July 10, 2023
Dollywood is known for its great food and fantastic rides, but for me, I love going to Dollywood for the award-winning entertainment. Since I was a little girl, I’ve looked forward to my first visit to the park each season to see what the entertainment department has brought to the stage for guests to enjoy.
Since 2006, Dreamland Drive-In has been one of my favorite Dollywood productions. It tells the story of Danny Dugan, the beloved DJ who “spins tunes at Dreamland Drive-In every Sunday” alongside his group of friends, while Bertha, the owner, watches their antics in amusement. The show is split into four segments, each one recapping the last day of summer for the group of friends as they look forward to starting high school, their graduation day, their first year out of college and finally as they gather together as young adults to say goodbye to their beloved hangout.
I’ve seen the show at least once a summer every year since Dollywood brought this production to life. While I have always been captivated by the main storyline of Danny’s romance with “The Girl In the Green Dress,” I’ve also been intrigued by the stories that happen in the background among all of Danny’s friends. Each member of his friend group plays an integral role and has their own story across the decades.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Julian Young, who is one of the male swings in the cast this year. The swing role means that Julian has the opportunity to embody each of these characters on a weekly basis as the schedule allows. Joining us was Entertainment Manager Roger White, who has been with Dollywood for 30 years this season and has seen the show evolve throughout the years.
“It’s a unique experience to have the story stay the same through all of these years, but each new cast brings something special to each of these characters,” White explained.
Young added, “There’s also a different chemistry to each of the casts depending on who is on stage from day to day.”
Playing each of the characters, Young was able to give me some insight into each one of Danny’s friends. He explained how Peggy Sue is described in the script as everyone’s friend, even as she breaks the heart of Philly in the summer of ’63. “She’s always so kind, and the role calls for her to show how sad she is that she doesn’t reciprocate those feelings of puppy love that he feels for her.”
One of the storylines that has always intrigued me is that of Bobbi and Moose, the All-American couple who seem to play the story of high school sweethearts through the years. I asked Young if they really did end up together at the end of the show, as they seem to, and he said that’s open to interpretation. “John Dietrich, our director, told us that where each character ends up is really up to the member of the audience. Their stories go on after that last scene.”
White said one thing he loves about the show is how everyone in the audience can find someone in the cast that mimics their own experience. “You really are able to imagine where every one of Danny’s friends ends up based on your own life experiences.”
This show not only is loved by audiences but also by theme park critics. You’ll notice as you enter the Pines Theater that there is a plaque acknowledging that this show has won the IAPPA Heartbeat Award, given to a production that is the “best manifestation of the industry’s heart and soul.” While the story has remained the same all these years, the 2023 production has been infused with some new songs that stay true to the story while also bringing a fresh take on each of these scenes.
Young did give me a few fun facts about each member of DJ Danny’s friends. If you pay attention through the years, you’ll notice that there’s not only a love triangle between the popular Rhonda, Danny and The Girl in the Green Dress, but it’s actually a quadrangle as Scooter has a crush on Rhonda as well. Young’s favorite part to play, Brainiac, is considered the “smart” one of the friend group, but he’s never bullied for his nerdy behavior. In fact, his friends find his and his female companion, Birdcage’s, unique qualities endearing. Fun fact: you also don’t know if they end up together in the end either. I asked!
Long-time fans of “Dreamland Drive-In” also will notice that Dipstick is the “cool cat” with a heart of gold. “He’s definitely the tough guy, but we see his soft side through his relationship with his friends,” Young said.
Even though Young has played each of Danny’s male best friends, he also has played the leading role many times over his past two years as a swing. “Danny is very much the anchor of the show. His cadence of speech determines how fast or how slow the show moves and how much time the cast has backstage to change. He’s the only one who speaks, and there’s an important weight of playing DJ Danny Dugan.”
So next time you stop in to “Dreamland Drive-In,” take a moment to appreciate the story of Danny Dugan and his vast group of friends. I guarantee you’ll discover a new story each time you take a spin with this talented cast each time they are on stage.
All Insiders Shows & Entertainment
All Insiders Shows & Entertainment