Lagoon Music Theatre

a.k.a. Music USA Theatre
Opened: 29 May 1982
Closed: 13 Sep 2008
Location: Central Midway
Capacity: 1,000

Concerts at Lagoon’s Patio Gardens were a top draw for the park for more than 20 years, but concerts were beginning to be phased out by the 1970s. Occasionally, popular musicians would still perform at the Lagoon Stadium, north of the park, and the Village Green in Pioneer Village.

Around the mid-’70s, Lagoon began putting together their own free entertainment such as a marching band that played throughout the park. Later, a small stage was placed south of the Carousel where the Octopus had been with another smaller stage near the park’s main entrance.

The Flying Jets (now known as Flying Aces) next to Roller Coaster around the 1960s. Photographer unknown

A more permanent venue was created in 1982 between the Roller Coaster and Speedway, Sr. in a spot that had been occupied by the Flying Aces since the ’50s. A concrete amphitheater was built with a small stage and a control booth. Poplar trees were planted around the southern and western sides to help enclose the outdoor venue while also screening out noise and sunlight.

Along with the amphitheater, an eating area was created between the venue and the Midway. It was shaded by trees and a lattice structure decorated with hanging flower baskets.

Entrance to the Lagoon Music Theatre in 1992. Photo: Lagoon

The newspaper ad that announced its opening called it the Lagoon Amphitheatre. Over the years, guide maps and entertainment schedules referred to it as the Lagoon Music Theatre, which was on the sign above the entrance. But it was also commonly known as Music U.S.A. Theatre. This was probably due to the fact that the first and longest-running show at this venue was called Music U.S.A. and it was featured more prominently on the original sign, as seen in the photo above.

The first cast of Music U.S.A. posing near Opera House Square in 1982. Photo courtesy of Deseret News

Shows were usually held in the evenings when the sunlight wasn’t as direct and temperatures started to cool down. The focus of each year’s show alternated between Broadway musicals, motion pictures, classic American pop music or some combination of each. Sometimes the stage would be used for special shows or events, like when an Elvis impersonator performed a few shows in 1989 and 1990.

Peter Freed, the president of Lagoon Corporation who oversaw the creation of Lagoon’s in-house entertainment department, was often found leaning against the railing in the back of the theater, gauging the audience’s responses to the performances.

It may have been the success of the shows on this stage that prompted the expansion of the tiny Carousel Stage across the Midway into the fully-functional venue it is today. It was reported in 1999 that the Lagoon Music Theatre could be closing at the end of the season. The plan, at the time, was to replace the amphitheater and Speedway, Sr. with a larger indoor theater that would have entrances from both inside and outside the park in order to use it year-round. It would seat 850 people initially, with the ability to add balcony seating later on.

View of the new entrance from the Sky Ride. Photo: Mike P.

Speedway, Sr. stayed open for one more season before being partially replaced by Cliffhanger in 2001. Along with the new ride, a new entrance was built for the amphitheater. From 1982 to 2000, the queues for the theater and Speedway, Sr. ran parallel to each other. The new layout put the queue on the other side of the lighting booth with a new electric marquee at the entrance.

Aerial imagery from 1993 showing the layout of the theater including the location of the entrance after it moved in 2001.

Cliffhanger was a very different ride from Speedway, Sr. Not only did it induce a lot more screaming, it raised screaming riders up above the outer wall of the theater. This made it harder for people to enjoy the performances, so Lagoon began closing Cliffhanger during shows.

Hooray For Hollywood, 2005. Photo: Mike P.

The final show at Lagoon Music Theatre was Broadway Rhythm, which ended in September 2008. Rumors had already been circulating about the demise of the venue by then. When it didn’t open the following year, and a temporary stage was constructed in front of the Game Time arcade, there were even more speculations about why it wasn’t being used and what might be replacing it. Some said the stage was falling apart and needed work. Others suggested it could be replaced with a newer amphitheater. There was never any official announcement regarding any specific plans at the time.

Jukebox Jive, 2006. Photo: S. Dustman

The theater remained closed for about a decade before any changes were made to the area. During the 2017-2018 off-season, the stage, concrete seating area and lighting booth were demolished. Later in 2018, construction began on the new Beirgarten, which opened in June 2019.

View from the Sky Ride of the theater’s backdrop awaiting transformation for the upcoming 2007 show. Photo: B. Miskin

Even with the theater gone, there are still ways to tell where it used to be. The clock tower stands over what was the top of the entrance ramp and the portions of the planter wall that surrounded the amphitheater were retained on the east and south sides. The hexagonal food stand out front was expanded slightly and remodeled as part of the Biergarten.

Biergarten entrance. Photo: B. Miskin
SHOW LIST
Promotional shot from the 1990s. Photo: Lagoon

1982 – Music U.S.A.
1983 – Music U.S.A.: A Salute To Broadway
1984 – Music U.S.A.: All-American Hit Parade
1985 – Holiday U.S.A.
1986 – Music U.S.A.: Surf’s Up
1987 – Music U.S.A.: Jubilee
1988 – Country Music U.S.A.
1989 – Music U.S.A.: Silver Screen
1990 – Music U.S.A.: A Salute To Broadway
1991 – American Pop
1992 – Beach Party
1993 – ShowTunes
1994 – On The Radio
1995 – Class Reunion
1996 – Hollywood Nites
1997 – Hollywood Nites
1998 – Made In The USA
1999 – Signatures
2000 – Signatures
2001 – Signatures
2002 – The Show Royale
2003 – Misbehavin’ At Midnight Joes
2004 – Raise The Roof
2005 – Hooray For Hollywood
2006 – Jukebox Jive
2007 – On Broadway
2008 – Broadway Rhythm

LINKS
SOURCES

Lagoon ad. Deseret News, 29 May 1982.

Lincoln, Ivan M. Ready for blastoff. Deseret News, 16 Apr 1999.

Thatcher, Geoff. Legends of the Industry: Peter Q. Freed. FunWorld Magazine, March 2003.

Lagoon News & Rumors. Screamscape.com, 10 May 2008 (accessed via Internet Archive Wayback Machine).

Email to the author, 4 Sep 2003.