ABOVE: Bob McGrath of Sesame Street performed at EPCOT around 1989. My kids were three and five at the time and big Sesame Street fans. Bob came out into the audience and stood right next to where we were sitting.
Across from the American Adventure is the America Gardens Theatre. The outdoor amphitheater has hosted concerts, singers, and bands from around the world.
The theatre today is vastly different than it was in the beginning – an open air stage with no back drops and a view across the World Showcase Lagoon. Later what looked like a vessel from the Colonial era was added to the back of the stage as a dressing room/changing area. Then a roof was added, and columns, then a booth for producers and directors and lighting. And now it’s hard to even tell you are near the World Showcase Lagoon.
So many performers have appeared at the America Gardens Theatre that it would be impossible to name them all. The one that stands out most in my mind is the appearance of Bob McGrath from Sesame Street with the All American College Orchestra. My children were still very small and loved Sesame Street. Bob came out into the audience and my daughter, Ashley Peters, wanted to shake his hand. We were seated on the aisle and raised her up in the air and she got her wish! Bob smiled at her and reached over and clasped her hand without skipping a beat!
ABOVE: This is the first stage at the American Adventure – vastly different that the beautiful stage there now!
ABOVE: Entrance to the current iteration of the America Gardens Theatre.
ABOVE: The America Gardens Theatre has changed a lot from its beginnings as a flat stage with no walls or lighting. This is a view from the right side showing the side walls, the dressing room and staging areas in the back and the Colonial era vessel at the back of the stage area.
During the International Flower and Garden Festival each year in the spring singers and bands from the “Flower Power” era take the stage. The America Gardens Theatre has also hosted full productions including Blast, Barrage, and in 1999 and 2000, Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance. I got to see my fave groups Herman’s Hermits with Peter Noone and The Monkeys – Davy Jones.
With out a doubt, the most popular event at the America Gardens Theatre is the annual thrice nightly production of the Candlelight Processional. This is the traditional story of Christmas in song and narration presented by a guest narrator and performed by the Disney’s cast members who form the tree in the center of the stage, a symphony orchestra of 51 professional musicians from central Florida, and choir members from high school and church groups from Florida and across America. It is the most popular of all Disney events, with visitors paying for dinner at EPCOT’s pricey restaurants just to get reserved seating for one of the three nightly performances.
ABOVE: America Gardens Theatre has changed since it was just an open air stage. This shows the stage decked out for Candlelight in 2009. You can see the lighting grids and hanging seat where Epcot staff member sits to keep an eye on choir members during the Candlelight performance. They identify persons who become faint and send robed staffers up to get them down from the risers when the focus is on the narrator. They also identify choir members who are not maintaining proper behavior and notify their choir director.