The Kitchen Kabaret
If you never saw Kitchen Kabaret, the first thing you have to know is that it was – as you may have already inferred – pretty damned ridiculous. For the uninitiated EPCOT Center guests who approached the show from The Land pavilion’s ground floor concourse, this expectation would sink in quickly. Walking beneath the neon marquee, with its cutesy alliterative name, they entered the lobby and discovered via promotional posters that the production really was about food performing onstage. At this point they might well have turned on their heels and opted for another trip past spinning drums of NASA lettuce on the neighboring Listen to the Land boat ride. No one could have blamed them for that; little outside the Kitchen Kabaret’s automatic doors suggested that it would transcend the novelty of a robotic Chiquita Banana played out to a point of diminishing returns in a vaudeville setting by way of Chuck E. Cheese.
But those who braved past that heinous foreshadowing into the theater would be rewarded by an engaging experience that took absurd concepts from posters to a glorious three-dimensional realization. It is a testament to the show’s creators that such a bright, cheerful and professionally-executed production could result from such a nonsensical genesis. Only true creative genius could have pulled that off, and in this case everything converged magically. The Kitchen Kabaret was a triumph of art direction, character design and songwriting that left guests singing “veggie veggie fruit fruit” in their heads as they exited an attraction that promised misery but delivered glee.
Presented by Kraft, this strange little show delivered a musical primer in basic nutrition and the four food groups*. When EPCOT Center opened in October 1982, the Kitchen Kabaret was the attraction (Journey Into Imagination’s ride didn’t debut until the following March) that most closely resembled something from the Magic Kingdom. Its bright colors, screwball humor, upbeat songs and Audio-Animatronic figures seemed altogether familiar to anyone who had ever seen the Country Bear Jamboree or even The Mickey Mouse Revue. The greatest difference was that the Kitchen Kabaret was, in its own way, trying to teach a useful lesson. The entrance to the thirteen and one-half minute show played in a theater that was later occupied by Food Rocks (which used a few of KK’s elements) and then removed to make way for Soarin’, which debuted in 2006. The aforementioned poster gallery led to a waiting area dressed up like the back alleys of a city where singing foodstuffs were a fairly common thing. Bouncy jazz music saturated the bench-lined chamber that adjoined a row of automatic doors leading into the theater. It was customary for small children to get up and start dancing carelessly around in the middle of the room prior to show time. Eventually a swelling medley of the show’s main musical cues began to play and signaled that it was time to jockey for position in front of the doors. A hostess or host would get everyone in order and deliver the usual protocol notices via microphone. Then the doors swung open and guests filed into the theater just ahead to their left. The theater faced a stage framed by two little stages, like a scaled-down version of The Mickey Mouse Revue’s spatial arrangement. A Kraft logo was sewn on the main curtain. Directly above the curtain was an art deco kitchen cookware marquee with the show’s name rendered in glowing neon. Once everyone was seated and relatively quiet, an announcers voice cued the show, “Ladies and gentleman, Kraft proudly presents a show that has the whole town…cooking: the Kitchen Kabaret. And now, here’s your hostess, Bonnie Appetit.”
The curtain in the right hand side stage went up on Bonnie, a lady with a cartoon features dressed in her best Betty Crocker** rags. She was perched atop a stack of huge cookbooks, and she looked thoroughly worn out and depressed…as if she had just stood through the O Canada! film two pavilions away. Bonnie explained that it was “time to plan another meal,” and she wasn’t too excited about it. But after singing a couple lines about the “mealtime blues,” she started to let on about a way of circumventing some of the drudgery. “The timing’s right, the show’s prepared, let me serve it on up to you…” she stretched out the last note as the curtains lifted on the main stage.
The setting was Bonnie’s kitchen, which was about three times human size and ten times more clean than most I’ve been in. It was appointed in warm earth tones with white and silver appliances. To the far left was a refrigerator, to the far right an oven. Above the counter in the middle of the scene was a large window with the blinds drawn. It was surrounded by cabinetry. A basket of fruit sat off to the left side of the window. No sooner did the curtain go up than the house band, the Kitchen Krackpots, rose from the depths in front of the counter. The ensemble was comprised of oversized – even for this big kitchen – condiments, all in Kraft-brand packaging. A mayonnaise jar led the group on beet and tuna can percussion, accompanied by barbecue sauce on a whisk bass, parmesan cheese on a measuring cup (?) guitar, mustard on sax and another screwy little thing that might have been horseradish on a matchstick piano. They pounded out a quick little tune about the food groups to which Bonnie, having quickly changed into a glittering Vegas-style outfit, provided the vocals. She belted out her intentions of “chasing the lowdown mealtime blues away” and then the Krackpots began to disappear below the stage again. Bonnie proceeded to introduce the first of the show’s four main acts, “Mr. Dairy Goods and his Stars of the Milky Way.” As a heavenly chorus sounded from above, the door of the refrigerator on stage right opened slowly and the performers slid out of its recesses in a cloud of dry ice fog. In front was Goods, a flimsy milk carton with facial features and arms that held a microphone. Behind him were three female incarnations of lactose-heavy perishables: Miss Cheese, Miss Yogurt and Miss Ice Cream. In his ’30s crooner voice, Goods introduced each of the ladies and they, in turn, warbled a couple lines in their own praise. Miss Cheese sounded like Mae West, Miss Yogurt like a European sex kitten and Miss Ice Cream like a homogenized Eartha Kitt. Soon their short revue concluded and they retracted back into the icebox. Simultaneously, the music kicked in for the second act: The Cereal Sisters. From atop a cabinet shelf to the right of the sink, this trio (Rennie Rice, Connie Corn and – ouch – Mairzy Oats) of packaged products sang in the style of the legendary and harmonically unacceptable Andrews Sisters. While a swing rhythm filled the room, they told the story of “The Toast of the Town,” a loaf of bread who played a mean trumpet. In their own words, “he started with some dough and then he rose to be a star.” The Toast, meanwhile popped up in a couple different places and cracked off a few loud notes on his horn. He had big puffy cheeks like Dizzy Gillespie.
Hear the Veggie Veggie Fruit Fruit song
Mr. Eggz, incidentally, was the only electonic personage to appear in more than one EPCOT Center attraction*** – and simultaneously at that! He was a part of Epcot Computer Central’s Astuter Computer Revue in Communicore. In that production he didn’t speak but did provide a brief demonstration of how Walt Disney World’s computers controlled audio-animatronic figures, park guests and the Florida Legislature.
The fourth and final act began very quietly and in the dark, as the night sky outside the window over the sink filled with fireflies and a Latin rhythm snaked into the theater. Spotlights soon shone on three vegetables sitting in the sink, and the adjacent basket of fruit had spun around to reveal faces on its inhabitants. Both groups, known as the Colander Combo and the Fiesta Fruit, sang what was to become the entire show’s signature musical number, “Veggie Veggie Fruit Fruit.” The broccoli character in the center of the vegetable trio also became the attraction’s de facto icon, his high-pitched “cha cha cha” providing the perfect counterpoint to the bass profundo moaning of Big Al, the centerpiece of the Magic Kingdom’s aforementioned Country Bear Jamboree. It was during this song that Bonnie dropped into the top half of the stage on a crescent moon, dressed up like Carmen Miranda and singing along with the produce below. Fireworks exploded outside the window and the serenade ended with the broccoli yelping out one last “cha cha cha.”
Still on the moon, Bonnie sang the segue way to the finale. Then she rose up into the ceiling and all the acts reappeared on-stage for one last potshot each at the audience. Bonnie (back in her subdued housewife attire) reappeared on the left hand side stage to reiterate the show’s main message about the four food groups and nutrition. The separate groups joined in as one orchestra to accompany her in the delivery of her final dietary doctrine, which rose to a frenzied crescendo of light and sound that culminated in an extended high note.
That was the show. The curtains rolled in on each other and a host or hostess thanked the audience for visiting and enjoying Kraft’s hearty cast of characters.
Of course, it was never explained how any of the information imparted in this extravaganza would help Bonnie actually plan a meal. In fact, there was no mention of recipes whatsoever. She was basically left with a pantry’s worth of musical ingredients that championed their own merits and certainly weren’t going to cook themselves (not one of them ever actually said, “eat me”), and in the meantime she’d lost about fourteen minutes. Never mind what kind of moral dilemma she might be facing in the slaughter of intelligent food items with distinct personalities. There was no contemplation of vegetarianism, just as there was no second-guessing of a woman’s place in the kitchen. Bring me steak, lady.
Souvenir merchandise from this show was widely available during Epcot’s early years. The shop just outside the show’s exit was originally known as Broccoli & Co. and offered a good selection of Kitchen Kabaret items. From placemats and magnets to note pads and stuffed “animals,” the majority of the items depicted the Colander Combo, most notably the shop’s namesake, the broccoli. Years before the show folded up, however, this product line died off and was replaced by more generic kitchen wares.
The Kitchen Kabaret was not a masterstroke of theme park entertainment, and in that sense it was on square footing with many other attractions at EPCOT Center. It was fun, however, thoughtfully planned, coherent and exceptionally designed. In spite of the puns, the lyrics were clever and the music was catchy. A number of factors (ranging from new thinking in the science of nutrition and the departure of Kraft as The Land pavilion’s sponsor) led to the need for this show’s overhaul in 1994. It’s unfortunate that none of its fine original elements survived the transition to appear in other park attractions. They should have put Dairy Goodz and his troupe with the polar bears in Norway and lined the last third of Spaceship Earth’s track with fruits and vegetables who were excited about AT&T’s Global Neighborhood.
One of the most interesting things about Kitchen Kabaret, to me, was its physical relationship to the Land Pavilion in which it was located and the rest of EPCOT Center itself. It was one of three things to which you could devote your time on just the lower level of a pavilion which made up only 1/3 of the diversions of West Future World, which was only 1/3 of Future World itself, which was only 1/2 of EPCOT Center. The Land was a pretty busy pavilion.
* When people like me were kids there was this thing called the “four food groups,” named in honor of the four types of dinosaurs that were still roaming the earth. Since 1992 the “food pyramid,” which is still evolving, has enjoyed nutritional dominance.
** When people like me were kids there was this lady named Betty Crocker who wasn’t real but her fake likeness appeared on a bunch of cooking products. She was always white and always had bad hair. The Betty Crocker brand still exists but they aren’t using a face now – to the company’s credit they have put images of black people on their website a very timely 43 years after the civil rights movement really caught on. Betty Crocker was named in honor of Betty Rubble, the wife of Barney Rubble who worked in Mr. Slate’s quarry with some of the dinosaurs that were still roaming the earth when people like me were kids.
*** Both Walter Cronkite and Walt Disney had some type of role in both Spaceship Earth and The American Adventure. But they weren’t robots. As far as we know.