By the late 1980s, ShowBiz Pizza Time had completed its initial restructuring and survived a close encounter with bankruptcy. Remodeled stores had brought back lost revenues and one final goal remained - to convert ShowBiz Pizza Place and Chuck E. Cheese's into a single, unified concept.
As everyone knows, that was done through what became known as "Concept Unification", in which the ShowBiz name and characters were dropped in favor of Chuck E. Cheese. The Rock-afire Explosion was transformed into the CU Stage
(or what's commonly called the CEC 3-Stage). However, behind the scenes there was a prototype CU stage that ended up not being used - in fact it was never even installed into an actual store.
The prototype CU stage was based on the same idea - conversion of the existing Rock-afire stages to a Chuck E theme. However, the execution was vividly different. One of the most noticeable differences is the consolidation of the 3 stages onto just 2.
During this period, the stages in Pizza Time Theatre stores were wrapped around the "house" theme. Stores either had the Chuck E's House Fašade
(C-Stage) or Chuck E's House
(Porch/Rocker Stage), so it was a natural idea to make the CU Stage a similar variation. The only real difference was instead of featuring the characters outside of the house, the CU prototype had everybody inside.
The conversion of characters was also different in the prototype. Mitzi became Chuck E. Cheese, Fatz became Pasqually, Dook became Helen Henny, and Beach Bear became Jasper (the only character to use the same conversion in the finalized 3-Stage). Mr. Munch appears to be absent, but his position in the show was one of the most unique - he was designed to travel around the 2 stages, becoming the replacement for Looney Bird, the Sun, the Moon, baby bear Choo-choo, and even Antioch!
Surrounding the characters inside the house were a collection of whimsical items including a dartboard, a large mirror, and a kite (seemingly attached to Helen's keyboard). The main stage also recycled the porch flowers which were all contained in a pot on the floor beside Chuck E. On Pasqually's stage, he was preparing pizza and on the walls were a portrait of "Nana" and also her famous pizza recipe.
The CU prototype stage was designed by Jul Kamen. The cosmetics were designed by the animation company Creative Presentations Inc. The original prototype artwork created by Jul can be seen here, along with photos of the test installation:
You may be wondering why this stage was never usedů or at the very least, why it was not chosen over the final CU 3-Stage. The colors are brighter, the characters are more true to their original designs, and the overall appearance is unique - it looks more like a stage of its own rather than a knock-off of the Rock-afire Explosion.
The answer may surprise you.
When studies were conducted around this prototype stage, it was found to be lacking in a few significant areas. Even though the decision had been made to eliminate the Rock-afire, there were certain elements of the Rock-afire that were very desirable to SPT. One of those elements was Mitzi and her marketability to young girls. Helen was, and always had been, a clucking old hen. She didn't have the appeal of a young cheerleader found in Mitzi. So since SPT couldn't have the rights to the Mitzi character, the next best thing was to (in the words of Jul Kamen) "Mitzify" Helen.
Another strong attribute they wanted to preserve during the CU conversion was the whole "band" feeling the Rock-afire had. It was also decided that the strong center-stage presence of Fatz should be retained. Again, the obvious answer was to juxtapose Munch onto Fatz's animatronic, and make him the leader of the newly created "Munch's Make Believe Band".
So ultimately, the rejection of this prototype CU stage was something that ended up impacting not only the future of the Rock-afire Explosion, but also the future of the Pizza Time Players. By integrating elements of the Rock-afire so heavily into the finalized CU 3-Stage, the future Chuck E. Cyberamic stages were in turn altered to match the new concept and character types. The entire "house" idea was dropped altogether and Cyberamic versions of the Make Believe Band were created. These are known as the CEC Stages
(or Existing Stages), the first being the Road Stage, followed by the 2-Stage and 1-Stage.
*Special thanks to Jul Kamen and PizzaCam for all the info and photos of this stage!