Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Tommy Bartlett Show Starts 60th Year in The Dells

Wisconsin Dells, WI, USA (May 16, 2012) – For six decades, vacationers have gathered on the shores of Lake Delton to gaze at the spectacular and daring water-ski maneuvers that are the cornerstone of the renowned Tommy Bartlett Show. This summer, the Show celebrates 60 years of performances on its exclusive lakeside water stage, marking the milestone with breathtaking entertainment and drawing back scores of former Tommy Bartlett employees for a special Alumni Reunion Weekend at the end of June. The Show kicks off its summer season on May 25, its traditional Friday night opening on Memorial Day weekend.

“We’re very proud to be 60 years old and still going strong, taking audiences on a nostalgic ride through six decades of top-notch waterskiing on Lake Delton and beyond,” said Tom Diehl, general manager of Tommy Bartlett, Inc., who has been leading the organization for 45 of its 60 years.

The Show’s roots date back to 1952, when popular Chicago radio and television host, the late Tommy Bartlett, created a travelling water-ski and boat show, after seeing a Cypress Gardens water-ski show perform in Chicago three years prior. The “Tommy Bartlett Water Ski & Jumping Boat Thrill Show” went on the road and its first stop was on Lake Mendota in Madison, Wis. Next up was Wisconsin Dells, where a crew of 12 water-skiers and boat drivers dazzled an audience of 1,500 spectators with a performance on the Wisconsin River. The local Chamber of Commerce was impressed. Bartlett saw great potential in the bustling family travel destination and accepted the Chamber’s invitation to make Wisconsin Dells the Show’s permanent site. The following summer, in 1953, the Show set up on Lake Delton and performed four times daily from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend, what has become the Show’s traditional summer run.

Flash forward to today and the Tommy Bartlett Show stands as one of the most iconic entertainment destinations in the Midwest. It is one of the last professional water-ski shows of its kind in the country and is held in high esteem by many in the water-ski industry. Consequently, the Show draws some of the best talent in the sport today, many of whom travel the world performing and competing at other times of the year, only to find their way back in the Bartlett lineup each summer.

“We have put together a team with some of the most-talented and skilled athletes in waterskiing today,” said Jeremy Armstrong, who is the Tommy Bartlett ski show director. “Anyone in the ski show world would be thrilled to say they are a Tommy Bartlett Show skier. We have award winning skiers. We’ve got the goods and audiences are sure to appreciate it.”

The water-ski action goes full-throttle at 8:30 p.m., May 25 for the Show’s first performance of the summer. From there, skiers take to the water twice a day, showing visitors why they are “Livin’ the Dream,” with their signature fast-paced trick skiing, barefooting, jumps, flips, pyramids and high-powered boat maneuvers. The Show makes a nod to the past highlighting the early ski stunts and nostalgic costuming of the 1950s. And with time warp speed, the young talent of today brings audiences cheering into the new millennium with new-fangled ski apparatus and tricks that pack a whole lot of “wow” into this iconic show that’s become a traditional family affair throughout the generations.

“We try to pack a lot of action into the Show, featuring the latest power boats of today – wakeboarding and jet skis; it’s the high-energy stuff that audiences have come to love,” said Diehl.

The “Livin’ the Dream” water-ski show was written and directed by Wisconsin Dells native Cary Brandt, who after working for the Tommy Bartlett Show in his youth, went on to create water shows for Disney. Brandt has returned to the area and is an integral part of the Tommy Bartlett production.

Not to be outdone by the signature waterskiing, other elements of the 90-minute live Tommy Bartlett Show are staged on land and high above the crowd. A breath-taking highlight is the flight of the lighted hang-glider kite. The daring pilot is catapulted by speedboat from the Tommy Bartlett stage to a height of 700 feet above the water. The rope is released and audiences watch in amazement as the pilot skillfully glides the lighted kite back down to shore to the very spot from which he launched.

A menagerie of world-class thrill performers, comedians and acrobats fill the second half. Eyes stay glued to the sky when the world-famous Nerveless Nocks climb aboard their Wheel of Destiny. The 65-foot-tall double wheel swings end-over-end as Michaelangelo and Carolina Nock perform death defying tricks balancing inside and atop the apparatus, all with no net below.

Fun and antics are literally kicked into high gear on stage with The Fausto Scorpions, a family acrobatic troupe showcasing their “risely” foot juggling routine. Using only the power of their legs, the Faustos balance, spin and propel each other into the air to perform flips and twists, while adding in a bit of humor along the way.

Talented world-class Juggler T.J. Howell keeps things up in the air, tossing around everything from ping pong balls to bowling balls. He even adds in a bit of fire to the mix and invites his sons Hunter and Carson along for the ride to show off their latest unicycle riding tricks.

Each 8:30 p.m. nighttime spectacular brings a special treat with the appearance of classic comedic juggler Dieter Tasso. With his unique, subtle brand of humor and distinct juggling and balancing act, Dieter echoes, “You Like it, I Do it Again!” as he balances tea cups to top hats on his head, feet and nose. Now with more than 30 collective years on the Tommy Bartlett stage, Dieter remains an audience favorite. The evening Show is also capped off with a Grand Finale featuring a colorful Entrancing Waters fountain display set to a patriotic musical score.

This summer, classic favorites like Dieter will gather in Wisconsin Dells for a special Tommy Bartlett 60-Year Employee Reunion. Current staff and alumni from all aspects of the organization will get together at the Show site from June 29 to July 1, 2012, for a weekend of reminiscing and fun. Several hundred alumni skiers and stage acts, as well as behind-the-scenes production, food, ticket and administrative staff are all expected to attend.

Members of the public are also invited to take part in some of the festivities. Former water-skiers will hit the lake on Saturday, June 30, to show off their skills and see if they’ve still got it, in special water-ski demonstrations. The Alumni Ski Show begins at 10:00 a.m. and is free and open to the public. Visitors can just walk down to the show site to take in the free exhibition. There will also be a special memorabilia area open for public viewing, showcasing the Tommy Bartlett Show history.

“Getting together to celebrate these milestone years and see where we have been as an organization is really important,” said Diehl. “The Tommy Bartlett crew is really like a very large extended family and it’s important that we gather once in a while to look back on the good times and look ahead to keeping the Show going into the future.”

Diehl is expecting as many as 500 Tommy Bartlett alumni and their families to return for the reunion weekend.

The Tommy Bartlett Show is the one of Wisconsin Dells’ quintessential attractions. Generations of families have enjoyed a visit to the Show each summer during their Wisconsin Dells vacation. The Tommy Bartlett Show runs daily, rain or shine, at 4:30 and 8:30 p.m., Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend (May 25 – Sept. 2; May 25, 8:30 p.m. Show only). General admission tickets (tax not included) are $21 for adults, $16.80 for seniors and $11 for children ages 6 to 11. Children five and younger are free if they sit on an adult’s lap. Reserved seating for the 8:30 p.m. Show is available at an additional cost. For more information, please call (608) 254-2525 or visit        

Joe Kleiman
Joe Kleiman
Raised in San Diego on theme parks, zoos, and IMAX films, InPark's Senior Correspondent Joe Kleiman would expand his childhood loves into two decades as a projectionist and theater director within the giant screen industry. In addition to his work in commercial and museum operations, Joe has volunteered his time to animal husbandry at leading facilities in California and Texas and has played a leading management role for a number of performing arts companies. Joe previously served as News Editor and has remained a contributing author to InPark Magazine since 2011. HIs writing has also appeared in Sound & Communications, LF Examiner, Jim Hill Media, The Planetarian, Behind the Thrills, and MiceChat His blog, takes an unconventional look at the attractions industry. Follow on twitter @ThemesRenewed Joe lives in Sacramento, California with his wife, dog, and a ghost.

Related Articles

Latest Articles