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Pirate experience takes over show in Myrtle Beach

A massive lagoon will take center stage, with dueling pirates, hydraulic bridges and more aerial acts, at Dolly Parton's overhauled theater show in Myrtle Beach.

Since the beginning of the year, crews have been transforming what was a dirt battleground arena at Dixie Stampede into a water-based atmosphere fit for the new Pirates Voyage show, which will debut June 3.

The $11 million renovation is the first major overhaul to Parton's show in Myrtle Beach in its 19 years here and will completely change the look inside and outside. It's one of several changes to area theaters in the works this year, with two other theaters planning to debut and another longtime show moving from Surfside Beach to Myrtle Beach.

On Wednesday, crews at Pirates Voyage were digging out the dirt arena to make way for the 15-foot-deep lagoon that will hold 750,000 gallons of water and become the "stage" for the pirate duel between the Crimson and Sapphire ships, with 1,000 seats for spectators surrounding the water.

Painters were busy outside, giving what used to be the stately feel of the theater's exterior a weathered, pirate look.

"It will take on an entirely new character," said Pete Owens, spokesman for The Dollywood Cos. in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., who took journalists on a tour of the transforming theater Wednesday. "There's a great deal of work going in to renovating 19 years of the arena. We are basically striking the stage and creating a new stage system."

But those pining for a little of the old Dixie can rest assured that one trademark of that show will live on in the pirates' new land: the horses.

Granted, pirates don't really conjure up images of horses, but show officials said the equine aspect helped make the Dixie show famous, so they just couldn't get rid of it. Officials wouldn't give details on how the horses will be used.

"It was important for us to keep that as an element in the show," Owens said.

Dixie's battle of the North vs. South was a hit over the years, but it was time to change to give the large number of repeat visitors to the Grand Strand something new, officials said.

Other aspects of the Dixie show also will stay, but with a pirate twist: There will still be food and a battle that splits the crowd, with interactive components to engage the spectators, Owens said. And Parton has been writing songs, he said.

"All of those elements will be part of the new show," he said.

It will take about 150 workers to put on the pirates show, and auditions already have happened in Orlando, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, Owens said. Because of the water, some workers must be certified divers. Auditions and a job fair in Myrtle Beach are in the works.

The new pirate show is one of several changes to the Grand Strand's theater lineup this year.

Legends in Concert is moving to Myrtle Beach from Surfside Beach, and Celebration Music Theater has moved into the former Legends spot in Surfside, with the first show planned for Feb. 28.

A Pat Boone theater also is in the works for Myrtle Beach, though the project hasn't yet gone through the required approval of the city's Community Appearance Board for outside changes and hasn't requested a building permit from the city for inside renovations, city spokesman Mark Kruea said.

Legends is overhauling the former Club Kryptonite building at Broadway at the Beach. The $1 million renovation is on track, with the first show set for March 11, general manager Chris Beattie said. Legends expects to do well thanks to its highly visible location off U.S. 17 Bypass and inclusion in promotions for Broadway at the Beach, she said.

There's plenty of demand to support the new and renovated venues, Beattie said.

"It has, over the years, proven that it can [support multiple theaters]," she said.