Talk about trotting out a new extravaganza.
Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament, just west of Myrtle Beach, has unveiled a whole new show, with new music, costumes and choreography -- for all six “Knights of the Realm,” the cast and the horses, too. The “castle,” as the building is known, will have a formal gala June 7 for its new show, which has been in preview performances nightly since May 22.
Before the lone dress rehearsal last week, Paco Perez-Luna, Medieval Times’ longtime local senior vice president and general manager, talked about all the changes as the arena sand was smoothened. He said some updates are big, but some traditions will remain, such as the 11th-century setting, and the six sections color-coded by knight: yellow, blue, black and white, red, red and yellow, and green.
Perez said for about three weeks, the cast and horses did double time, practicing the new show every morning, then delivering the usual, now former, program, in the evening. He shared the credit on a equine scale, too.
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“Like people, they understand the changes and follow the lead,” Perez said, calling the horses “stars” as well. “They shine with the lights.”
Leigh Cordner, Medieval Times’ creative director based in Orlando, Fla., sat for a few minutes as the lights dimmed before show time, before running back downstairs.
He said Myrtle Beach marks the sixth of the company’s nine sites across North America to undergo the transfer of shows, and he’s visiting every site, “one castle at a time” over 11 months, to get the show out of the gate for each. It all started in October in Dallas, Medieval Times’ home base, and the shows ride a four-year cycle in each place.
Two-thirds of the way through this journey, Cordner said reaching Myrtle Beach at this point, officials have grown accustomed to the new order of affairs for the show, and it’s easier to tweak things and work out chinks in the armor, compared with the launch, when the more challenging and dangerous parts were still new.
‘New edge’ to music
Because Medieval Times has all its armor, helmets and costumes made exclusively for its shows, the rollout takes time, and overall preparations start about two years ahead, Cordner said. He lit up when discussing the soundtrack revamped with “a new edge,” because “music is a huge part of the show.”
Daniel May from the Czech Republic has teamed up for a third collaboration for the music score, recorded in Kiev, Ukraine. Cordner said the music incorporates “electric guitars and rock percussion” for the first time, all folded into a classic orchestra and show choir that bears “more of a Russian feel.”
The music really hits a peak with the “combat choreography” and in showcasing the horse, especially with the new opening number, when a single Andalusian stallion steps out for “Horse at Liberty,” without any rider or accompaniment. His bangs bounce and the soundtrack stresses the respect horses have commanded through the ages.
Diners, who eat without utensils, still will see the knights engage in a round of games before the king and princess, showcasing such skills as lancing on a target, and for the final matches, jousting in duels.
Jennifer Willard, marketing and sales manager, pointed out additions to the show, such as relay races by the knights on horseback, which are not staged exhibitions.
She said the riders get “very competitive when it comes to this part.”
Another enhancement plays out earlier in the evening, for calling out “the king’s guard,” when eight riders and their Andalusian partners, up from six, prance in a regal routine.
Speckled to ‘snow white’
Willard pointed out how to recognize the younger Andalusians, which are more gray or brown and speckled, compared with the older horses, which turn “snow white” with age, showing why they reigned as “the horse of choice for all nobility in the Middle Ages.”
Other horse breeds among a herd of 22 that share the stage include: a Frisian draft, who has carried the master of ceremonies for seven years, Willard said, and quarter horses, used in the jousting rounds.
Long before the king exclaimed, “Let the games begin,” the princess helped in a toast before dinner, to honor, glory, chivalry, victory and to the Knights of the Realm. The food servers and a falconry demonstration take turns in the spotlights as well, and dressage and other equestrian skills equal other forms of dessert.
Later, when the winning knight for the night takes his lap, he’ll do more than fling carnations. He will honor not only the princess, but will personally crown one diner in his cheering section as the “Queen of Love and Beauty,” a great chance, like the meet-and-greets after the show, to see the majestic apparel up close.
Willard described the new attire for the show cast, all done in house, as “more traditional looking” tapestry with graphic representations of coats of arms. The yellow knight sports a pattern that includes a checkered design, and stripes mark a signature for the black-and-white knight’s garb.
“When they weigh 20 pounds and feel like drapery,” she said, “you know you have a good costume.”
She also called the riding show host’s Frisian “a big puppy dog.” He doesn’t wince when any of the sparks fly when knights’ swords clash or jousting poles break into pieces upon impact with shields.
“He has a new costume, so he’s happy,” Willard said.