UPDATE There’s no cheek-to-cheek dance or whispering of sweet nothings between Belle and the Beast in a new show attraction that’s the latest Walt Disney World production revamped for a park without actors.
The resort yesterday replaced the long-running Beauty and the Beast — Live on Stage show, which featured actors and dancers in a traditional musical production, with The Disney Society Orchestra and Friends. The new show consists of a 20-minute instrumental concert that ends with non-Equity Disney employees dressed as Belle, the Beast, Mrs. Potts, Lumiere, Cogsworth and Chip taking the stage to silently wave goodbye to the audience. (Watch it above.)
The use of the non-speaking characters, who do not enact any sort of storyline, does not violate the terms of Equity’s ongoing contract with the amusement park. After the union and the resort failed to come to an agreement over Equity’s insistence on COVID-19 testing and mask-wearing for actors in June, Walt Disney World rescinded its recall notices for Equity members.
The Beauty and the Beast show is the latest production revamped for an actor-free park: Both Up! A Great Bird Adventure and the Disney Junior Dance Party have been replaced by shows that utilize onstage hosts and non-speaking characters.
The new shows have received decidedly mixed responses. Though a YouTube video of the Disney Society Orchestra concert shows socially distanced audience members giving a standing ovation, the popular Disney blog Blog Mickey wasn’t impressed. “If it weren’t for the talented musicians in the Disney Society Orchestra,” the blog wrote yesterday, “what you’re left with is little more than a middle-school theater production.”
PREVIOUS, July 20 Up characters Russell and Dug the dog are out — and so are the Actors’ Equity members who played them — in a revamped version of a bird-show attraction at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom.
As the union and Walt Disney World in Orlando enter into discussions about a grievance filed by Equity over the resort’s COVID-19 safety protocols, Disney has quietly revised what was previously known as ‘Up! A Great Bird Adventure’ into an actor-less ‘Feathered Friends in Flight.’
As first reported by the Orlando Sentinel, the revised bird show (with socially distanced audience members) replaces the acted, onstage costumed characters of Russell and Dug (from Disney’s 2009 animated movie Up), along with “Wilderness Explorer Troop Leader Jones,” with Disney employees identified as animal behavior specialists who host the show.
Equity isn’t pleased.
“Did Walt Disney World also buy the FastPass for union busting when it reopened the parks?” Brandon Lorenz, Communications Director at Actors’ Equity, saidin a statement. “It is deeply disappointing that Disney has locked performers out, after Walt Disney World refused to allow masks and testing for performers, a lower safety standard than so many other park workers.”
Deadline has reached out to Walt Disney World for comment.
Equity has advised its members not to accept jobs with Walt Disney World unless certain safety protocols for performers are adopted, specifically masks and coronavirus testing. In video of the new version of the show — watch it above — the show’s hosts are not wearing masks. (Walt Disney World requires other employees and visitors to wear masks; Disneyland in California remands closed.)
Disney indicated earlier this month that The Show — if not specifically the bird show — Must Go On: In response to Equity’s claim that the park had “locked out” Equity members in retaliation for the union’s protocol demands, a Disney spokesperson told Deadline, “Seven unions signed agreements to have their employees return to work, the Actors’ Equity rejected our safety protocols and have not made themselves available to continue negotiations, which is unfortunate. We are exercising our right to open without Equity performers.”
Equity filed a grievance over the matter, and the two sides are expected begin discussions this week.
The union represents about 750 park employees, many of whom performed the resort’s stage productions such as the bird show, Beauty and The Beast Live On Stage, Finding Nemo — The Musical and Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular. The union actors were not among the thousands of Walt Disney World employees who started returning to work when the park began its phased reopening on Saturday, July 11.
This past weekend, Walt Disney World updated its safety rules by banning the consumption of food and drink while walking through the park to ensure masks are worn at all times. Patrons must now be stationary and socially distanced when removing masks to consume food and beverages.
The dispute with Equity comes as Florida continues to see spikes in new coronavirus cases. Today, the state reported 10,347 new cases and 90 new deaths, bring the statewide total to 360,394 infected and 5,072 Florida residents dead.