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," the singer said Friday, in town 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 either end are 30-foot pirate galleons while the sunken wreck of a third ship sits in the middle of the set.
Parton says 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 "that's a good plus. It's wonderful the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' No. 4 came out and it's No. 1 in the world. The timing couldn't be better but we didn't base it on that as much as having a wonderful theme."
"Weave been talking about this for a few years. We thought it would be more fitting being here on the beach just to have something like that and we didn't want to build an additional one so we just thought we would convert the Dixie Stampede," she said.
Parton wrote the musical score with collaborator Mark Brymer and said it was a challenge.
"It was kind of like writing '9 to 5 The Musical.' I had never done anything like that either. I love having a challenge," she said.
Parton 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 bring it to other seaside markets.
"It was always planned for Myrtle Beach. We had a Dixie Stampede in Orlando and it didn't do very well," she said. "We're going to try this and see. If this is going well here, we may do some more beach destinations with the pirate theme."
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.
But, the singer added, "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 new 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 beach resort on the South Carolina coast.