If Nobel gave a prize for being in the right place at the right time, the creators of Wild Bill’s Wild West Dinner Extravaganza could win hands down.
Capitalizing on a wave of patriotism generated by the Persian Gulf War and a renewed public interest in the Old West--evidenced by the surprising success of “Dances With Wolves"--Florida-based L.A. Entertains has started quickly out of the gate with its Las Vegas-like variety show of American-frontier kitsch.
According to Ed Beaver, vice president of sales and marketing, more than 10,000 people have flocked to the family-oriented Wild Bill’s since it opened March 23. Shows are sold out well into the future at the $5-million, 800-seat facility, a refurbished bowling alley on Beach Boulevard, Beaver said.
“There’s no doubt we’ve benefited from a renewed interest in the Wild West,” Beaver said recently. “With more cowboy movies and a growth of cowboy-oriented TV shows, we happen to be opening at the right time.”
From its mammoth dance-hall facade, to its quick-draw show of song and dance routines and specialty acts, to its all-American “great grub” menu, Wild Bill’s is family entertainment bigger than the Rio Grande and more rollicking than a runaway stage coach. Of course, some may want to hold up that coach before making reservations, what with a dinner tab of $102 for a family of four (sans tip, and assuming both kids are under 12).
“It has a real broad base of appeal in that it’s a real musical variety show--something that doesn’t really exist anymore in the Southern California market,” Beaver said. “The show is a family destination for entertainment that appeals to everyone a little differently.”
In a frenetic, two-hour stretch, patrons are treated to seven song and dance routines, a trio of folk medleys, corny audience-participation gags, and live bluegrass music. Four Western-themed specialty acts include a cowboy who tosses tomahawks at his beautiful blonde assistant; a spectacular showcase of American Indian dance; a spunky, whip-cracking, pistol-twirling rope-trick artist, and a magician who, among other feats, appears to impale an Indian maiden on a silver spike.
It’s all layered between a hearty four-course meal of beef stew, green salad, barbecued pork ribs, fried chicken, baked beans, corn on the cob, apple pie with ice cream and bottomless pitchers of beer, wine and soda.
Hosting the show are Wild Bill, played by aerospace-executive-turned-actor Ed Wright, and his sidekick Annie, veteran Disney performer Shelly Nicholls.
Bill and Annie team up for several folksy medleys while overseeing the serving of the meal. But though Bill is the show’s namesake and emcee, it’s Annie who really puts things over the top.
Nicholls, who makes Annie a cross between Mae West and Miss Kitty of “Gunsmoke,” is an enthusiastic performer with a sassy country twang and a satisfying singing voice. Accompanied by an eight-member chorus line of colorfully outfitted dancers, she gives solid performances during two showcase song and dance routines--"One of the Boys” and “Rough and Ready Man"--and leaves the crowd roaring in a routine in which she lures a man from the audience and permits him to remove her garter belt with his teeth.
One of the most impressive segments of the show is a performance of American Indian music and dance by brothers Tuson and Dagonahweeda Big Mountain. The act includes a Navajo hoop dance--a complicated routine of acrobatic, rhythmic steps involving four circular metal bands. According to Tuson Big Mountain, the dance evolved from a game played by Indian children using barrel hoops discarded by pioneers.
In the Kotaba eagle dance, Dagonahweeda performs in an elaborate winged costume and tells the story of how the eagle’s feathers were blackened after flying too close to the sun.
Another crowd pleaser is rope-trick artist Bonnie West, who handles a lariat like Joe Montana handles a football. The petite performer twirls the ropes in seemingly impossible 20-foot loops over the heads of the audience and skillfully dances in and out of her wildly spinning lassoes. She also gives a lightning-fast performance with a pair of six-shooters, twirling and holstering the shooting irons with the speed and grace of a baton-twirling majorette.
The show ends with a rousing routine in which Annie, Bill and dancers wave Old Glory to the strains of “You’re a Grand Old Flag"--so who cares that George M. Cohan wrote it half a century after the demise of the Old West?
Meanwhile, the food servers march through the audience in an international color guard toting flags of nations from around the world.
L.A. Entertains is a subsidiary of London-based Rank PLC, which owns Pinewood Studios and 50% of all Hard Rock Cafes. It also holds stock in Universal Studios in Florida.
In addition to Wild Bill’s, the company operates a similar dinner theater called Fort Liberty along with three other themed attractions in Orlando, Fla.
The company also is working on an Old English-themed dinner show, King Henry’s Feast, whose opening has been pushed back to spring, 1992. Patterned after a similar venue in Orlando, King Henry’s Feast, on Manchester Avenue in Anaheim, will feature magicians, jugglers, fire eaters, sword swallowers, jesters and other acts.
* Wild Bill’s Wild West Dinner Extravaganza is presented Monday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday at 6:15 and 9 p.m.; Saturday at 4, 6:30 and 9:15 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30, 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. at 7600 Beach Blvd., Buena Park. Show and dinner is $31 for adults and $20 for children under 12. For information, call (714) 522-6414.