MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — Dolly Parton has hoisted the Jolly Roger on the South Carolina coast with the opening of Pirates Voyage, the new dinner theater show that takes the place of her popular Western-themed Dixie Stampede.
"We just needed to do something new and different," she said, visiting early this month for the first show in the production that features actors portraying pirates and mermaids and also has real horses and sea lions.
"We have been successful for 18 or 19 years, but pirates is a great theme - children love it, seniors love it," Parton said, sitting on the set created in the building that housed the Stampede during its 19-year run.
That show closed last year. An $11 million renovation of the building includes a 15-foot, 750,000-gallon indoor pool. At each end is a 30-foot pirate galleon, while the sunken wreck of a third ship sits in the middle of the set.
Parton said she started thinking of a pirate-themed show about five years ago.
She said it had nothing to do with the "Pirates of the Caribbean" film franchise, but "the timing couldn't be better."
"We didn't base it on that as much as having a wonderful theme," she added.
Parton wrote the musical score with collaborator Mark Brymer and appears in the new production, welcoming the audience in a video, singing on the soundtrack and, through computer technology, appearing to swim with the mermaids.
Depending on how the Myrtle Beach show does, she may attempt to take it to other seaside markets.
She said some people questioned closing a sure thing, the Dixie Stampede, and setting out in a new direction.
"We sank $11 million into something that was already working, but we have to take some chances in business," she said, adding, "We didn't feel like we could really lose on this when we're on the water. The excitement about it is more already than we had for Dixie Stampede."
The new pirate show is the second major attraction to open in Myrtle Beach this season. In May, the tallest Ferris wheel in the Eastern United States, a 200-foot-tall, $12 million wheel with a million LED lights and 42 air-conditioned gondolas, called the SkyWheel, started spinning in this popular South Carolina beach resort.