From the August 23, 2002 edition of the Orlando Sentinel:
A new generation of street entertainers at Universal Studios, who earlier this year replaced look-alike actors impersonating Marilyn Monroe, the Marx Brothers and Charlie Chaplin, are getting the hook.
The lively characters, including Latin bombshell Sarita Bonita, singer and dancer Rico Suave, and dancing sword fighters called the Swashbucklers, were supposed to keep visitors entertained between rides and stage shows.
"When you try new things, you don't always know what will be successful," Universal spokeswoman Susan Lomax said.
Rico Suave was pulled from his Hollywood Boulevard performances a few weeks ago. "He just didn't work," Lomax said.
But she said the other characters are simply going on hiatus and will be brought back later.
Lomax said the Swashbucklers and Sarita Bonita -- originally introduced as Chiquita Bonita -- received good reviews from guests in surveys. But she said recently thinner crowds detract from the "energy and excitement" needed to create the right atmosphere in which to present the acts.
"The actors feed off a big audience. When there aren't enough guests there, the performances just aren't the same," Lomax said.
Sarita Bonita's last performance will be Sept. 14.
The strategy of putting an act on hiatus during slow periods is unusual, some theme park experts say.
At Walt Disney World, for example, when crowds decline the frequency of appearances by certain street performers is reduced, but the acts are not eliminated entirely.
"You want your guests to have the same entertainment experience whether the park is busy or not," said Pete Stapp, an attractions consultant who has worked at both Universal Studios and Disney World.
None of the changes are because of the recent upheavel for parent company Vivendi Universal in France, which recently replaced its chairman. The conglomerate has seen its stock plummet and is shopping for a buyer of its entertainment assets.
Bob Gault, the new Universal Orlando president who green-lighted the new acts as part of a $1.6 million addition to the attraction's street entertainment budget, wasn't available for comment.
Lomax said management's current plans are to possibly bring back some of the characters during the expected busy tourism season that runs Thanksgiving week to Jan.1. She said management would try to find other jobs for the displaced actors.
But some actors' contracts, originally scheduled to run until Dec. 31, have been terminated, Universal employees said. Lomax said any contract terminations were done on an individual basis and not as part of widespread layoffs.
Some annual passholders at Universal criticized the introduction of the new characters earlier this year because they replaced several actors who impersonated historic movie personalities such as Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy and Marilyn Monroe.
The new characters are original creations of Universal Studios, unlike most street performers there previously who had Hollywood film pedigrees.
Several other street acts introduced gradually this year will survive, at least for now. They include the Lucy and Ricky Ricardo singing and comedy routine, the "Street Breaks" dancers and the Men In Black rappers.
Lomax said that even more new street performers may debut soon, but she would not identify them.
Robert Johnson can be reached at 407-420-5664 or firstname.lastname@example.org.