to be attempting to achieve orgasm by rubbing the corner of her alcove, in fact.  I think the low-point in the show for me, was when one of the nurses did a back-bend with her legs spread apart, completely exposing everything between her legs (thank goodness her hot pink panties didn't slip).  

I found this choreography particularly frustrating, because the dancers seemed to be well-trained, and didn't need to be relegated to the roles of sex-kittens and strippers.  The singing was mixed.  

I do have an idea to improve the theming of the show and make some extra money for the park.  They could put a chair in each of the alcoves and charge guests for lap-dances and face-grinding.  I think it would really add to the strip-club feel and give Fiends another way to generate revenue.

Interesting, just as I came away from my main season show marathon liking one theater production (Celtic Fyre), I only interested in seeing one HOS show ever again (IFF).
I'm still waiting for a full-fledged review of Karaoke Superstars and all its glory...
For what it's worth, I actually want to see all of KD's shows next year #ForScience. I've mocked them far too long without actually seeing them.
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Zachary said:
For what it's worth, I actually want to see all of KD's shows next year #ForScience. I've mocked them far too long without actually seeing them.

Ooh! I want to participate! I'll referee the #FunChallenge, and I'll hand out ear plugs for those who get restless. :p
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Meh... most of KD's shows are alright. Basically, their shows fit into four major categories:

"Good" - All Wheel Sports, Clown Band

"Okay" - KD40 On Stage, Rockin' Country, Charlie Brown's All Stars

"Bad" - Hit List, Ignite the Night

"Get-Me-The-Hell-Out-Of-Here" - Karaoke Superstars

Hopefully, with the park's continued entertainment improvements, more shows will file into that top level. For now, I will say depending on who you are (*cough*Nicole*cough*), you may find a few more shows to belong in that last category. :p
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