Originally, the show was intended to act as the restaurant’s dessert with the audio animatronics patiently sitting silent while guests ate their first courses until they would suddenly come to life during the dessert portion of the meal.
The first concept was for the birds to sing popular island-style tunes, rather than an original Disney score. Disney composer George Bruns was assigned the task of producing a show based on popular island music. He assembled a 24-piece orchestra and fifteen vocalists to perform twelve musical segments starting with an arrangement of Jacques Offenbach’s “Barcarolle” from the opera The Tales of Hoffman.
This would be followed by a 1932 song that still survives in the show today – Robert Hargreaves’, Stanley Damerell’s, Tolchard Evans’, and Henry Tilsley’s “Let’s All Sing Like the Birdies Sing.”
The show finished with a version of “The Hawaiian War Chant,” a 1936 tune based on an 1860 melody by Hawaii’s Prince Leleiohaku that was made popular in the 1940s by the comedic musical group Spike Jones & His City Slickers.
A mockup of the restaurant had been constructed on Stage 3 at the Disney Studio and they began run-throughs of the show. The problem that Walt and his imagineers encountered was that while the show was technically executed well, there was no story. It was just a bunch of nice polynesian songs being sung by animatronic birds, flowers, and tikis. They continued to fine tune the show while imagineers Marty Sklar, Wally Boag, and Fulton Burley were also brought on to the project to try and affix a storyline framework to the show.
During this time, Walt presented the Tiki Room to executives from Coca-Cola in the hopes that they could use it at their pavilion at the upcoming 1964 World’s Fair in New York City. Though Walt’s Tiki Room never made it to the World’s Fair, it was impacted by this idea. At the World’s Fair with its massive expected crowds, the attraction wouldn’t have worked as a small restaurant and the concept for it there needed to be a big seated attraction where the performers were the center of the show and not just dessert. Back at imagineering the restaurant idea was scrapped and a new seating plan replaced the restaurant tables turning it into a full standalone attraction and increasing its capacity by an additional 100 guests.
But still without a consistent story, Walt’s talented songwriting brothers Richard and Robert Sherman tackled the project, writing an original track that would weave the entire show together into one consistent storyline, “The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room.”
The show now received Four host birds to emcee the show. José, the show’s lead, was voiced by Wally Boag, Michael was voiced by Fulton Burley, Thurl Ravenscroft (who we would eventually know for his work on the haunted mansion that would open 4 years later) performed the role of Fritz, and Ernie Newton provided the voice of Pierre.
The female voices in the show are singers Sue Allen, Sue Lewis, Sally Sweetland, Betty Wand (who famously provided the vocals to Baby Mine from Disney’s Dumbo), and George Bruns’ wife Jeanne Gayle.
The show opened in Disneyland on June 23, 1963 with crowds gathered in the lushly landscaped Tiki Garden to view the tiki garden pre-show – presented by Gods and Goddesses of Polynesian folklore:
Pele: This Hawaiian fire goddess lives in the Kilauea volcano and likes to torment her neighbor …
Ngendei: from Fiji, he is the creator of all the gods. He’s also got a big job as balancer of the whole world. That pressure combined with the torment he suffers from Pele – it’s no wonder there’s an earthquake every time he moves.
Maui: The Polynesian trickster who gave people time and roped the playful Sun.
Rongo: The Polynesian god of agriculture, also known as Lono in Hawai`i, is also the provider of food. He also discovered electricity, naturally.
Koro: The Midnight Dancer, under whose spell all ladies and men learned to dance.
Tangaroa-ru: Also known as Mapui-Kaufanga in Maori tales, she is goddess of the east winds, which bring rain.
Hina Kaluua: This Hawaiian mistress of rain, from Hilo, Hawai`i, keeps it in the family – her daughter, Hina, is the mother of the trickster, Maui.
Tangaroa: The father of all gods and goddesses, he took the form of a tree, and if you listen closely you’ll notice he is also voiced by Thurl Ravenscroft.
Imagineer Marty Sklar wrote the script for the Gods and Goddesses.
The original soundtrack to the Enchanted Tiki Room ran for approximately 17 minutes. In the mid-1990’s the tiki room received technical enhancements to the speaker system and the 17 minute show was trimmed nearly four minutes. Part of those cuts saw the removal of the “Barcarolle” number which had survived since the attraction was still in its initial restaurant phase. The whistling of the Barcarolle section had been performed by whistling star Maurice “Muzzy” Marcellino, a band singer and orchestra leader. He was accompanied by Beverly Ford, Dorothy lloyd, Clarence Nash, and Marion Darlington – who had previously performed bird whistles for the birds in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. A gentleman named A. Purvis Pullen or Dr. Horatio Q. Birdbath as he was famously known, and who was an actual ornithologist and master of approximately 900 avian sounds, also leant his talents to the soundtrack.
Under New Management
In 1998 the Walt Disney World version of the Enchanted Tiki Room was updated and changed to The Enchanted Tiki Room (Under New Management) and featured Iago from Aladdin and Zazu from The Lion King interrupting the show and taking over from the original players.
In 2011 a fire broke out in the attraction and damaged some of the animatronics. It was announced to great enthusiasm at the Destination D: Walt Disney World 40th Anniversary Conference that the attraction would reopen and be returned to its original format.
A Version of The Enchanted Tiki Room opened with the rest of Tokyo Disneyland in April of 1983 originally playing a version of the original in Japanese. In 1999 the original version was replaced with a new version called The Enchanted Tiki Room: Now Playing Get the Fever!
This new version of the Tiki Room created a Vegas Nightclub setting with four new Vegas style hosts: Danno, Scats, Buddy and Lava (the first female host of the tiki room).
Watch the EarzUP Podcast episode for a the full segment on Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room!