“Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios has been dark for the past 21 months, but it will roar back to life on Sunday, Dec. 19 with a new burst of energy — and more comedy.
The much-loved large-scale production show has been a part of the Studios park at Walt Disney World virtually since its opening in 1989 and, apart from a six-month closure in 2000 for a major refurbishment, had not shut down in any significant way until the pandemic hit last year.
When the four Disney theme parks re-opened in July 2020, the “Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular” remained shuttered, along with other live entertainment shows. But now it is set to resume its battles between Indy, Marion, and the treasure-hunting Nazis, and guests will again be royally entertained by the mind-boggling stunts and epic staging.
Attractions Magazine spoke to Creative Show Director Tom Vazzana, and actor and stunt performer Andrea Miceli about the return of the show — and the cast’s eagerness to be back on stage.
Vazzana told us, “I am busting, really. I can’t wait for you to see our performers come back, as the show is now newly-focused on our stunt performers and the skill level that it takes to be a stunt performer, plus the diverse nature of our cast. They come from all over the world, these performers, and we have both male and female performers, and the stunts are dazzling.
“Now our performers just burst onto the stage, and I’m getting chills just talking about it. But to direct the show and bring it fresh life is thrilling, and I know our guests will jump out of their seats.”
Miceli added, “We are just so excited to bring the guests back to see this show. It’s such an amazing show and we all feel so lucky to be part of the legacy of the ‘Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular.’ We’ve had such a great time through these rehearsal processes, like getting the family together. I think every single day our emotions get heightened because we just can’t wait for the guests to see it.
“It’s been fun in rehearsals, but once we have a live audience in front of us, I don’t know how everyone will be able to contain their emotions! They will be so excited. It makes such a difference, having the audience and our guests there. It just makes all our hard work worthwhile.”
The long hiatus has given Vazzana and the show’s creative team the chance to review every aspect of the performance, and focus on new elements, such as the performers themselves, as Vazzana explained.
“We looked at every stunt, every line spoken, and every piece of scenery with a fresh eye, because we had the time,” he said. “Rarely in this industry do we get the luxury of time, and we had this luxury to look at the script, really tighten it up, and focus the show back on these highly skilled professionals.
“So that’s what we did — we refreshed the stunts, we looked at stunts that may be a little old, and we tightened them up, and we added a little more comedy, too. In the film, there is this peek-a-boo that Indy and Marion do through this clothes rack that we just decided to add to the show. So there’s going to be these lovely little homages and a bit more comedy to the show that wasn’t there before.”
Everything should look and feel sharper from a technology standpoint, too, while new focus was also placed on the diversity and relevance of the cast.
Vazzana insisted, “We’ve freshened up our whole technical board, lighting board, and sound board, and we also looked at our cast. We love our original workshop cast, but we now have females in roles that were traditionally men before. We had that before the pandemic, but we’re really striving to make sure that all of our roles are accessible to all people.
“You don’t have to be a boy sitting in the audience [to be inspired], you can be anybody sitting there thinking ‘Someday I can do this,’ or, ‘You know what, tomorrow I WILL do this,’ which is even more important. And that goes for our tech team, our management team, and our performing cast.”
Miceli confirmed: “I actually grew up seeing the show, and it made me want to become a stunt performer and to have the chance to portray multiple roles. To be part of that legacy is amazing. It’s great to say, ‘This what I do. I’m a stunt performer now.’
“I also feel honored to be part of the strong women showcased at Disney. It’s very fulfilling. I was always a crazy young child, and growing up seeing all these strong forces helps you understand it’s okay to be strong. And here I am. I get to be a role model for young people, boy or girl, growing up, to reach their dreams.
“Pre-COVID, we did a little meet-and-greet after our shows, and it was so nice to meet the kids, especially. You’d get a young Indy or a young Marion, I got to see a young adversary, a bunch of tumblers. It’s so wonderful and heartwarming to see all the people whose lives you’ve affected.”
Bringing such a technical and stunt-oriented performance back to life from its theatrical mothballs has been a challenge in its own right, especially as the performers had to work out in isolation to maintain their fitness through last year’s lockdown and further delays this year.
Miceli explained: “For most stunt performers, this is part of our craft. We had to keep working on it [on our own] throughout the break, and, when we came back to the show, we spent a few weeks just getting our strength and conditioning back, because this is a very special show and there’s nothing quite like it.
“You can’t really exercise for it beforehand, you have to do it at the venue because we have so many show elements and set pieces that are very specific. So we just kind of acclimated for the first few weeks, got comfortable with it, but once we started getting back into it, it felt just like riding a bike.”
Vazzana added, “We had to make sure we safely brought back our cast, so there was a lot of strength and conditioning programming [to start with], and then we really workshopped it. We had the time to make sure we were looking at every piece of the show and tightening up where the years had perhaps made it a bit long.”
Vazzana also explained that the show’s focus has been redirected to bring out the craft of the actors and stunt performers on stage, as much as the explosive action as originally seen in the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” movie.
He insisted, “What we’re doing is emulating those vibrant performers who hide their own identity but have a personality and make the film come to life. And the other thing that’s interesting about this show is that we’re not watching a film, we’re really watching a live, dazzling performance featuring our professional actors and stunt team.
“And I think that’s the key change. We’re not inviting you to re-live the film by watching the show, you’re invited to be part of the action by watching these vibrant stunt performers.”
Vazzana added that the show’s big, explosive finale will still be very much a part of the action-packed 30-minute production, but the guest participation section, with five audience volunteers rounding out the “extras,” has been suspended for the time being due to COVID-19 sensibilities.
Instead, there is a new spotlight on the performers. He explained: “[Losing the audience participation] was a challenge for me. How do we not lose their interest? So here’s what we did: we threw the focus on our cast, and the audience meets them, up front, after scene one. We see them as people. We don’t just move the set and watch a scene. We get to hear about them, and then we will do audience reactions that we will put in post.
“I would say the pandemic gave us a unique challenge to better ourselves. We’ve been given a gift of time, with unfortunate circumstances, but the gift of time has allowed us to be more artistic, more integrated, and to become more relevant for today’s audiences.
“I think we now have a more intimate show for our audience. We’re not doing a show and they’re pretending to be a fourth wall; we’ve actually opened the wall, meeting the cast. We’re in costume, but we’re not in full costume. We’re seeing them as people, as performers, and we’re inviting the audience to be part of the action through the whole show, not just five guests that were selected to be on the set.”
The core elements of the show remain firmly in place, though, including the iconic opening. Vazzana confirmed, “Of course, you’re still going to have the thrill of the first scene in the Temple, where Indiana Jones drops in. That is a legacy piece that we just didn’t touch. What we did touch was all the lighting, which is brand new, and the sound effects. What used to sound like 1989 now sounds like 2022.”
To learn more about the “Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular,” visit DisneyWorld.com.