My first trip to Kings Island as an adult was in 2010; therefore, I missed the opportunity to experience the classic dark ride known as “Phantom Theatre.” But, by all accounts, it was a pretty special attraction. So, as part of the 50th Anniversary celebration of the park, the folks in Entertainment have created this tribute show to the ride, featuring the characters from the now-extinct experience.
This is perhaps the most highly anticipated show at Kings Island; the stakes – and expectations – are high. Fortunately, I think most fans will be delighted and have their nostalgic itch scratched successfully.
The theatre opens fifteen minutes before showtime, and you are ushered past some memorabilia from the ride’s history. I wish I’d had a little more time to investigate this. About five minutes before the show begins, head usher “No Legs Larry” (played by puppeteer Ben Ohnemus though the performance I saw featured the swing, Matt Neal, in this role) comes out to greet the guests. He eventually makes his way on stage, where a couple of stage hands join him, and the show begins. I won’t spoil anything here, but I will tell you that the show features an aerial act, singing, dancing, and special effects.
Long-time performer Dustin Farris stars as the “Maestro,” and this may be the best he’s ever been inside the park gates. He fully invests in the character, reveling in the camp and the humor. He’s hilarious and commands the stage throughout the show. Also featured are Katelyn Fox-Quinn as “Hilda Bovine,” the opera singer, Caleb McKenzie as “The Great Gargonzo,” a danger-act performer, and Scott Christian as magician “Houdelini.” In the performance I reviewed, swing, Bridget Lorenz, played “Hilda.” All of the featured performers are terrific and seem to be having an absolute blast on stage.
A large ensemble of dancers accentuates the opening number nicely but then shines halfway through the production with a tap routine that really made me smile. The ensemble includes Carissa Osborne, Tori Henwood, Amy Brokamp, Raven Wiley, Abbey Lowe, Madelynn Glenn, Anthony Fredrickson, and Zac Holman. The aerialists are Ashley Smith and Daniel Nolasco.
The show is directed and choreographed by Cedar Fair’s K.C. Gussler. When these theme-park shows are written by a corporate committee, the vision can get lost trying to incorporate all the different ideas and opinions put forth by the team. But Gussler (and assistant choreographer Brittany Pent) do a good job spotlighting the through-line in the story that keeps the twenty-five-minute production on the rails. (I’m looking forward to the stunt show opening June 25th called “Off the Rails,” by the way.) Jeff Smith provides vocal direction for the show and everyone sounds great!
I am hopeful that this show will be popular with not just fans of the dark ride but people who appreciate Broadway-style entertainment. We need more of that at Kings Island – especially in this comfortable, air-conditioned theater. It’s a fun production, and shows like this are why I love Kings Island so much. There’s so much more to do than run from coaster to coaster.
Phantom Theatre Encore runs daily (except Thursdays) through August 21st in the Kings Island Theater at 1:30, 2:30, 4, and 5. Go to www.visitkingsisland.com for more information about this year’s 50th Anniversary Celebration.