A Table Is Waiting, which ran for six years in American Waterfront at Tokyo DisneySea, belongs in its own separate wing of The Gaijin Ghost’s TDR Museum. Simply put, this show is a Hall-of-Famer. The costumes were great, the title song was catchy, and the food theme made it easy to follow the show’s nominal “plot,” even if you were coming at it from the perspective of someone who could not understand a word of Japanese.
Actually, some of the song lyrics for A Table Is Waiting were in English; and if you go on YouTube and watch an English-subtitled video of the show, it soon becomes clear that much of the time, the Japanese lyrics were just listing off kitchen ingredients, anyway.
The show usually played out four to six times daily in front of the S.S. Columbia ship, one of Tokyo DisneySea’s biggest physical landmarks.
Before the show, audience members would line up next to the ship, almost as if they were passengers, getting ready to embark on a cruise.
For photographers, the open-air Dockside Stage, where this show was performed, made it easy to catch from a number of different vantage points, both inside and outside the show’s seating area.
As long as your camera had a decent zoom, the best vantage point for taking pictures was probably the first standing row, up against the fence, outside the seating area. From there, it was a lot easier to shoot over people's heads, since cameras on the benches inside had to be kept at head level at all times.
Before we do zoom in on the Dockside Stage, it is worth noting that this stage has a history that predates A Table Is Waiting.
Fun fact: the various ducks, dogs, mice, and chipmunks who welcome guests into DisneySea, doing greetings around the Aquasphere, near the entrance to the park, are outfitted in costumes from an old show that the Dockside Stage once hosted. They are actually the last walking wardrobe remnants of a show called Over the Waves, which served as the immediate predecessor to A Table Is Waiting.
At the back of the park, in the ports of Lost River Delta and Arabian Coast, there are also some roaming characters whose costumes reflect similar theming to the ones they wore in A Table Is Waiting. Technically, the garb in those two ports is Central American instead of South American, and Middle Eastern instead of Indian.
But we must remember: this is Disney. And so both ports freely blend influences from different countries in the same geographical region, creating a kind of cultural mishmash for guests to experience as a simulated environment.
There is a fine line between celebrating the cultures of the world, and reducing those cultures to caricatures. And Disney has often skated that line. But recreating foreign locales is also something the Japanese excel at, which may be why Tokyo DisneySea feels like such a perfect storm of simulation, leading many theme park enthusiasts to label it the best theme park in the world.
In the end, the vacationer’s lazy mind has a tendency to conflate the Peruvian chipmunks in Lost River Delta with the Mexican chipmunks in A Table Is Waiting ... as if one country in Latin America were the same as any other (so far as chipmunks are concerned). That might sound willfully ignorant, but as you will soon see, the above costumes do somewhat mirror the ones on display in A Table Is Waiting. And the show itself did employ certain stereotypes in its light-hearted celebration of global cuisine.
Next to the stage, the giant "menu" for the show outlined it like a multi-course meal, with each course representing a different food-themed song-and-dance segment. The basic premise was that Mickey Mouse and his friends had brought back oishi omiyage (delicious souvenirs) from their cruise around the world.
At the start of the show, Mickey would appear in a captain’s uniform on Deck B of the ship. This was right outside the windows of the S.S. Columbia Dining Room, so if you were eating at the right table in there, you might see him up close, while he greeted the audience down below.
Speaking Japanese in his characteristic high-pitched voice, Mickey would quickly introduce the show's host: Lumiere, the French candlestick from Beauty and the Beast.
Accompanied by flower and napkin dancers, as well as his two bickering candlestick sidekicks, Lumiere would then perform the title song as the show's opening number.
The show/meal's first course was Mexican Tacos. And here we return to the issue of chipmunks perpetuating stereotypes. For in this segment, Chip 'n' Dale would step up to the cactus mic in ponchos, sombreros, and Mexican mustaches. And in another catchy original song called, "My Tacos Is Wonderful," they would take turns belting out key vowels in a long wail (as in, "tacoooooooooos.")
While the chipmunks were still on stage, Donald Duck would come waddling out ...
The duck's arrival would immediately prompt another dance number, to the tune of the dance hit "Hot Hot Hot." From this point onward, the show would consist largely of Disneyfied versions of old pop songs and regional folk songs.
Donald's number culminated, memorably, in him burning his beak on a hot pepper.
The next course was Indian Spice Curry, during which the dancers magically summoned Daisy Duck. The emergence of Daisy coincided with a rendition of the Spice Girls song “Spice Up Your Life.”
After that, came the American Cheeseburger course, which offered up one of the show's real highlights, as Pluto marched out and made liberal use of a referee whistle to direct the gymnastics of toppings. Spurred on by a cover of the KISS song “Rockin’ in the U.S.A.,” as well as the go-go chants of cheerleaders shaking lettuce pom-poms, the toppings would try, and at first fail, but eventually succeed in assembling a human cheeseburger.
Other commentators have construed the initial failed attempts on the part of the U.S.A. team at building a simple cheeseburger to be a subtle cultural critique, as if Japan was making a veiled jab at American incompetence. But perhaps the team and Coach Pluto’s *ahem* dogged determination was just meant to celebrate the American can-do spirit. And perhaps we have already been way too over-analytical about this Disney show.
Whatever the case, the main dish was Makunouchi Bento Box, so named for a kind of ready-made meal whose popularity in Japan dates back to the time of the earliest Kabuki theater intermissions.
This course was led by Goofy, whose nifty, lotus-root-marked costume brought a distinctly Japanese flair to the proceedings. Taking up a festival chant of “Wasshoi! Wasshoi!” Goofy’s back-up dancers would heave edible mikoshi, or portable shrines, out into the crowd, while traditional Japanese music played.
The final course of the meal was French Dessert Medley. Twirling parasols, Minnie Mouse and dancers in fluffy skirts would perform this number, as the smell of sweets led Minnie to reminisce about a date that she had in Paris (with Mickey, of course).
At the end, Mickey would join her on stage in a new costume of his own and the two mice would share a kiss, shielded from prying eyes by her parasol.
What followed next has been termed the “Pseudo-Finale” on the Disney Wiki. As Lumiere returned to the stage, the song meant to be the closing number, “Be Our Guest,” would quickly deteriorate into chaos, with characters running around and playing pie frisbee.
Mickey always had a good laugh at the expense of people sitting near the front, when he and some of the kitchen-utensil dancers lobbed fake pies attached to strings out at the audience. One audience member would even get pulled up and given a real pie to the face.
These shenanigans would cause Lumiere to lose heart, as they did not reflect omotenashi, the spirit of Japanese hospitality.
Only after Mickey Mouse consoled Lumiere would Disney’s core characters begin returning to the stage in their international costumes, to perform the true grand finale, “A Table Is Waiting.”
In November and December, a Christmas version of the show, dubbed A Table Is Waiting - Christmas Cuisine, showcased an alternate grand finale, in which holiday tunes were switched out for the title song. This version of the show featured candy cane and bûche de Noël, or yule log, dancers, as well as spiffy, Christmas-red costumes for the main characters in the finale.
Up to this point, the pictures used to rundown the show in this post have been cobbled together from two different viewings ... which is why, in some of the pictures (but not all), you see Christmas snowflakes on that big backdrop of dinner plates up on stage. For these two separate viewings of the show, The Gaijin Ghost’s resident photographer (strictly amateur, mind you) was positioned in relatively the same place: namely, in the first standing row outside the seating area.
As mentioned, however, there were numerous other vantage points where A Table Is Waiting could be enjoyed. This last string of photos shows you some alternate angles. By now, you will hopefully recognize the basic story beats.
In the end, perhaps only video can truly capture the kinetic energy of a show like A Table Is Waiting. There are plenty of videos on YouTube; if you are so inclined, you can watch the whole show on there. This 4K Super High Resolution version from The Duffy Channel comes recommended. Or you can content yourself with The Gaijin Ghost’s own modest 35-second clip of the grand finale.
Presented below, in all its (again, strictly amateur) glory, this clip functions as a last memory of sorts, for those of us here in the TDR Museum who embarked on their first fledgling explorations of Tokyo DisneySea at a time when A Table Is Waiting formed part of the regular milieu in American Waterfront.
Though the show has been retired now, A Table Is Waiting will forever hold a place in the roving heart of The Gaijin Ghost.