The other day we spoke to Jennifer Thomas, a show production manager and casting director at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, about the Entertainment department’s plans for 2017. In addition to refining two of the park’s popular returning offerings and renovating another, the they are debuting two new shows in the first half of this season: Britmania & OktoberZest.
We’ll spend the first sections of this article sharing what we know about those two new products. After that we’ll dive into some of the upgrades and changes coming to the park’s existing shows this season. Enjoy!
After three years and three distinct iterations, Busch Gardens Williamsburg has opted to pull the plug on what was easily one of its most controversial shows in recent memory: London Rocks. Taking its place in Banbury Cross’s Globe Theatre is Britmania, a musically-driven show focusing on British tunes from the 60s onward.
Unlike the initial version of London Rocks which used music to convey an intricate story, according to Jennifer, Britmania will be far more focused on the music, itself. Though she shared that Britmania would still have a loose story thread running through it, she assured us that the narrative would not be the show’s focal point.
When asked for some examples of music we should expect to hear in Britmania, Jennifer stated that the park has not yet finalized a set list so she wasn’t able to share any of the music that would be featured in the final show. She did, however, say a bit about the effects we should expect.
According to Jennifer, all of the special effects used in London Rocks will make a return in Britmania alongside some new lighting tricks. As for the projected backdrops we’ve all come to expect from today’s Globe Theatre productions, they will be back as well. Better yet, Britmania’s projections will feature entirely new artwork—further dispelling any fears that this is just a fourth iteration of London Rocks with a new name.
Regarding set and theater alterations, Jennifer assured us that very little will change. In fact, she reported that all planned tweaks will have already been completed by the time Elmo Rocks debuts this Spring.
That said, I found one of the small tweaks she mentioned to be fairly notable: The park has reduced the amount of raking in a few sections of the stage. Anyone who followed the production of London Rocks closely will likely remember that the raked (inclined) stage was something Busch Gardens was very proud of when the show debuted. Sources within the Entertainment department told me the Globe’s sloped stage was a fairly controversial element during London Rocks development and production, due primarily to the added difficulty it posed for the show’s cast and crew. With that in mind, I’m not particularly surprised to see it reduced, but it is certainly an interesting data point to keep in mind.
Anyway, Britmania will debut officially on July 1st with public previews slated to start on June 16th.
After running for only two years, Roll Out the Barrel will not be returning in 2017. As occurred following the final curtain call for Entwined before it, many fans are hoping that this new show will return to the tried and true This is Oktoberfest formula. Unfortunately, in the words of Jennifer, “[OktoberZest] is not your mother’s Oktoberfest.”
Now, before This is Oktoberfest fans start sharpening their pitchforks, Jennifer assured us that OktoberZest would be a song-and-dance-driven production that will incorporate traditional German music. She went on to confirm that OktoberZest, like Britmania, would abandon the strong storytelling focus present in its predecessors, Roll Out the Barrel and Entwined.
OktoberZest is planned to feature ten singers and dancers and two live musicians. Jennifer also shared that a custom backing track for the show has been recorded with a full orchestra to accompany the two onstage musicians.
As for the set, according to Jennifer, the park has something particularly special planned. Roll Out the Barrel’s forest setting is being removed and replaced with a new glockenspiel-themed set. Out of everything we learned about this show during our interview, this detail has me the most interested. It’s a visual direction that I could see working very well in Das Festhaus and, better yet, it has the potential to mesh beautifully with so many of the traditional German dances I hope to see on display once again inside this venue.
Unfortunately, Jennifer’s descriptions of OktoberZest’s visual direction didn’t leave me completely sold due to one small detail: the park plans to utilize a “modern take on German-inspired colors.” My pitchfork will remain sheathed until I see exactly what that color palette entails, but I will say this: I will not be impressed if we end up with a glockenspiel that is at all reminiscent of Clocktoberfest or Wunderbarn.
All this said, my hopes are high for OktoberZest overall. For the first time since 2012 (sans the short-lived 2013 This is Oktoberfest revival), a show focused on German song and dance is returning to Das Festhaus. That’s a really big deal.
Look for OktoberZest to debut in Das Festhaus on March 31st.
Much to the joy of its particularly rabid fanbase, Celtic Fyre is back and, according to Jennifer, largely unchanged. She did say that there would be a few new touches fans should look out for though. Oh, and this is something else that will make Celtic Fyre fans very happy: According to Jennifer, there aren’t any current plans to retire the show. That should put any fears of an expiration date of sorts to rest for now. Celtic Fyre will debut on March 25th.
On the Mix it Up front, Jennifer explained that most of the changes that come to that show are done more organically during practices with the show’s cast. This enables the park’s production team to alter the show in ways to better highlight the specific strengths of their musicians. Mix it Up is currently slated to start performances on June 2nd.
Jennifer also confirmed that All for One would be seeing some pretty notable changes for its sophomore year. While she didn’t get into many specifics, she did share that we’d be seeing some new show elements. Significant story changes are planned as well. According to Jennifer, this year All for One will stray further from its Three Musketeers source material, but will still parallel Dumas’ larger opus. Some of those story changes are already evidenced in the park’s casting call for the show. All for One will open on June 30th, the day before Britmania’s official debut.
Overall, it seems as though Entertainment is making great changes all around. Few will be particularly sad to see London Rocks or Roll Out the Barrel go and, in both cases, their replacements seem like significant improvements. Out of the three returning shows, I believe most would agree that focusing on improvements to All for One is the right call.
It is no secret that I have been a harsh critic of Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Entertainment department for years now. I can confidently say that, on paper at least, this is looking like the best main season show lineup since at least 2011. I’m truly optimistic about this new, less extravagant, direction. The focuses of both Britmania and OktoberZest appear to constitute a more grounded return to the basics—something I believe the department has needed for years.
A huge thanks to Jennifer Thomas for taking the time to answer all of our questions and to Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s PR team for setting up the interview for us! Stay tuned for Pass Member Preview Day coverage on all of our major social media channels: Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram!
Thanks for reading! We’ll have plenty more for you in the coming weeks—it’s a busy time!