World Showcase Acts Up
by Debra Martin Koma, AllEars® Senior Editor
and Laura Gilbreath, AllEars® Disneyland Correspondent
This article appeared in the May 6, 2008 Issue #450 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
I had a few hours to kill.
That's not a phrase you associate with a visit to Walt Disney World, is it? But the fact of the matter is I (DMK) found myself in that situation a few weeks ago when I was in the World — only had a few hours before my flight. Didn't feel like fighting the queues to ride a ride (I must be getting OLD!) and wasn't sure what to do with myself. Until I remembered a promise I had made to myself long ago about trying to see all the live performers around World Showcase that I've missed over the years.
Did you know that there is an eclectic group of entertainers who enliven Epcot every day in every pavilion around World Showcase? I hope you did. If you've missed them as you've been on your mission to Mission: Space, or while making a strategic straight shot to Soarin', you have missed a lot. They are talented jugglers, musicians, comedians, gymnasts and more, who are more than deserving of a few minutes of your vacation time.
And so, with a few hours to "kill," I set out to catch the acts I had never before seen. I soon discovered, though, that Wednesday is not the day to try to do this — a number of the regularly scheduled acts seem to have the middle of the week off! But I did catch a few that I'd previously missed, and revisited a number of performers I hadn't seen in a while. And since I was unable to stop and see all of these acts in one go-round, I enlisted the aid of my fellow live entertainment enthusiast Laura Gilbreath, to get her opinion, too. Together, we'll try to give you a taste of how these performers "act up" all around World Showcase.
DMK says: Let's start with this raucous, rhythmic group in disguise… even though they are not strictly World Showcase performers, it would be a crime to omit them from this recap. So, you've just come out of MouseGear, and you're thinking about heading up toward World Showcase when a custodial crew wheeling big white plastic and metal garbage cans walks by. Wait a minute, you think, there's something different about these guys. And then they turn over their cans, pull out some drumsticks and start banging out a beat that's enough to rattle the fillings in your teeth. These aren't mere janitors — they are the JAMMitors, and they perform very short sets several times a day in various locations, such as in the corridor as you exit MouseGear on the way to World Showcase, ideal for its echoing acoustics. You can't help but be amazed and amused at their percussive pulsations — and kids, especially need to stick around until the end of the set. With the JAMMitors, every day is "Junior JAMMitor Day" and you're sure to get at least a sticker, and maybe they'll pose for a photo or two.
Laura says: These guys have a lot of energy, and they are really fun to watch. During the Flower and Garden Festival they make instruments out of things like flower pots.
Off Kilter – Canada pavilion
DMK says: Arguably the most popular act of all the World Showcase performers (at least among all of my lady friends), this five-piece band of men in kilts serves up 20-minutes sets of frivolity and the finest Celtic rock you've ever heard. What's Celtic rock? you may ask. Well, think Danny Boy and Scotland the Brave set to a high-energy beat with electric guitars, keyboard, drums and oh yeah, don't forget the most important ingredient — the bagpipes. Frontman Jamie Holton charms with his broad smile, corny jokes and undeniable adroitness on his uncommon instrument, while other band members (none of whom is actually Canadian, or Scottish for that matter, although bassist Mark is from Ireland) accompany him ably on tunes like the traditional ones mentioned, and other more contemporary and some original compositions. Off Kilter is a must-see, but be aware that they often perform gigs outside of Disney on the weekends.
Laura says: This is a band that you can hear from all around World Showcase — the sound of the bagpipes really carries. If you arrive early enough you can sit on the benches in front of the stage to enjoy the show. And the boys will strike up a cool pose if they see you pointing a camera at them.
The British Invasion – United Kingdom pavilion
Laura says: More like the Beatles than the Beatles! This lookalike, soundalike, band performs most afternoons and evenings in the gazebo at the back of the UK pavilion. The four talented musicians only perform Beatles songs — most are well-known classics like Hey Jude and Yellow Submarine, but every once in a while they throw something in that's lesser known. They are definite crowd favorites and I always see people singing along — it's pretty hard not to. They can be seen and heard from all around the square — there are a few benches to sit on, but lots of curb space if you don't mind sitting on the ground.
DMK says: Who doesn't love the Beatles? It doesn't matter where I am or what I'm doing — when I hear the faint strains of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" or "She Loves You," I try to make a beeline over to the UK gazebo to catch even a few minutes of these guys. I've been in the UK shops when they've started to perform and have noticed everyone, cast members included, smiling and tapping their feet or their fingers to the catchy melodies. I love them!
Pam Brody – inside the Rose and Crown Pub in the United Kingdom pavilion
DMK says: I have never seen this lady perform, but I understand she is a mainstay at the pub, having performed there for many, many years. We've received numerous emails from our readers about her, so she must be doing something right! Ms Brody, I promise, I'll try to visit you on my next visit to the World!
World Showcase Players – United Kingdom pavilion
Laura says: This small group of improvisational street performers uses a few props and a whole lot of audience participation to present a very entertaining show. You might see a thrilling performance of King Arthur and the Holy Grail (GRAIL, GRAIL, GRAIL! Uhhhh!), or, during the holiday season, a very moving rendition of A Christmas Carol. In each performance a couple of audience members are called upon to perform key roles — and remember, you're laughing WITH them, and not AT them. The audience is required to provide sound effects — and those that are simply spectating and not participating are often singled out for special attention. The shows are about 20 minutes long and take place in the street in front of the tea shop. There are a few benches in the area, but most people sit on the curb or in the street. My husband Lee has been a guest star on multiple occasions — though, alas, he seems to be typecast, and only selected to play King Arthur and not Sir Galahad — must be the gray hair. One time that he was chosen to play Ebenezer Scrooge he had a scene where he was supposed to cower in fear until something happened, and they stretched it on and on and he kept cowering until the Players themselves started cracking up.
DMK says: I honestly don't know how these improvisational actors do this job without cracking a smile more often. Not only is the loose "script" they follow hysterical, but you just never know when you're going to select a genuine ham from the audience. When I saw the show a few weeks ago, lurking behind a lamp post to avoid being chosen myself, "King Arthur" was an elderly gentleman who stole the show with his antics. If someone in your group is a budding thespian — or just a joker — stop to see this show at least once. Of course, it's different every time since it's improv — so it won't hurt to see it more than once.
Serveur Amusant – France pavilion
Laura says: It looks innocent enough — a waiter outside Chefs de France is setting up a table, and requests assistance from a passerby to help stack some chairs. But before you know it the chairs are getting stacked higher and higher, and the "passerby" performs some amazing feats of strength and balance.
DMK says: Yes, the guys are talented — there is NO way you'd get me to even attempt to climb onto these wobbly, stacked chairs. And it's cool when you notice that sometimes one is the waiter, the other the "passerby", while other times they reverse roles. But after seeing this act once or twice it gets rather stale for me. When I see the crowd gathered in front of Chefs de France, I usually keep walking.
Mo' Rockin – Morocco pavilion
DMK says: You can hear the exotic music as you approach the Morocco pavilion, and you can see the (often predominantly male) crowd clustered around the stage. What's going on? It's Mo' Rockin, the band that performs on its own stage across from the Tangierine Cafe, accompanied by a gorgeous belly dancer. The tunes are all contemporary with a Middle Eastern accent, but it's the belly dancer that holds your interest. Her moves are sensual without being overtly sexy and she performs with an intensity that is sure to captivate you throughout the group's 20-minute set. It always makes me want to take up belly-dancing myself — or at least stop over at the nearby kiosk to get a henna tattoo.
Laura says: Their version of Desert Rose is really good. And Lee says that the Synth-drum instrument really fascinates him.
Belly Dancer – inside Restaurant Marrakesh at the Morocco pavilion
DMK says: Inside the Restaurant Marrakesh, you can have a different kind of belly dancing experience. Throughout the day, a dancer accompanied by several fez-wearing musicians entertains diners, and occasionally draws audience members (often children) to the floor to try her exotic moves. It's a lot of fun to watch her undulations, as you wonder: how does she DO that? It's even more fun to watch as spectators join her and attempt to mimic her gyrations.
Matsuriza – Japan pavilion
DMK says: You can hear the rhythmic throbbing of Japan's Taiko drums from almost anywhere in World Showcase — you definitely know when these artists are performing! Watch them from behind the building (as if you were walking down from Yakitori House) rather than from below them on the promenade to fully appreciate the effort they put into drumming. When you view them from a different angle, more on the same level, you can see the beauty and grace of their synchronization.
Laura says: Sorry, but the pounding of the drums gives me a headache. While I appreciate the athleticism of the drummers (those people are in shape and STRONG!), I really don't like listening to them. Boom… BOOM… boom… Lee does like the Taiko drums and regularly complains as he gets dragged quickly past the Japan pavilion whenever they are playing.
Miyuki – Japan pavilion
Laura says: In the Japan pavilion you may have seen a small cart sitting outside the Mitsukoshi Department Store, and wondered what it was. This is where candy artist Miyuki performs her magic. She takes a blob of white rice candy (it looks like taffy), and pulls and shapes and cuts and adds colors to it, and in a few short minutes has transformed the amorphous blob into a fantastic dragon, hummingbird, elephant or some other animal. Miyuki has a wonderfully entertaining patter while she works… some of it describing the various animals that she makes, some providing sound effects for what she is doing. She asks members of the audience what kind of animal and what color they would like, and the requestor gets to take the candy, which is on a stick and wrapped in a plastic bag, home with them. I love watching her make birds — it's amazing when she makes a few snips with her scissors and turns a strip of candy into a feathered wing. She usually makes five or six animals in a session, and it's really quite fascinating to watch.
DMK says: Miyuki is another of my must-sees in Epcot. She is simply delightful and her creations are breathtaking. As an adult, I'm rather jealous of the children who get to take home one of her confectionery creatures… but I definitely get almost as much enjoyment from just watching her perform her artistry.
Honobono Minwa – Japan pavilion
DMK says: Honobono Minwa is not usually listed on the Times Guide, for some reason, but I have had the good fortune to see her charming Japanese storytelling performance a few times now. She begins her show by engaging the audience in learning a little Japanese — a few basic words and how to count to 10. I love to watch the little kids listening to her intently and trying to remember the words — it would be so enriching if the other "countries" did something similar. With her colorful costume and lovely voice, Honobono Minwa tells Japanese folk tales with a message and involves her spectators in an entertaining 15-20 minute show.
Laura says: I love her — she's so cute! The first time we saw her she came out and said hello to us, and asked us about our day, and we told her we had been waiting to see her. She was really surprised — she said no one had ever been waiting for her before! She told a story about a turtle, and we learned to count to five (ichi, ni, sun, shi, go) in Japanese.
Voices of Liberty – American Adventure pavilion
Laura says: I think just about everyone knows about "The American Adventure" show that's presented inside the American Adventure pavilion… but not everyone knows about the special pre-show that takes place inside the rotunda about 20 minutes before most of the performances. The Voices of Liberty, an a capella singing group, performs several musical numbers, everything from Oh Susanna and Yankee Doodle to Battle Hymn of the Republic and America the Beautiful. These very talented singers perform in multi-part harmony, and their voices are their instruments. During the holiday season they perform as the Voices of Liberty Dickens Carolers, and sing a variety of Christmas songs as well as some Hanukkah music. To see/hear them best, sit on the floor outside the red circle — being right under the dome really amplifies their wonderful sound.
DMK says: Earlier I called Off Kilter "arguably" the most popular live act in World Showcase — fans of Voices of Liberty are the ones who would argue with me over that statement. But I, too, am a fan of this group, one of the original live acts in World Showcase, which celebrated its 25th anniversary along with Epcot last October. The harmonic blend of these voices is sheer beauty. I defy you to resist tearing up a bit when they sing some of the familiar patriotic tunes — they even make the Star-Spangled Banner sound like a gorgeous melody. And who can't help but smile when they are chosen as "Susanna" during their lively rendition of Oh Susanna? Don't miss the Voices of Liberty — you won't be sorry that you made time for them.
Spirit of America Fife & Drum Corps – American Adventure pavilion
Laura says: The Spirit of America Fife & Drum Corps look like they stepped out of the famous "Spirit of 76" painting. They march out in front of the American Adventure pavilion several times a day, inviting "Junior Patriots" to follow along and participate in various activities "to honor America," including reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Some might find it corny, but I'm always very touched by their honest demeanor and sincerity.
DMK says: I think the Spirit of America are underrated — maybe because they appear seemingly out of nowhere and perform for just a few minutes in front of the American Adventure. But I find myself choking up at some of the patriotic tunes and love to watch how they march with such precision.
World Showcase Players – Italy pavilion
Laura says: Another troop of the World Showcase Players performs in the Italy pavilion. (Though if you watch closely you may see members of the group performing in the UK one day and Italy the next!) The format is similar to that of the UK, with audience guest stars and audience participation, but they perform a different production — that classic tale of doomed love — Romeo and Edna… with a little bit of CSI: Orlando thrown in for good measure. There really must be some typecasting going on, since Lee has never been chosen to play Romeo either. Performances take place in front of the tower.
Sergio – Italy pavilion
Laura says: When the playful soundtrack starts in the Italy pavilion, can the arrival of Sergio be far behind? This entertaining performer — part mime, part clown, part fashion disaster –makes his appearance pulling a small trunk full of props behind him. Even without speaking Sergio manages to communicate his commands and approval (and occasional exasperation) using gestures and a whistle. It's kind of fun to hear the range of things that be communicated by a whistle! He does some juggling and usually engages members of the audience in a game of net ball, the object being to catch the ball in the net — and of course it's much more amusing when Sergio decides not to help much with the throwing/catching.
DMK says: Sergio seems to be very popular, especially with the younger set, but the whistle thing gets on my nerves. I finally caught his act a few weeks ago, and now that I've seen it, well… I'll just diplomatically say he's not my cup of espresso. Sorry.
Oktoberfest Musikanten – inside the Biergarten restaurant in the Germany pavilion
DMK says: Where else can you see a show by a genuine German "oompah" band, but in Germany? This group performs throughout the day inside the Biergarten restaurant, entertaining while people chow down on the sumptuous buffet. The act includes not only traditional German folk music and polkas (with some audience participation encouraged), but an unusual interlude featuring Alpenhorn, and a stimulating handbell piece that increases in speed as the song progresses. The only thing I wish is that these guys played outside (they do very rarely) so more people could enjoy them. (There may occasionally be seats available inside to watch them for non-diners.) Ticky Tacky Ticky Tacky, oi oi oi! Prost! (I know I'm probably spelling that wrong, please forgive me!)
Laura says: Though I've never eaten there, I've gone into the Biergarten a couple of times to watch the band. The restaurant is really well-themed and you can almost believe that you're in an outdoor Bavarian biergarten in the evening.
OrisiRisi – The Outpost
Laura says: In the corner of the African Outpost there's a circle of wooden seats set up around several big drums. Here the storytellers of OrisiRisi share entertaining tales and fables of African folklore. OrisiRisi (which means "different things") invites audience participation, and guests will find themselves clapping or singing along, or even accompanying the storytellers on drums of their own.
Si Xian – China pavilion
Laura says: Inside the Temple of Heaven at the China pavilion, there's a small stage set up in the waiting area outside the CircleVision theater. The Chinese musicians of Si Xian perform silk music on the "zheng" — the Chinese long zither. This instrument originally had five silk strings (hence the name "silk music"), but now has 21 steel and nylon strings. Most of the songs are inspired by sights and sounds of nature, such as water or mountains, and I find it to be very gentle and soothing. For me the music of Si Xian provides a relaxing break on a warm and busy day.
DMK says: This is one act I have NEVER seen! And it's one I attempted to experience during my last visit to the World. But I was thwarted, as they weren't performing that Wednesday. They are on my to-do list!
Dragon Legend Acrobats – China pavilion
DMK says: In front of the Temple of Heaven, along the promenade, these young performers amaze you with their acrobatic skills. They not only fling their bodies around with abandon, they do amazing human pyramid and balancing acts, and spin plates (weather permitting). I've only seen them once, but was very impressed with the high energy level of the youthful performers.
Spelmanns Gledje – Norway pavilion
Laura says: Spelmanns Gledje (translation: Fiddler's Joy) performs Scandinavian folk music at the Norway pavilion. The group is composed of two guitarists, a violinist, a bass player and an accordionist. Their repertoire runs from stately waltzes to lively polkas, and the performers sometimes demonstrate a dance or two. The group usually performs right outside the Stave Church, providing a good excuse to get a rice cream or a sweet pretzel from the Norway bakery, and then sit and listen. Speaking of Spelmanns Gledje reminds me of something we've noticed when watching them as well as other performers. I call it the World Showcase Live Performer Photo Phenomenon — when you see people who walk by a live performance, stop and take a picture, and then immediately move on. I can only imagine the great stories they tell about those pictures when they get back home.
DMK says: I love Spelmanns Gledje. When I saw them last week, they actually had two violinists featured, and the sweet-voiced guitarist sang a lovely Scandinavian folk song. My only complaint? This particular day, the accordionist looked as though he wanted to be anywhere but where he was. Maybe it was because I was seeing them during their first show of the day, but I was surprised at his demeanor. Come on, guys — you're in Disney World! Smile a little bit!
Mariachi Cobre – Mexico pavilion
Laura says: Is it possible to have a Mexico pavilion without a mariachi band? Of course not! And Mariachi Cobre is definitely the merriest of mariachis. It's a large group with nine violin/guitar players and one trumpet player. And they obviously love performing for an audience, posing for pictures, and hamming it up a bit. Their lively music and infectious stage presence will make you smile. If someone in your group is celebrating a birthday let them know and they will play the Mexican birthday song, Las Mananitas, in their honor. Depending on time of day and weather, the group might be performing on the steps outside the Mexico pavilion, or inside in the marketplace.
DMK says: Mariachi Cobre is such fun! Their trumpet player is amazing, whether you hear them inside or out. And yes, they are truly hams, posing with cheesy smiles as soon as they see you have a camera aimed at them. But such musicians! The music is happy and puts a smile on your face, even if you're standing in the blazing hot sun as you watch them.
AND… then you're all the way around the World Showcase. You've "killed" your few hours. Of course, to see all of these performers would take more than the few hours I had that Wednesday I was strolling around the promenade — especially since they don't all perform every day. But the next time you have some time to kill at Walt Disney World, or even if you are in the mood for something other than riding rides, take some time to see how the performers around World Showcase "act up." You won't regret it!
============== RELATED ARTICLES ==============
World Showcase Entertainment Photo Gallery: http://allears.net/tp/ep/ep_livepho.htm
More on Epcot Live Entertainment: http://allears.net/tp/ep/ep_live.htm
Other articles by Debra Martin Koma: http://allears.net/btp/dkoma.htm
Laura's Disney Lines blog: http://land.allears.net/blogs/lauragilbreath/
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.