Alton Brown may be known for his cooking shows on the Food Network, but he actually went to school for theatre. He started his theatre education at a small school in LaGrange, GA, before transferring to the University of Georgia to also study film. So, to play Broadway’s Barrymore Theatre for an eight-performance engagement (November 22-27) of Alton Brown Live: Eat Your Science is a dream come true.
The fusion of food and theatre has been in the works for over 15 years, when he began doing cooking demonstrations with a theatrical flair and needed to find the perfect medium to present it.
At the time, he pitched producers by explaining, “I want to do a culinary variety show. I was a child of the ’70s. I was a fan of The Sonny & Cher [Comedy Hour] show. I want to do a show that’s all about food where there’s singing and music, there are demos, [and] there’s comedy.” After getting the green light, “I put together a show that became The Edible Inevitable Tour. It was an opportunity to do everything no one would let me do on TV. I started writing songs—my food songs—and performing those with a band, so there was that big, large format food demonstrations that were crazy and involved, very impractical and potentially dangerous things, [and] lots of audience interaction.”
Theatrical cooking shows have since then become Brown’s bread and butter, so to speak. But there are challenges. “I got this thing where I can’t go to a city twice with the same show. I’ve got to start over,” he says. “I had so many ideas. I was like, ‘I want to do it again,’ so the next show was Eat Your Science. More music, more demos; the same model, but all new material.”
Eat Your Science, which explains the science behind each of Brown’s cooking techniques, will make a Broadway pit-stop on his tour right in time for Thanksgiving, playing November 22, 23 at 8 PM; November 25, 26 at 2 and 8 PM, and November 27 at 1 and 5:30 PM.
At the two-and-a-half-hour, family-oriented culinary variety show, audiences can expect music (Brown and his band open with his rock anthem entitled “Science”), cooking (his last show featured an eight-foot easy bake oven that made pizza in three minutes), interaction (there’s a game-show element), and popcorn.
“The entire second act is about popcorn,” he reveals. “I have a long history with popcorn, and you would be surprised what we end up doing with popcorn—or at least, I hope you’d be surprised.” In college, Brown had a job making popcorn for a 13-screen movie theatre, and he says his fingernails were stained orange for over a year.
Overall, he says that Broadway is the perfect medium for a cooking show like his. “There are two things we want to do in a group: eat and laugh,” he explains. “So, to me, that’s theatre. Food has always been theatre.”
“It is not lost on me the significance of being able to be on Broadway,” he adds. “On opening night of Broadway, I can call my mom and say, ‘See that theatre degree actually did pay off!’ All these years later—I’m 54—I can finally say, ‘You were wrong about that theatre degree that was going to amount to nothing.’ That’ll be sweet.”
Michael Gioia is the Features Manager at Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.