As far as Disney park “firsts” go, it’s maybe not quite as exciting as a first ride on The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror or a first walk through a whole new area like Toy Story Playland, but the new block stone paving around the back of Le Théâtre du Château, winding from the Fantasyland Gate to Discoveryland, does look pretty damn good. The first patch to be uncovered shows the square blocks actually have three distinct pastel tones of yellow, red and blue, which just happen to match nicely with the stone walls of the Castle. Compared to the old coloured concrete sections, the colour of the paving is certainly less saturated, but it has immediately given the area a much cleaner, well-presented look.
Unlike the concrete, which crumbles and cracks around its edges over time and especially during frosty spells, the stone paving will also be much more robust and can now be easily replaced in small patches when necessary, not like when we’ve seen concrete relaying close off whole walkways in Adventureland and Discoveryland recently. As those replacements showed, this is an isolated switch to stone paving — a block-paved walkway through the desert of Frontierland wouldn’t be ideal.
But while we’re enjoying the first days of this new paving, could these be the last for Le Théâtre du Château itself ? A huge patch of the 800-capacity amphitheatre was completely cleared of its seating last week, leaving a wide empty space. At first this seemed like preparation for further repaving works, but according to member HTH2004 on Disney Central Plaza forum, the benches won’t be returning. The theatre hasn’t been used for a regular daily show since Winnie the Pooh and Friends, Too moved over to Fantasy Festival Stage in 2006, and this has apparently led to one more problem than it just becoming a white elephant: health and safety. HTH2004 suggests that children jumping between the benches had injured themselves so frequently that the park has decided “enough’s enough” and the benches are going — along with them, all chance of the theatre coming back to life any time soon.
By this Friday, the whole two sections at the front had been completely removed (seen in the photo by CharactersPhotos above) and HTH2004 believes all the others will follow, leaving only four rows of benches along the back the theatre (those under the trees) with the entire space to be repaved between April and May. It might not even stop there — HTH2004 suggests that in the mid term (2 to 4 years) the whole theatre could be completely removed or replaced. This June, the area will host some of the Mickey’s Princesses & Pirates Party after-hours events, but otherwise the schedule is empty.
After Le Livre Magique de Mickey ended its run in 1994, the stage has struggled to be given the attention it deserves. In fact, it probably peaked on the grand opening night of the park itself, 11th April 1992, when it played host to various musical acts — and Angela Lansbury miming to “Beauty and the Beast” — with a beautiful lighting set-up and that glorious view of the Castle behind. There’s no chance of a show here in the immediate future, so this all might not look like a great loss, but it seems incongruous to have Central Plaza overrun by the monstrous Disney Showtime Spectacular stage, completely disrupting that elegantly designed space, when the park has this fantastic theatre at its disposal — a real asset (no other Magic Kingdom has a similar space right at its heart) and a great bit of planning by the original Imagineers, but perhaps now destined to be nothing more than a missed opportunity.