The killer whales of SeaWorld Orlando have drifted into familiar territory with the new "Shamu Celebration: Light Up the Night" show, which features the orcas in splash mode with an original soundtrack.
The production, presented as the final whale show nightly during SeaWorld's Summer Nights promotion, replaces "Shamu Rocks," which I begrudgingly had to agree was "high-energy" when it debuted in 2007. Those poolside electric guitarists from "Rocks" are gone, but other elements — including the curiously dancing trainers — made it into this show.
One format change is obvious before the show starts. Ensconced above the stage level and to the left is a DJ, who acts as a host of sorts during the pre-show warm-ups. (The DJ also is sometimes seen on the jumbo screens that flank the stage behind the pool.)
SeaWorld does a good job of using upbeat music to entertain the audience, which is full of early arrivals at Shamu Stadium. "Light Up the Night" is preceded by a dancing-by-the-decades video segment showing folks how to do the mashed potato and other signature dances. The split screen features audience members getting down with their bad selves. It's good clean fun.
The tone is just right for an end-of-night show. It's after sunset and Mom and Dad are, no doubt, weary — past the point of wanting a preachy conservation message. The show begins with an interaction between the DJ and an onstage trainer, who explains some of SeaWorld's mission. The script has an enthusiastic emphasis on numbers. (Baby whales are born 8 feet long! The oldest killer whale in Orlando is 38 years old! He has been a trainer for 12 years!)
I shouldn't mock the trainers' speech patterns because they obviously have more nerve than I do. Have you seen the unforgiving dive suits they wear?
On with the show. In the opening song, called "Light Up the Night," the whales do a lot of leaping, frequently in a side-by-side formation. Those moves make a big impression. But the crowd also showed appreciation for little behaviors such as a pirouette that mimicked the landside trainer's twirl and one whale's sideways moonwalk across the landing space near the audience. It looked like the creatures had been taking notes from their dolphin co-workers.
The show gears down for the ballad "When One World Meets Another," which includes a lot of lingering, lovey-dovey hugs from trainer to whale. Then things go Latin with "Glow in the Night," which features a Gloria Esteban vibe and more dancing from the trainers. At least they don't have the red scarves to wave as they did in "Shamu Rocks."
The can't-get-it-out-of-your-head "Make a Splash" wraps up the show. That song cues up a memorable sequence in which four of the animals take aim at a key seating section in the splash zone — at the same time. Those folks got drenched. (Note to self and to you: If there are three warnings about the splash zone before the show, get up and move to higher ground.)
A plea to the guests to learn the arm movements for a "Make a Splash" chant was largely ignored by my group. I think folks still miss the pounding "Shamu, Shamu" cheer.
By the time the music ends, there are fireworks, blazing ornaments, pop-up jets of water outside the tank, spinning LED screens and all whales up front for one big ol' photo op.
"Shamu Celebration: Light Up the Night," part of the parent company's 50th birthday hoopla, will be presented every evening through Aug. 10.
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'Shamu Celebration: Light Up the Night'
Where: Off BeachLine Expressway, southwest of Orlando
When: Nightly through Aug. 10
Cost: Included in regular SeaWorld Orlando admission. A one-day ticket is $95 ($90 for ages 3-9).
Other SeaWorld offerings this summer:
•Generation Nature Live, a daytime animal interaction, emphasizes SeaWorld's rescue and rehabilitation efforts. The show, held in the Nautilus Theater, will be presented Saturdays and Sundays through Aug. 10.
•SeaWorld's Summer Nights includes "Sea Lions Tonite," a comedic animal show, and Shamu's Dance Party (look for bubbles and stilt walkers) at the park entrance at the end of the day.
•SeaWorld's Sea of Surprises, marking the company's 50th birthday, continues with a prize patrol that wanders the theme park, randomly handing out gifts.
•For Independence Day, SeaWorld plans a patriotic show with 25 singers and a live band, capped by a Fourth of July fireworks finale.