By: Jaimz Dillman
When you're a little girl competing in step dancing about 30 kilometers from Dublin, becoming one of the most recognizable Halloween icons in the world isn't even in your imagination. But that's exactly what happened to Kim Zurzolo some years later in the house of mouse - oh, and she won that dancing world championship title, too.
Rewinding to her start in entertainment, Zurzolo said she was, "practically tap dancing out of the womb." She was very young when her parents split, and she moved to Ireland with her mother. At three years old, she was enrolled in ballet, but after seeing Irish dancing, she made the switch. She began when she was four, and danced in competitions until they moved back to the states when she was about eight. "My music teacher noticed I was an entertainer, and had me audition for The Sound of Music in second grade at Naples Dinner Theater. From there, I was in every Christmas and Easter show they had with commercials and small jobs in between,” said Zurzolo.
By the time junior year of high school came around, she was offered an opportunity to tour with Donald O'Connor. She had already missed a lot of school from performing, but her guidance counselor knew this was a chance she couldn't turn down. "He knew in this crazy show biz world we live in no one cares what degree you have. I could go back and get my GED anytime. They want to see what's on your resume,” she said. So off Zurzolo went to become a full-time entertainer singing, dancing, and hosting all over the world.
There was a small bit of time in pageants, too. "I was Miss Collier County. They were showing me all these dresses I was going to wear when I won Miss Florida, as that was expected. But after auditioning for Opryland, I came back and handed in my crown. Opryland was by far my best experience. Everything was live, no tracks, just live mics and musicians and us,” said Zurzolo. There were some cruise ship contracts here and there before her return to Orlando. "After opening Broadway at the Top at the Contemporary, I pretty much did every part, every show, conventions, opening of parks, some time in Tokyo Disney singing with a Japanese rock band. Once back in the states, I was back at Epcot as Skipper in the Barbie show (Who even remembers that?), The Diamond Horseshoe, and then Hoop De Doo Review."
With the ebb and flow of theme park work, she went back and forth between subbing in roles, serving at Hoop, and sometimes even doing both in the same night. But there was another opportunity on the horizon for Zurzolo. "In 2003, I auditioned and was cast as a host for Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede. They sent me to Tennessee to learn to ride a horse, and the entire show script, in a month. “What's so hard about riding a horse, right? It took a lot more than I thought, and I went through boxes of Ben Gay,” she said. After going to Branson with the show, and being with the company for seven years, the Orlando location was abruptly over. "We got a call to not come in to work, and yeah, the show closed,” said Zurzolo.
Making a complete career change, she went to nursing school. "I didn't know what else to do, so I studied nursing. I am a nurse, but I don't like the sight of blood. And I was working in a living care facility. After a while, I was done,” she said. Dating her soon-to-be husband and learning about the timeshare business he was in, Zurzolo jumped into the sales game for a while. That is until 2016, when she auditioned for Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween event as Winnie Sanderson from Hocus Pocus.
"And that's where it all began again. I love Winnie. She's my favorite character, right up there with Dolly,” said Zurzolo. But after two years of the seasonal show, there weren't any other performing positions available to her. "So I went back to timeshare. And then I got this weird phone call from these two crazy guys, you know how they talk, both at once and very excited,” she said.
Those two crazy guys are Layne Stein and Tony Wakim, better known as the duo behind Pattycake Productions. After their first Winnie actress was no longer available, she referred Zurzolo to step into the witch's boots, and take over the role. "I thought the previous videos were so professionally done. I said yes, 'cause I was just so desperate to perform again. With theme park shows, you rehearse, then do your show over and over again. The cool thing about PattyCake, I've never really done film. I get to do that. I got to do the flying scene,” she said. Zurzolo, of course, is referencing the scene in Hocus Pocus when the three witches take flight into the night, which also happens to be the title of that PattyCake video you can see here.
"Everything was so precise, down to the Book. The two of them are so good they should be doing films,” said Zurzolo. She's been able to branch out to promotional opportunities for the production company, including cupcake tutorials and special custom shout-outs to Patreon subscribers. Once COVID restrictions made it difficult to have a closed set, everything was moved outside. "We filmed in the middle of a neighborhood in a cul-de-sac. Everyone was distanced and had masks on, plus, the other characters were in masks. We were dancing in the dark and couldn't tell who anyone was. It was wild, but turned out so great!" See that video here.
Asked whether there's a little bit of Kim in Winnie or the other way around, Zurzolo says, "Winnie is always with me all the time. I don't harumph and I walk normal. I grunt though. I grunt at my child. Or I'll be making dinner, and I'll say ‘damn, damn, double damn,’ and so does my kid."
After dressing up so much more often in the signature wig and green dress, she says, "I'm not a fan of the teeth, cause they hurt like crazy, but I love the gigs we do. I meet up with my sisters, and crash Halloween parties, and people think we're the entertainment, and we put on a random show. We should've put out a tip jar, haha! I've gotten to do other shows as Winnie, meet and take pictures with guests at a drive-in while the movie was playing, and ride around Mt. Dora on a chauffeured golf cart waving to everyone on the street. We got to lead the pet costume parade - that was all great!"
Looking forward to this year’s season, word is a long-awaited part two of Hocus Pocus is finally coming to Disney Plus. "I'm dying to see the part two. I hope it's good. I'm worried though, 'cause how can you top it? They're older now. They should've called us,” said Zurzolo, with a witchy cackle. While the pandemic is still threatening upcoming events and gatherings, she says, "I'm hoping to work with anywhere and anyone who will have me. I miss it. I want to perform as much as I can. Right now, I'm focusing on getting my eight-year-old to nine, and back in school. This past year was hell for everyone. I can't wait to get back to normal. Whatever that is."
You can see all the fun things PattyCake Productions has created with the Sanderson sisters, favorite villains, and more on their YouTube channel. And be the first to see new videos and receive subscriber perks by becoming a patron on their page.
The new season of The Villains Lair debuts on September 25.