Dancing, Dimes, and Divas in DCAby Todd Pickering, contributing writer
Since the grand opening of Buena Vista Street a few years back, the Red Car Trolley News Boys and Five & Dime have been entertaining guests as they stroll into Disney California Adventure. A clever use of vehicles and staging with the Carthay Circle Theatre as a back drop ensures good crowds and lots of performances all day long. I will also be reviewing my favorite group in this park, The Mariachi Divas over in The Pacific Wharf area. Also of note are the different bands at Paradise Pier playing daily at the Paradise Garden Bandstand between the restaurants Paradise Garden Grill (one of my favorites) and Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta. I will cover those bands in a different article.
The Red Car Trolley News Boys
If you are a fan of some serious dancing then this is what you are looking for in DCA. A Red Car Trolley comes chugging down Hollywood Boulevard full of young men in caps singing. When they sing "Seize the Day" it is pretty clear they are very influenced by Disney's musical Newsies. There is a loose premise of arriving in Hollywood to seize the day and sell newspapers while waiting for their dreams to come true, whether it be dancing in a motion picture or hitting a home run as a baseball player. They continue to perform such classics like "Make 'em Laugh," "We're in the Money," and "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." In the end, a mouse with the moniker of Mickey shows up with his suitcase and a dream... well I don't want to say anymore in the fear of giving away the ending. Needless to say it ends on a high note... figuratively and literally.
I've seen many different combinations and while there are some stand-outs for sure I have never seen anything but high energy and real commitment to performing. This group is tight and always have fun, even at the last performance of the day or in the heat. The choreography is slick and sharp, especially in the number "Make 'em Laugh" with lots of swinging out of the trolley car and flipping of the "boy" that is played by a girl. It really is nice to see that not all of the performers are male and having that female vocal adds a nice balance to the sound.
I also really like the high kicks of a quick Charleston. Broadway choreographer Michael Bennett stated something to the effect that "step, kick" was America's go sign for applause, and in this case it proves to be a crowd pleaser. I suppose that some teens would roll their eyes at the quaintness of some of this music and choreography but in general I think this is a great thing to watch with a diverse group. I have also seen a performance without Mickey that was shortened one day, so remember that performances are subject to change at any time. When that trolley pulls away as the gang sings "California Here We Come" you'll be tapping your toes and singing along.
Five & Dime
Also using the back drop of the Carthay Circle Theatre is the ensemble Five & Dime. Dime is the name of the singer, and she's accompanied by her band of five performers, typically playing a saxophone, a trumpet, a guitar, a bass, and drums. After arriving in a custom-made car for the entire band with a fantastic 1930s era microphone they sing such classics as "Million Dollar Baby," "I Got Rhythm," and "Sing, Sing, Sing." There is a bit of choreography, but they are primarily a musical group.
Dime sometimes gets a gentleman from the audience to dance with her, and there is some audience participation with the kids. Sometimes Goofy in a Zoot suit dances with them in "Ain't We Got Fun." When they finish, they drive back down Hollywood Boulevard. Disney has such great sound systems that fade in and out as they drive down the street to really add atmosphere to Hollywoodland. People that didn't catch the set at Carthay Circle get serenaded while waiting for the Frozen musical or queueing for the Tower of Terror. It really is the "cat's pajamas" and the "bee's knees."
This group starts performing early and continues into the night, so you have many chances of catching them. Again I have seen many different combinations and the band is always sharp and tight; every Dime I have seen sings beautifully with great ease, never pushing her vocals creating a smooth and even tone that is sure to delight. The direction at Disney seems to really pay attention to these details. It's a true sophistication that is to be applauded.
The Mariachi Divas
This Grammy award-winning group plays traditional mariachi music, but as the word Diva indicates they are an all female band. I think this translates to a sound with a lot more soul and gravitas. The combo usually consists of two fiddles, a trumpet, a guitar, and a guitarrón (which is a fat guitar that is akin to a bass). They sing many traditional mariachi songs as well as modern classics like "Besamé Mucho." The vocals are smooth and full of emotion. These ladies are true musicians who love to sing and perform. Their outfits are also gorgeous—black with lots of bright silver accents. I have always enjoyed mariachi, but have fallen in love with it with the all female sound. Give it a go.
I think it's clear that I am quite a fan boy when it comes to this award winning group. This is not an easy group to catch a full set. Pacific Wharf really is a giant food court, and the Divas wander about like a true mariachi band, entertaining all of the diners. I have never seen anyone but me and my friends follow them around, and they always seem to wink at me a bit as I follow them to and fro.
You can grab a beer or margarita and enjoy their entire set. They are very kid-friendly and sing "It's a Small World" or "Itsy Bitsy Spider" for the little ones. They sing in Spanish and in English and with all of the birthday buttons you have to be prepared to hear "Happy Birthday" a lot. As you can imagine, I would recommend this group as something unique and special and not to be missed. If you are with a group of people that groan about not stopping for music, talk them into eating lunch during one of the Mariachi Divas' sets; you can enjoy the music while your friends eat. You will not be disappointed.
¡Hasta luego mis amigos!