Quick—can you name any 10 shows or groups currently performing at Disney California Adventure?
No? That's OK. until two weeks ago, I probably couldn't have either—and I'm the one who writes about the park every week. But the day after Cars Land and Buena Vista Street opened, my husband and I returned to DCA to spend some time outside the Radiator Springs city limits, and I was happily surprised by just how entertaining the refurbished Disney California Adventure is.
Over the course of the morning, we enjoyed the musicians at the Paradise Gardens Bandstand, watched Goofy conducting the "Instant Concert...Just Add Water" in Paradise Bay, and clapped along with the Trash Can Trio.
On Buena Vista Street, we saw Five and Dime entertaining a crowd outside the Carthay Circle Theatre, then caught a performance of the Red Car News Boys before heading to lunch.
In the afternoon, we checked out Dancin' with Disney, passed the Disneyland Resort All-American College Band in Hollywood Land, spent a moment chatting with one of the Citizens of Buena Vista Street, saw Pluto posing for photos outside Elias and Co. Department Store, and caught the end of Minnie's Fly Girls in Condor Flats.
As we left DCA for the day, I turned to my husband and asked, "When did this become the entertainment park?"
While Disneyland's signature performing groups—Billy Hill and the Hillbillies and the Dapper Dans—are probably the first things you think of when someone mentions Disney entertainment, Disney California Adventure actually has more live entertainment options this summer. Here are my favorites among the many new additions to the schedule.
I always walk away from a performance by the Red Car News Boys humming one of the show's songs. It's hard not to be charmed by this engaging troupe of news boys (and one news girl), who roll up in a shiny new Red Car Trolley singing, "California, Here We Come!" Arriving in front of the Carthay Circle Theatre, they proceed to sing out the day's headlines in an effort to attract buyers for their papers.
Each headline is accompanied by a different song: "Take Me Out to the Ball game" for news about Babe Ruth; "Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie" for a story about Charles Lindbergh; "We're in the Money" for a financial headline. These songs provide every performer an opportunity to spend a moment as the lead. The performers also showcase their physical talents while they sing, such as dancing the Charleston or executing cartwheels.
Highlights of the Red Car News Boys show at Disney California Adventure. Video by Jeff Moxley and Steven Ng.
Mickey's just arrived in town, and the news boys want to see if he really has what it takes to become "the next big thing." This is a Mickey we rarely see—shy, bashful, somewhat uncertain. Encouraged by the news boys, Mickey joins the song—and of course, you know he nailed it.
The show ends with the Newsies anthem "Seize the Day," and includes a novel encounter with one of the Citizens of Buena Vista Street. Molly the Messenger arrives with a telegram for Mickey Mouse, with news of a big audition. I love the way the show's creators pulled Molly—a character you see riding around Buena Vista Street throughout the day—into the show for a cameo. It gives the show a sense of place and immediacy, and it's really a lot of fun.
While some (including this writer) feel that the thumping bass beat behind some of the arrangements is a bit too modern for 1920s Los Angeles, the era re-created on Buena Vista Street, the show has an endearing quality that makes me enjoy the performance, and willing to overlook an anachronistic musical choice or two. With concealed speakers built right in, the Red Car Trolley makes a great backdrop and rolling stage, though I've noticed that the acoustics seem optimized for the crowd gathered around the performance space; from elsewhere on Buena Vista Street, the vocalists do not seem to blend or harmonize quite as well. That means you should try to grab a front-row seat if you want to catch the Red Car News Boys in any of their six daily performances on Buena Vista Street.
Buena Vista Street also hosts Five and Dime, a jazz group that performs eight times per day outside the Carthay Circle Theatre. The story here is that the five musicians came from Chicago, following Route 66 to pursue their dreams in Hollywood. Along the way they, found singer Dime, "and it all made cents" (pun intended).
This show includes another Citizens of Buena Vista Street cameo—Goofy, drawn by the music, joins Dime in the opening number, dancing to "Ain't We Got Fun." As the song ends and Goofy saunters off, the band introduces themselves.
Highlights of the Five and Dime show at Disney California Adventure. Video by Jeff Moxley and Steven Ng.
Five and Dime features opportunities for audience participation, starting when Dime plucks an unsuspecting male from the audience and serenades him a la Betty Boop. A musician brings a female audience member on stage for a concert for one, and the resulting mash up of "I Wanna Be Loved By You" and "Oh, You Beautiful Doll" is surprisingly entertaining.
Kids get their chance to join the show as the band tells a tale of "courage, triumph, and pigs!" Dime leads the young volunteers in singing and dancing along to "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf,"
Though Five and Dime usually draws a smaller crowd than the Red Car News Boys (and unfortunately, some of the audience leaves when Goofy does), this is a performance that will appeal to a different segment of DCA visitors, and in some ways seems better themed to Buena Vista Street. It doesn't hurt that the singer is extremely talented and a joy to watch. If you need some change, catch Five and Dime eight times a day outside the Carthay Circle Theatre.
What was the size of a football field and completely wasted during daylight hours? The answer used to be the World of Color show platform, but the new Instant Concert... Just Add Water puts the nighttime spectacular's infrastructure to use for a charming, albeit too brief, daytime show along Paradise Bay.
Maestro Goofy conducts "Instant Concert... Just Add Water" at Disney California Adventure. Video by Tony Phoenix.
Six times a day, a tuxedo-clad Goofy attempts to conduct the fountains in a concert, with predictable results. The show is just five minutes long and easy to miss if you don't make a point of seeing it, but is definitely worth seeking out.
The hidden gem of the new DCA entertainment line-up is Dancin' with Disney. Tucked away in stage 17 in a corner of Hollywood Land, with just a few signs to lure passersby, this is perhaps the best new offering for younger visitors, or older Disney fans who just want the opportunity to hang out with some rarely seen Disney characters.
The former "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" sound stage has been converted into a cavernous dance hall, with a colorful stage and live DJ at the far wall. The confetti-speckled carpeted dance floor is ringed by plastic furniture where weary parents can rest while their kids blow off some energy. It's not much to look at, and if you walk in between sets you might be tempted to walk right back out—but wait around and enjoy the air conditioning—the party is about to begin.
An informal dance party gives guests the ability to dance with lesser seen Disney characters. Video by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.
Every 30 minutes, an alternating group of Disney characters arrives and takes to the dance floor. One is a Villains-centric grouping that may include Jafar, Queen of Hearts, Big Bad Wolf, Captain Hook, Mr. Smee, Prince John, and the Sheriff of Nottingham. The second is an all-female assortment, where you might find Lilo, Marie, Clara Cluck, Clarbelle Cow, Clarice, Daisy, Drizella, and Anastasia.
The characters dance with the audience for about 15 minutes, while the DJ and a cast of character handlers and dance hosts lead the children in activities focused on each character. During the Villains set, kids might be encouraged to form giant crocodile jaws with their arms and "chase" Captain Hook around the dance floor to the tune of Elton John's "Crocodile Rock," or form a conga line with the Queen of Hearts. Air jets send a flurry of confetti leaves across the dance floor, as kids huff and puff with the Big Bad Wolf to Ke$ha's "Blow."
The female characters are introduced with "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," and each take a turn in the spotlight. Everyone polkas along with Clara Cluck for "The Chicken Dance," and little boys run for cover when Drizella and Anastasia kick up their heels to Beyonce's "Single Ladies."
Cast members are careful to let parents know that this is not an autograph session, so leave the pens and books behind and just come dance with the characters. Dancin' with Disney is held daily from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. inside Stage 17 in Hollywood Land. The dance party is currently scheduled only through the summer.
These are just four of the newest entertainment options at Disney California Adventure, with nearly a dozen more offered throughout the park. If DCA has never been on your entertainment radar, now's the time to come be pleasantly surprised.