In 1967, as a member of a touring singing group called “The Young Americans,” a talented California singer and dancer named Barnette Ricci helped Bob Hope kick off the 1967 United Crusade supporting the United Way and American Red Cross. Soon thereafter, Barnette joined The Walt Disney Company as a Disneyland Cast Member, and, in 1969, choreographed and directed a show starring a group of bright-eyed, clean-cut, and sincere young singers and dancers (including herself!) known as the Kids of the Kingdom. The “Kids” were the epitome of the Disneyland spirit as envisioned by Walt Disney. Barnette would go on to choreograph and direct many stage shows, spectaculars, and iconic Disneyland parades, including Christmas parades, America on Parade, and the beloved Main Street Electrical Parade. She also directed the popular stage shows Golden Horseshoe Revue at Disneyland and the Diamond Horseshoe Revue in Magic Kingdom® Park at Walt Disney World® Resort.
While there had been musical shows on Disneyland’s Rivers of America for years, from Grad Nites to the Rolling River Revue, Barnette was tasked with the challenge of taking full advantage of the scenic, but underused, locale. “I always felt that the [Rivers of America] was a truly unique venue, but I wanted to use it in a new way to create something different for our Guests,” says Barnette. She began researching water-related special effects. “We had already gleaned all this information about mist screens on which we could project light beams and lasers. Then we received a demo reel from a French company. It showed a water screen with film projected on it.” She thought, “What if Disney animation was projected onto those screens? It would be incredible!”
Barnette knew this new way to project animation on water would be perfect for a river show, layering it with dancing water fountains, special lighting, lasers, pyrotechnics, and black light, and combining everything with live performers on watercraft. And at the show’s center would be Walt Disney’s most iconic character, Mickey Mouse.
She wrote the script that brought the show to life with scenes from classic Disney animated films, carefully adapting and re-editing the sequences to fit the new re-scoring of the original film music by Bruce Healey. Barnette even wrote the lyrics for the show’s iconic song “Imagination.” Healy’s dramatic score was the finishing touch.
The results were, in Barnette’s estimation—and that of millions of viewers over the years— “absolutely spectacular.” She recalls, “The first time we performed the show for a real audience, I was thrilled watching and hearing their reaction to the show.
Words cannot express how proud I am of Fantasmic!
and how proud and thankful I am of everyone who worked so hard to bring it to life, and who continue to keep it going strong, night after night.”
Fantasmic! debuted at Disneyland in 1992. Audiences have enjoyed the show so much that it continues to play at Disneyland, Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World, and is now presented at Tokyo DisneySea in Japan. Enhanced special effects, thrilling new visuals, and even special holiday editions keep the show fresh and exciting for new generations.
With the smashing success of Fantasmic! under her belt, Barnette moved over to The Walt Disney Studios as Vice President and Show Director of Special Events, where she continued to develop and oversee new Disney entertainment projects. After more than 40 years performing, choreographing, directing, and creating unforgettable shows and experiences with The Walt Disney Company, Barnette retired in 2013.