Tag Archives: Disneyland

I Am Thankful For The Happiest Place On Earth

7 Dec

I have failed you, dear reader. I told you I’d recount my Disney Thanksgiving yesterday, but the day got away from me and…well…that’s the only excuse I’ve got. I’m sorry. And I can’t believe I didn’t post anything yesterday about it being Walt Disney’s birthday! I’m really slipping here… Well, Happy 113th Birthday, Uncle Walt!

As some of you may recall, I recently spent a week at Walt Disney World completely on my own, enjoying the parks on my own schedule, at my own pace and on my own budget. Several people were shocked that I would want to go to an amusement park by myself – especially for a full week – but I had the absolute time of my life. I rode what I wanted, I met the characters I wanted to meet, I ate what I wanted whenever I wanted and I took the time to take photos and soak in the world famous Disney atmosphere and attention to detail. I found myself talking to strangers and laughing and walking around with a smile on my face. It was heaven.

So, when I found out that we had Thanksgiving day off in Los Angeles, I decided to forgo a traditional theatre orphans’ Thanksgiving, which usually consists of 5 or 6 people who haven’t any friends or family nearby getting together and cooking (and is, for the record, always fun and a wonderful way to spend the holiday), to treat myself to a day at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.

My mother always asks me, “What exactly do you do there all day?” Obviously she has never been to a Disney park, though not for my lack of trying to get her to one.

Rather than tell you what I did, I’ll just show you. Nothing more exciting than looking at someone’s vacation photos, eh? Enjoy!

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The Final Countdown

5 Dec

I can’t believe it’s been nearly a month since my last entry. My apologies for being negligent of my tens of adoring fans.

A lot has happened in the four weeks since I last wrote – including, but not limited to, my 38th birthday, a screening of “Big Hero 6” at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood, three trips to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, Thanksgiving, a 3-week run of Kinky Boots in Los Angeles and the addition of nearly 6,000 signatures to the Save Cafe Edison petition. And now, here I am in San Francisco – my first time playing this town and also the last city on this two year journey. That’s right, kids…the Merch Whore is hanging up his kinky boots on December 29 to go pursue his own dreams, and it feels really good.

"Big Hero 6" at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood, California

“Big Hero 6” at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood, California

I’m still not really sure what this means for this the future of this blog – I still have many stories to share, and I expect my future endeavors will provide much fodder, as well, but I may need to change the name of the blog since I will no longer be whoring myself out as a merchandiser. I don’t know – there are much more important things to consider at this stage in the game, like getting through the next 28 1/2 performances without strangling someone.

Since day one of this particular tour, things have been more stressful than the last three I’ve done. It’s a bigger show, yes, so that’s to be expected, but there has been a lot of unnecessary and avoidable stress, as well. Having a legendary pop star come up and tell you that all of the merchandise you’re selling is “fucking ugly” (sorry, Dad, for the profanity) and that I should be selling in drag on my first day should have tipped me off that this wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. My grandmother dying two weeks into the run and not being able to go home for her funeral…? Pretty shitty. The immediate and overwhelming increase in workload, while also expected with a show that does the sales that this one has, has been unpleasant and I’m pretty sure has done some damage to one of my shoulders, leaving my fingers numb in my right hand. Add to that a new feature with our credit card system that allows for immediate customer feedback (against which I have no willpower and feel compelled to read everything they have to say about me) and I’d say I’m pretty burnt out.

“What kind of feedback are the customers leaving?,” you might ask. Well…here’s a smattering of the bad ones.

The person working yr [sic] promotion table had no customer service skills at all!!!! Very rude!!!! Selling products is a no brainer but I expected more personality!!!!

“Selling products is a no brainer?” Really? I have a feeling they’d feel differently if I miscalculated their total and overcharged them… Oh, wait…someone did:

I was overcharged by $10.00. I was charged for 1 ornament (20), 1 vocal selections (28), 1 little black book (12), 2 black hoodies (45×2). I purchased and actually received 1 ornament (20), 1 vocal selections (28), 1 little black book (12), 1 black hoodie (45), 1 black t-shirt (35).

I made a mistake. That’s my fault. But rather than just contact our office and request a refund, they decided to complain about me. Forget the fact that the prices are clearly posted on each item and, if they’d taken the time to do the math or, even easier, check the contents of their bag before walking away, there wouldn’t have been an issue. But consumer responsibility doesn’t exist anymore. It’s always the salesperson’s fault.

And one last one…

The salesman that was there was brusque and unfriendly. I almost didn’t buy because of his behavior.

The operative word in this statement is almost. It is quite possible that I was brusque and unfriendly, but as one person selling a few thousand dollars’ worth of merchandise to 500 people in a 25 minute time frame, there isn’t much time for dillydallying. I’m not sorry I don’t have the time to unfold (and refold) every size of every shirt for you. I’m not sorry that I helped the three people behind you in line while you dumped the contents of your purse out on my booth, looking for your credit card. I’m not sorry that I asked you to step aside while you decided what you wanted while I helped 10 or 15 other people who did know what they wanted and had their money out and ready. What I am sorry about is that I’m not sorry, because this job has made me dislike people, and that makes me sad. Some specific people, to be sure, but I’m speaking in more generic terms. This has never been a secret – I’ve never been a big fan of the general public, and from that dislike and frustration came this lovely blog – but this show has been the final nail in my patience’s coffin. I’m done.

But I still made the sale.

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To be fair to myself (and to make myself sound like less of an douche bag), it should be noted that of the 142 feedback entries received, only 5 have been “Not Satisfied.” Five. There are many comments about how fast and efficient I am (and how I need help) and even some noting how pleasant I was to talk to. The thing to note about people is that they generally can’t be bothered to praise, but they leap at the opportunity to complain. And I understand that…I’ve been guilty of that myself a couple of times. I hope that one of the things I take away with me from this job is the ability to understand that not everyone is having a good day (perhaps their grandmother died just hours before they had to come to work, so you wanting a synopsis of what you missed because you were late isn’t very important to them in the grand scheme of things…) and to just let it go.

I am one with the wind and sky.

In addition to the daily stress of the job, like coming in and finding 5 or 10 boxes of merchandise waiting for me at the stage door when I wasn’t made aware that it was coming, there’s also been some internal drama here at the show with people wanting their significant others to come out on the road as my replacement. To the point that one company member actually defriended me on Facebook and has apparently been talking trash behind my back to cast members…many of whom are my friends. Now, this person has never actually spoken to me about the grievances that he holds against me – I’ve just heard it all through the grapevine and he won’t even look me in the eye now – and I feel skeevy and prepubescent even writing about it because I feel like I’m perpetuating the non-existent drama and being just as passive aggressive as he is, but it’s really been weighing on my spirit lately. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly people are willing to turn on you when you are no longer useful to them. I don’t make the hiring decisions when it comes to who gets hired, and honestly, I can’t really believe that anyone who knows me would want to take this job from me. I mean, isn’t he one of the ten people who read this blog? (He’s not). No one ever says, “I aspire to be the merch person!” In fact, our head carpenter just said to me a few minutes ago, “Merch and Stage Management: two jobs I would never want.”  I may not make the hiring decisions, but there’s one thing of which to be sure:  I can certainly recommend to my employer that certain people not be hired.

All this drama, and I don’t even get a curtain call.

Alright, so this has turned into one big, negative entry and that wasn’t my intention, though unfortunately, that’s kind of what I’ve been reduced to with this show. So, it’s time to go. I have 28 shows to go – only 25 days – and then I’m free. I’ve already started getting “nesty,” searching for kitchen and living room and bathroom necessities and looking at deals for one of those newfangled flat screened TVs. I’ve started researching housing in Orlando and I’m formulating a plan to get myself down there by February 1st or so. I’m so excited for this new chapter in my life – a complete reboot. I’m nervous, too. Not only will I be leaving my tour bubble after two years (what do you mean, I have to buy my own toilet paper again?!), but I’ll also be looking for a new job, making a car payment and all the other stuff normal grownups around the country have to do. As Little Red sings in Into the Woods, I feel excited. Well, excited and scared.

In the meantime, I hope to enjoy my time in San Francisco, see some sights (I have yet to see the Golden Gate Bridge) and spend some quality time with my friends Toni, Amy and Matt, who all live in the Bay Area.

Tomorrow I’ll do my best to recap what was, quite possibly, the most fantastical Thanksgiving I’ve had in years, including a visit with my future boss, though he doesn’t know it yet…

Me and my future employer...he just doesn't know it yet.

Me and my future employer…he just doesn’t know it yet. Look at the joy on my face!

American Horror Story: Fantasyland

8 Aug

Have you guys seen this floating around the internet? It’s a collection of photos with some of the creepiest Disney characters in Disneyland and Walt Disney World’s history.

Well, it gave me an idea… What if Ryan Murphy decided to do a season of his television series “American Horror Story” based on these creepy images? My imagination got the best of me and I came up with these pitch ideas. I hope you get as big a kick out of them as I do.

American Horror Story: Fantasyland

American Horror Story: Fantasyland

American Horror Story: Fantasyland

American Horror Story: Fantasyland

American Horror Story: Fantasyland

American Horror Story: Fantasyland

American Horror Story: Fantasyland

American Horror Story: Fantasyland

I’m So Excited! I’m So Excited! I’m So…EXCITED!!!!

14 Mar

I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve written an entry. It’s unacceptable, really. I have no excuse beyond laziness. We’re in Durham, North Carolina this week, where there is little more to do than eat and nap, which is exactly what I’ve done. The weather here has actually been fairly decent – we had one or two days in the lower- to mid-70’s, which is incredible, but yesterday a big rainstorm came through and the temperatures plummeted again into the 40’s. It’s supposed to warm up again this weekend and then next week…Florida!!

We’ll spend a week in Tampa (been there, done that) before we head to Orlando, which is what I’m really excited about. One of the guys on the crew and I decided to look into sharing a room at one of the economy Disney Resorts and, as it turns out, we can actually stay there cheaper than what we would each pay out of our per diem for the company hotel option. We’re getting a room at the All-Stars Sports Resort near Disney’s Animal Kingdom for $115/night, which works out to less than $60/night per person. My regular budget is $70/night, so I’ll actually be able to put the money I save on hotels toward my tickets to the parks. The hotel that the company is staying in is far enough away from the venue that rental cars will be needed, so I don’t even have to pay for a rental car – just the difference in how much gas I use getting to and from work, which Steven and I will split.

In addition to that good news, it turns out that because we’re staying on property in a Disney Resort Hotel, we get to enjoy Extra Magic Hours, which means one park each day will open one hour early just for the people staying in the Disney Resort Hotels and one or more of the parks will stay open two hours past regular closing for us, as well! That’s great because we will have to work in the evenings, so we can get up early and enjoy some extra time in the parks before the major crowds come in. We also get to “test” the new MagicBands system that Walt Disney World is installing into the parks. We will receive colored wristbands (like slap bracelets) that, when scanned, will work as our hotel key, our tickets to get into the park, our FastPass and, if we were buying them, our meal plans. It’s kinda genius and I’m really excited to get to try them out.

Our MagicBands have shipped!

Our MagicBands have shipped!

In doing some research (I’m a planner), it looks like I’ll be able to get a 5-day pass for $304, and for $60 more I can upgrade those passes to Park Hoppers so I can go to any of the parks I want whenever I want to. That’s a nice option because, for example, we have a limited amount of time at the parks in the evening, so if we want to see Fantasmic! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios at 8:30 on Monday night and the 10:00 “Wishes” fireworks show at Magic Kingdom, we’d have to have Park Hoppers to go from one park to the other.

My friend Chris, who is doing merch for another tour that will be in Fort Lauderdale at the same time, will be driving up to spend our day off in the parks, too. That’s the day that the rest of the Evita company will be traveling to Naples, Florida, but I’ve booked a room at the Hilton Lake Buena Vista that night using my Hilton HHonors points, so I don’t even have to pay for the room that night. It’s all happening, folks. It’s all happening.

The way I see it, I’ll have six days to see everything in the four parks. One of my goals is to get lots and lots of great pictures – especially with characters. I’ve written before about how miserable my first trip to Walt Disney World was – that was 30 years ago and I intend on having the time of my life this go around. I want to make sure I see my friend Liz hanging out with Pluto in the new Festival of Fantasy parade. I want to see fireworks. I would love to meet Elsa and Anna, but according to Liz, the wait can sometimes be up to 5 hours, if you can imagine. I definitely want to see “Fantasmic!” and “Finding Nemo: The Musical.” And I have to ride Expedition Everest. Basically I want to do it all.

What are your Disney World must-sees and must-dos? Where should I plan to eat that’s both affordable and delicious? And where do I find those much talked about turkey legs?

10 Days To Walt Disney World!

10 Days To Walt Disney World!

Happy New Year-versary!

31 Dec

I can’t believe it, but one year ago today my adventure on the road began with a trip to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and a dream. One year. I really can’t believe it. I didn’t think I’d make it 6 months, but here I am, back at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, Washington. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be out on the road, but I know that 2014 is going to bring some big changes and I can’t wait.

So, what does one year on the road mean? Well…for me it means this:

318 Performances (including tonight)
3 National tours
2 Broadway shows
1 off-Broadway show
33 Cities
21 States
29 Hotels
29 Flights
11 Buses
10 Rental Cars
23 Zoos and Aquariums
5 Trips to Disneyland
3 New Suitcases
…and a partridge in a pear tree.

I’ve said it before and I maintain to this day that taking this touring job was the answer to about a hundred different prayers and I am still so grateful to have the job and the opportunities it affords me. I miss having a kitchen, yes, and my own bed, but what a joy to be able to see my friends around the country, to go to Disneyland so many times, to eat such wonderful food everywhere we go and to have the memories of a wonderful year-long road trip.

To celebrate my year on the road and all the wonderful things that I got to experience and all the friends I made and reunited with, I made this slideshow of photos. I do hope you’ll take the time to watch and enjoy it!

Happy New Year!!

 

Please See “Saving Mr. Banks”

29 Dec
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Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as P.L Travers visit Disneyland in “Saving Mr. Banks.”

I’ve been meaning to write a post about “Saving Mr. Banks” since I saw it a couple of weeks ago at a screening at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. I meant to write about it after I saw it again this past Thursday with my family. But I haven’t. I have not been able to find words that were eloquent and succinct enough to express the deep emotional impact it had on me. So I have given up and I will let someone else do the work for me.

Today I came across this review from Mark Hughes, a contributor at Forbes.com. I believe his review is about as close to everything that I would wish to say about this film as I could have written, but his is more precise and far less rambling. (I wrote a 4-page draft about my feelings regarding the movie. You can thank me later for trashing it).

My personal connection to the film is very different from Mr. Hughes’ – I am lucky enough to still have both of my parents (neither of whom are alcoholics or abusive, for the record) – but the film’s message of self-forgiveness and letting go of the past spoke to me on a very deep level because of my own traumatic experiences. Perhaps someday I will be brave enough to share my childhood trauma here for you, but today is not that day. Not yet. Beside…that’s not the point of this entry. The point is – you really should see this movie.

Who’s The Leader Of The Club That’s Made For You And Me? M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E!

22 Nov

Someone just had a birthday! He’s cute, sweet, funny, rich and incredibly famous. Those last two adjectives clued you into the fact that it’s not me, right? No, folks…I’m talking about Mickey Mouse’s 85th birthday, which was this past Monday! Can you believe it? He doesn’t look a day over 63.

My love of Disney and the Mouse started as a kid. As I mentioned in my last post, my grandparents had a lot to do with that, taking me to the movies to see re-releases of the classic animated features or to meet-and-greets with the Mouse himself. My parents spoiled me with dozens of Disney albums (remember LPs?) that featured classic Disney tunes or told the stories that we all know so well. I had Picture Disc albums of “The Lady and the Tramp,” “The Fox and the Hound,” which still breaks my heart, and “Mary Poppins.” I was a member of the Mickey Mouse Club and had a big pin to prove it. I used to Mousercise. Don’t judge – it was a thing!

When I was 8 or 9, my Grandmama and Popaw decided that we should take a road trip to Orlando so I could meet the Mouse on his home turf. My uncle, who’d just gotten out of a stint in rehab, and his friend were going to join us. The plan was to go to Fort Myers first, hitting the beach before we headed up to the Happiest Place on Earth. It was the first time I’d ever taken a major trip without my parents and honestly, I wasn’t terribly excited about it, even with the looming opportunity to meet Mickey and friends.

My Mom bought me a brand new (expensive) pair of Reebok high tops (that was a thing, too) and packed my case full of matchy-matchy Bermuda shorts and button down short sleeved shirts and we were off. On the way down to Florida, we got a flat tire somewhere around the Georgia/Florida state line. It was a real doozy of a storm, and I’ve always had a paralyzing fear of being caught in a tornado, and as my Popaw and uncle got out in the storm to change the tire, I sat in the front seat with my grandmother, sobbing and begging them to get back in the car before they were killed. They lived, of course – it would be inappropriate to write such a macabre story on Mickey Mouse’s big day – and we continued our trip down to Ft. Myers.

It was in Ft. Myers that I developed a distaste for beaches. It’s not the beach itself that I dislike – I think they’re quite beautiful – but the experience ruined me on beaches for life. We found a choice parking spot in the beach’s public lot and in my excitement, I ran ahead as my grandparents got the beach bags and towels and things and locked up the car. I was still wearing my Reeboks and my grandmother didn’t want me to traipse through the sand in them and told me to take them off and put them in the trunk of the car. Well, who had time to run all the way back to the car when we were losing precious time on the beach? Not me! So I took my shoes off and hid them next to a garbage can and ran back out to the beach. I hastily slathered on some sunscreen and headed straight out into the water.

Grandmama asked me several times if I had applied sunscreen – and I had – so I always answered, “Yes.” Had she asked me if I’d reapplied after being in the water, things might have turned out differently… We had a great time at the beach, running in and out of the water and building things in the sand, but all good things must come to an end, so we packed up our things and headed back to the car. On the way, I went back to my secret hiding spot to pick up my shoes. They weren’t there.

I immediately started to panic. My grandparents quickly caught on to the fact that something was up, but I was scared to death to tell them what had happened. It had never occurred to me that anyone might even find my shoes, let alone take them. My Mom had made such a fuss over how much the shoes cost that my first thought was, “My Mom is going to kill me!” and I started to cry. We looked all over Ft. Myers beach for those shoes, with my grandmother even going so far as to ask the people at the hotel (where my not-so-secret hiding place was) if she could dig through their dumpster to see if they’d been thrown away. The hotel wouldn’t allow it, of course, so we were forced to leave with me in tears and barefoot.

We drove to the nearest K-Mart and my grandmother bought me some cheap – CHEAP – sneakers (which lasted me forever, by the way) as I followed behind her, still sobbing and mumbling, “My Mom is going to KILL me!” I hated the shoes Grandmama picked out, but beggars can’t be choosers. We went back to the hotel to clean up before dinner and I calmed down a bit, though I was still certain my Mom was going to disown me when she found out that I’d lost my Reeboks. We went out to eat and when we came back to the hotel, my grandmother told me to get ready for my shower.

I started to take my shirt off and couldn’t get my arms over my head. I knew I was sunburnt – I could feel it – but my grandfather couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to get my shirt over my head. He was, understandably, a little fed up with me by that point, and started to yank the shirt up over my head as I started to scream in pain. By the time he finally got my shirt off, my grandmother gave a little shriek (she’s a bit dramatic) and started to cry. On each shoulder were blisters that covered the entire tops of my shoulders and they were probably a quarter of an inch thick. I was still crying from the pain as my grandfather put in me in the bathtub and started pouring cold water over the blisters. My grandmother was still a blubbering mess in the bedroom. I guess I know where I get my excitability and inability to function well in times of crisis…

The next day we drove to Orlando. I have a long history of car sickness, and about the time we pulled into the hotel parking lot, I started feeling a bit green around the gills. My grandmother grabbed my sand bucket and I puked in the front lobby of the hotel. I’m classy like that. I felt better a few hours later, but my grandmother was still a mess. The next day we headed to the Magic Kingdom.

I don’t remember much about our trip to Walt Disney World. Mostly I remember wondering why all the costumed characters were putting their arms around me and patting me on the shoulders. I was wearing a red button-up cotton shirt, and the first character that patted me on the shoulder popped the blister and it oozed all over my shirt, leaving a dark red stain. And I cried. But at least I didn’t puke.

Me with Bianca (of "The Rescuers") at Walt Disney World circa 1984.

Me with Bianca (of “The Rescuers”) at Walt Disney World circa 1984.

The next day we went to EPCOT Center, which I also don’t remember well, but I do remember feeling much better that day. I vaguely remember riding the ride inside the big golf ball and Captain Nemo’s submarine ride, and I remember Figment, the little dragon. Other than that, I don’t remember much of EPCOT, either.

My mother obviously did not kill me over the shoes and I didn’t die from sun poisoning, but my interest in Disney ceased as soon as we got home. I didn’t want to set foot in another Disney park again in my life, and I was approaching the age where the animated features didn’t interest me much anymore. Like Wendy in “Peter Pan,” I was growing up.

In 2011, I was hired to sing in a concert tour of Disney music in Japan. I was incredibly excited to visit another country, but I really couldn’t have cared less about singing Disney stuff. I was a serious singer/actor! Who had time for that bibbidi-bobbidi crap? It didn’t take long to get wrapped up in that bibbidi-bobbidi goodness and at the first mention of going to Tokyo DisneySea, something that had been buried deep inside me for a long, long time got very, very excited. A few weeks later I got to visit Tokyo Disneyland. It had been more than 25 years since I’d been to a Disney park, and this time around I made sure I did it right.

The joy that I felt seeing the costumed characters – that I still feel – continues to baffle me, but it’s there. My friends Eri-san and Saya-san stood in line with me for 30 minutes to get our picture made with Mickey Mouse and throughout the day at Tokyo Disneyland, we stopped and took pictures with each character we met. They didn’t judge me – they loved it! I felt like I was that 8-year old boy again. We rode every ride, we ate tiny little Japanese turkey legs, we watched the Electric Light Parade, we sang “It’s A Small World” in our native languages as we went through the attraction and we went to our laughing places. It truly was magical and for the first time in years, I felt carefree and, as silly as it sounds, nourished.

My first picture with the Mouse! Saya-san (on the left) and Eri-san (kneeling) brought ears for us to wear.

My first picture with the Mouse! Saya-san (on the left) and Eri-san (kneeling) brought ears for us to wear.

This past May I was lucky enough to take my first venture to the original Happiest Place On Earth – Disneyland in Anaheim, CA, with two of my best friends who now live in San Diego. I arrived at the park before they did and I was like a kid in a candy store. I got my picture with the Big 5 characters – Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto – and I took my time marveling at Main Street, U.S.A., taking as many pictures as I could before Tom and Anthony arrived. Since that first visit, I’ve been to Disneyland and California Adventure five times with another visit planned the week before Christmas. It doesn’t get old. It doesn’t feel silly. It’s wonderful. And it all started with a mouse.

So, to my friend Mickey Mouse, I wish a very happy 85th birthday. I’ll never leave you again, and I know you’ll always be there for me, too.

See ya real soon!

Disney Character Collage

Happy November From Blah-Blah Land!

1 Nov

Hooray for it!

I can’t believe it’s already November. Of course, who would know it out here in L.A., where the temperatures today were in the low 80’s and half of West Hollywood was out in Speedos last night for Halloween. Apparently underwear and a cute hat constitute a costume in Los Angeles. Who knew? If I wore that, I can guarantee you it’d be the scariest costume you’d see all night.

I’ve traveled a lot in my life – I’m very lucky and grateful for that – but I have to say I’ve rarely suffered from culture shock the way I have here. Tokyo might have been a little more shocking, but only slightly. We’re coming up on the end of our second week here and for the entire first week I was taking public transportation to get where I needed and wanted to go. In New York, that’s no problem. In L.A.? Fuggedaboutit! I’m splitting my stay in two different places – one in a house in West Hollywood with some friends of my boss and the other place is a condo a few blocks away off of Santa Monica Boulevard. The owner of the condo is away for a year shooting a movie, so her place is empty. This is my first real stay in Los Angeles – ever – and while having my own condo in West Hollywood sounds amazing and glamourous (which sometimes it is), it’s also quite disconcerting and lonely being in a new town with no friends and no way of getting around. I’m 7 miles from the theatre and about 10 miles from the rest of the cast and crew’s company housing, which doesn’t sound bad, but distance isn’t measured in mileage here – it’s measured by time. Seven miles could be 10 minutes or it could be an hour, depending on traffic which, in my limited experience here, is almost constant.

I learned the hard way that certain buses that run express only run Monday through Friday and only at certain hours. I’ve also learned that I don’t like being on any corner of Hollywood Boulevard late at night waiting for a bus, but particularly at the corner of Hollywood and Vine. I’ve lived in New York for 12 years and honestly have never felt unsafe, but L.A. is a whole other animal. During my hour-long wait for a bus last Saturday night, I witnessed a young man being chased down the sidewalk by a cop and a small crowd of screaming people. The young man was thrown against a chain link fence and handcuffed while three other cop cars pulled up and blocked off the corner of Hollywood and Vine. Half the crowd was screaming at the guy being arrested and the other half of the crowd was yelling that the policeman was being unnecessarily rough with him. Two other people were subsequently arrested. I walked to Sunset Blvd. and waited for a different bus. By Monday I had a rental car.

I was hoping the rental would solve my transportation woes – and it has, for the most part. L.A.’s is a car culture and this city is so spread out that you really need one to get anywhere. As William Holden’s character Joe Gillis says in “Sunset Blvd.,” “If I lose my car, it’s like having my legs cut off!” Cars bring on a whole other kind of responsibility, however, that are a headache. Parking in West Hollywood is a nightmare unless you have a spot in a parking garage or a driveway, which I don’t, so that means finding parking on the street. As in New York, you have to be aware of the street sweeping schedule – NO PARKING THURS. 8AM-10AM, for instance. You can park there, but you’d have to make sure you move your vehicle before the designated time, and let’s face it – I’m a night owl and I am not getting up at 7:45 to move the car. There’s also a parking permit system in place in WeHo that gets to be tricky. North of Fountain Avenue you need a 6R parking pass, but south of Fountain you need a 7R permit. South of Santa Monica, you don’t need one at all. It’s very confusing and, since I was staying by myself, I didn’t know what any of it meant. Thank goodness my hosts live 10 minutes up the street and were able to fill me in on the whole system.

L.A. is also very laid-back in a way that is completely opposite from New York. People aren’t really in a rush to get things done, which kind of drives me crazy when I’m in a rush. You can take the boy out of New York… All of this, along with a few work-specific things, have put me in a bit of a funk since we’ve been here. I don’t know if it’s the time change or the non-stop sunshine or the flu shot I got last weekend, but I just haven’t felt “settled” here since I arrived, but I’m learning and adapting. I’ve already mastered the “pull into the center of the intersection to make a left turn and wait to go until the light turns yellow” move, which would get me killed in New York. I learn! I LEEEEARN! WAAAH WAAAAAAAAAAH!

She learns! She LEEEEEARNS!!

Things are not all gloom and doom and crazy shootings at LAX, though. I have managed to have some fun while I’ve been here. If you’ve been following my blog or Twitter (@JasonHBratton) at all (and why haven’t you been??), you’ll know that my idea of fun is slightly different than others’, and I’m totally OK with that. I’ve done some of the typical touristy stuff like walking up and down Hollywood Blvd. (in the daylight), stopping to take pictures of all my favorite stars’ stars on the Walk of Fame. I went to (Mann’s Grauman’s) Chinese Theater to snap pictures of all the hand and footprints in the cement. I went to the Griffith Observatory, where a good chunk of “Rebel Without A Cause” was filmed, and took in the amazing view of Los Angeles and the Hollywood sign. I went to the La Brea Tar Pits and looked at mammoths and saber-toothed cats’ remains and my friend Bert surprised me with a trip to Disneyland on Monday. So I have had some “traditional” fun, but I also spent about three hours looking at gravestones the other day, which I actually found quite fascinating.

Griffith Observatory Panorama 1

A panoramic view of Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles and the Hollywood sign.

As I’ve said before, I don’t generally get starstruck, but walking around Westwood Village Memorial Park was a bit overwhelming. Celebrity after celebrity is buried there – Farrah Fawcett, Truman Capote, Natalie Wood, Don Knotts, Eva Gabor, Donna Reed, Eve Arden, Walter Matthau, Janet Leigh, Jack Lemmon, Dean Martin, Heather O’Rourke (Carol Anne from the “Poltergeist” movies) and, most famously, Marilyn Monroe. It’s a pretty impressive representation of Hollywood in one tiny little cemetery. And now I’m eager to go to the Forest Lawn cemeteries where the REALLY big names are buried. I’m sure some people would think that’s kind of morose and weird, but it’s the closest I’ll ever get to these people, even if they are dead. My friend Joe is a big movie buff and he knows each and every actress to ever win an Oscar. Today I told him I wish he were here to go with me to these cemeteries to find all the stars and he said that it was one of his dreams to do just that. It was a much-needed reminder that, despite how challenging it may be, I am very, very lucky to be getting to travel the way I do and that I am living a dream life in many respects. DSCN8518

Marilyn Monroe’s grave at Westwood Village Memorial Park in Los Angeles, California

I have a list of things I have left to do here. The Museum of Tolerance is high on the list. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is another. I’d like to go to Santa Monica Pier, Malibu and Venice Beach and I have to get to Little Japan downtown. But not before I go back to Disneyland with my pals Tom and Anthony on Monday, lunch with Jill on Tuesday and four shows this weekend. Eek!!

The World Is A Carousel Of Color

11 Aug

I have been severely remiss in my blogging this past week. Most of that has to do with my being home in Kentucky this week – I simply haven’t had time to do much writing and life here this week has been pretty run-of-the-mill. The most exciting thing to happen since I’ve been home so far, really, is that we’ve caught two mice in the house this week. My mother is freaking out about it. “I can’t stand to be in this house, knowing that they’re running around pooping all over the place!”

I need – and want – to get into the habit of writing every day. It’s difficult sometimes – I have personal and professional obligations that keep me from it, sometimes I’m just lazy and sometimes I simply can’t think of anything interesting to write about. So, I’ve started checking out the daily prompts that WordPress provides. Basically, they give you a topic or word and you go from there. A few days ago, for instance, the prompt was, “Write about something you tried that you swear you will never do again.” My best response to that would be brussel sprouts. Today’s prompt was something that immediately got me excited to write: “Moved To Tears: Describe the last time you were moved to tears by something beautiful.”

I have referred to myself in past posts as a Disnerd, a term which I first heard from my friend Katie, who traveled with me and a handful of other singers to Japan to perform Disney music with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. Now, I grew up on Disney. Disney records, Disney movies, Disney Underoos. I was a member of the Mickey Mouse Club (the real one – not the Britney Spears MMC thing). Today as I was talking with my grandmother, she reminded me that she and my Popaw took me to a mall in Lexington once to meet Mickey Mouse. She said I never once took my eyes off him. For some reason, however, I wasn’t able to meet Mickey or get my photo with him. A few years later they took me on a trip to Orlando to meet the Mouse on his home turf. That vacation turned into a Class A disaster (that’s another story for another entry), and I still didn’t get my picture with Mickey. But in terms of my level of Disnerd, I’d rank myself as a fledgling novice.

In November 2011, while we were in the middle of our concert tour of Japan, one of the Japanese executives from Disney Music Group purchased passes for us to go to Tokyo DisneySea, which is a park themed around water. The park features a huge lagoon where “Fantasmic!” is presented as well as various themed areas such as the American Waterfront, Port Discovery, the Mermaid Lagoon, the Arabian Coast, Mediterranean Harbor, the Mysterious Island and the Lost River Delta. It’s a truly spectacular park, and it’s very un-Disney. We weren’t able to make it into the park until 2:00pm and we had to be at the lagoon for “Fantasmic!” by 7:15, so we pretty much rushed through to get everything in before the show. Because we were singing a 12-minute arrangement of the Tokyo DisneySea version of “Fantasmic!” in our own show, we were given seats in the VIP section, and it was very important that we see the show.

While I loved Tokyo DisneySea, I was a little let down with my first Disney park experience since the early 80’s. Because we were so rushed to get through everything (and we spent a good deal of the day waiting in lines), I didn’t get much of an opportunity to soak in the “magic” of the place. The only characters I recall seeing the whole day there were Pinocchio, Geppetto and Jiminy Cricket, and I was certain to get a photo with Jiminy. The only other characters I recall seeing that day were in “Fantasmic!,” and thereby inaccessible for photos. Don’t get me wrong – I had a great time at TDS, and I would love to go back there again, but I was hoping for more.

Me with Jiminy Cricket at Tokyo DisneySea

Me with Jiminy Cricket at Tokyo DisneySea. Pardon the crazy eyes.

Three days before we left Japan, I got what I was hoping for. We had reached the end of our tour, which meant lots of last minute gift-buying, sightseeing and packing. We only had one real day off that week, so when I suggested we maybe go to Tokyo Disneyland, it wasn’t surprising that the response was less than enthusiastic. People were tired and broke. I got that. But I also didn’t want to be that guy who went to Tokyo Disneyland by himself.

I had mentioned to our company manager that no one really seemed to want to go to TDL with me and I asked if he would speak to some of the orchestra members to see if perhaps they’d like to go with me. I was absolutely gobsmacked when he came back to me with two of our contrabass players who wanted to know if they could take me to Tokyo Disneyland. Neither of them spoke English well, and I certainly didn’t speak Japanese well enough to communicate with them, but it didn’t matter. We figured it out. That’s the magic of Disney – happiness has no language barrier. We spent the entire day at the park, riding every ride at least once, seeing a show and eating to our heart’s content. I even introduced them to the famous Disney turkey legs, which are significantly smaller in Japan.

It was at Tokyo Disneyland that I finally got my picture with Mickey Mouse. Saya-san, Eri-san and I waited in line for half an hour to meet the Mouse and let me tell ya…it was totally worth it. The two of them seemed to have more fun finding characters for me to get my picture taken with than I did…and that was saying a lot. I felt like a kid again. For that day, it was completely OK for me to be a 10-year old again. I was euphoric to the point that I actually found myself bouncing up and down during the Main Street Electrical Parade and “oohing” and “aaahing” as my favorite characters would pass by. “Mary Poppins desu! Minnie-san desu!! Sugoi ne?!” I would shout to my two friends and we would all snap pictures. Leaving the park that day was unspeakably difficult for me. I wasn’t ready for it to end.

My first picture with the Mouse! Saya-san (on the left) and Eri-san (kneeling) brought ears for us to wear.

My first picture with the Mouse! Saya-san (on the left) and Eri-san (kneeling) brought ears for us to wear.

It would be another year and a half before I made to another Disney park. This time, it was the original – the Motherland of Disney – Disneyland in Anaheim, California. My friends Tom and Anthony, who live in San Diego and have annual passes to the parks – came up to meet me on my two days off from Flashdance (yes, we went two weeks in a row) and the second time we went, we made sure to get our Fast Passes to see “World Of Color” at Paradise Pier in the California Adventure park. I had no idea what the show was, but I’d had such a wonderful time up to that point that I didn’t really care. I knew it involved water fountains and lights, but beyond that, I was clueless.

An aerial view of "World Of Color" at Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim, CA

An aerial view of “World Of Color” at Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim, CA

What it is is breathtaking. With California Screamin’ and the 160-foot tall Mickey’s Fun Wheel as a backdrop for the show, “World of Color” is a 25-minute laser-light-water-fire-projection show set to a soundtrack of some of the greatest hits (and a few obscure tunes and visuals) from the Disney canon including “The Little Mermaid,” “Up,” “The Lion King,” “Fantasia,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Brave” as well as Broadway’s Eden Espinosa singing the main theme. (Ms. Espinosa also recorded the female vocals for “Fantasmic!” at Tokyo DisneySea and the Magical fireworks show at Disneyland).

"World Of Color" at Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim, CA

“World Of Color” at Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim, CA

From the second the show started, I was moved to tears. I was overwhelmed by the day – the friends, the fun, the sun, the food, the rides, the characters, the music…all of it. The lights all around Paradise Pier were part of “World of Color,” twinkling and dancing as the synchronized water fountains began their dance of color and light. Mist curtains provided the backdrop for high definition projections of Ariel and Simba and Dory and all your favorite Disney characters to become a part of the experience, much as they do in “Fantasmic!” The water fountains are capable of shooting 200 feet in the air, making it impossible to avoid being sprayed with mist at some point and the heat from the flame effects used in the “Pirates” section could be felt from 100 feet away. My description of the show is insufficient to describe how magical it really is, but if you ever have the opportunity to see it, you should. It’s pretty brilliant. I look forward to going back to both parks in December and seeing “World of Color” again. I know it probably won’t have the same effect on me the second time around, but I’m sure I’ll be moved by it all the same, and I can’t wait!

California Screamin' and Mickey's Fun Wheel are part of "World Of Color" at Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim, CA

California Screamin’ and Mickey’s Fun Wheel are part of “World Of Color” at Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim, CA

Update: Eden Espinosa just informed me that she was not, in fact, the female vocalist for “World of Color” or TDS’ “Fantasmic!” Just “Magical.” For the record, whoever did do those tracks does a heck of an Eden Espinosa imitation.

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This just in from Eden Espinosa.

Cream Of The Crop, Tip Of The Top, It’s Mary Poppins, And There We Stop!

12 Jul

Greetings from Kansas City (still here…) where the temperature has significantly dropped since my last entry. It’s a cool 86° – a full 20° cooler than it was two days ago when we opened the show. I’m still looking forward to temperatures in the 60’s, but I’ll take this for now.

Today while I was trolling Facebook I came across a link for the first trailer to be released for Disney’s upcoming “Saving Mr. Banks.” The film centers around P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) – the author of the Mary Poppins books – and Walt Disney’s (Tom Hanks) struggle to get her to release the rights and to approve the production of the film, which would go on to earn 13 Academy Award nominations and 5 wins, including Best Actress in a Leading Role for Julie Andrews.

“Mary Poppins” is maybe the first movie I remember actually seeing in the theater (or at least it’s the one I’ve been thinking I saw for 30 years). In the late 70’s/early 80’s, we didn’t have VCRs or DVD/BluRay players yet, so we didn’t watch movies at home unless they were on TV. I suppose it’s possible that “Mary Poppins” had been broadcast, but I specifically remember seeing it at the Showcase Cinemas on Bardstown Road in Louisville. The way I remember it, the movie was cut short because of a tornado warning, and we were all sent home to hide in our bathtubs. That’s my first real recollection of going to the movies – a tornado coming through town. It’s a wonder I ever set foot in a movie theater again!

I feel like I must have seen “Mary Poppins” before then, though, because from as far back as I can remember, my family has told me that I was always hopping off the ledge of my grandparent’s fireplace with an umbrella in my hand, claiming to be Mary Poppins. I also liked to pretend I was C3-PO and R2-D2, but I couldn’t tell you the first time I saw “Star Wars,” either.

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“Mousercise” was one of my favorite LPs as a kid.

Back in the day when we had record players, I had a huge collection of albums for a 5-year old. I had all sorts of Disney-related storytelling albums and “Disco Mickey Mouse” and “Mousercise.” I also had Barry Manilow, Olivia Newton-John and I’d borrow my Mom’s Motown records sometimes, too. But I mostly listened to those Disney albums. I knew every word to every song – “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah,” “It’s A Small World,” “When You Wish Upon A Star,” “Lavender Blue (Dilly-Dilly).” When we moved to England, they had something we didn’t have in the States yet – something called Picture Disc. It was a clear album with pictures sandwiched between the two sides, and on the record was the full story and songs of whatever you were listening to – “The Fox and the Hound,” “Lady and the Tramp,” and my favorite – “Mary Poppins.” I would listen to it for hours on end. Even today, when I’m feeling down and need a pick-me-up, “Mary Poppins” is usually my first choice to lift my spirits.

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I knew every word of this “Mary Poppins” Picture Disc LP.

I don’t know what the connection is for me. Perhaps it’s just the nostalgia – maybe it takes me back to being a child again. Maybe it’s Julie Andrews. She can do no wrong in my book. Maybe it’s the magic. Who wouldn’t want to slide up banisters and leap into chalk drawings and have a tea party on the ceiling? What I wouldn’t given even now to just snap my fingers and make my room clean itself. I think it’s a combination of all of those things, I guess. Whatever it is, Mary Poppins – the movie and Mr. Disney’s vision of the character – mean a great deal to me.

A few months ago, our tour was in Costa Mesa, California, just a few miles from Disneyland in Anaheim. My good friends Tom and Anthony live in San Diego and they have annual passes to Disneyland, so I was lucky that they were able to drive up and spend two days with me at the park. It was my first time at Disneyland or California Adventure, though certainly not my first time at a Disney park. I had been to Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea when I was in Japan, and back in the mid-80’s, my grandparents took me to Disney World, back when there was only the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT. Yeah, I’m old school.

Me with Bianca (of "The Rescuers") at Walt Disney World circa 1984.

Me with Bianca (of “The Rescuers”) at Walt Disney World circa 1984.

While we were in Disneyland, Tom and Anthony – two of the biggest Disnerds I’ve ever met – were talking about the changes they made to the park when the film “Saving Mr. Banks” was being shot on location. Tom pulled up some pictures on his phone and they were was really remarkable. The old character costumes had been pulled out and dusted off, some of the colors had changed, the guests were all dressed in their best early 60‘s clothes (Side note: If people really did wear dresses and long pants to Disneyland, I can’t imagine what Uncle Walt would think about what people wear to the park today), but it was still Disneyland.

When the Broadway production of Mary Poppins opened in 2006, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a press event at the New Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street, where Poppins was going to move in when The Lion King moved to the Minskoff Theatre. It was a big to-do for industry folks, introduced by the President of Disney Theatricals, Thomas Schumacher. The writers of the new material for the show, George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, came out and sang through a couple of the new pieces and then, as a surprise, the surviving composer of the film score, Richard Sherman, was introduced and he sang through a few of the original songs and told one or two short anecdotes about his involvement with the film and the new stage production. Just as we thought the event was ending, a curtain raised up and a full orchestra was onstage playing a suite of music from “Mary Poppins.” It was so beautiful, and I won’t mind admitting that I got a little choked up. On our way out the door, Disney one-upped themselves by giving each of us a Mary Poppins umbrella, complete with a parrot head handle. It was maybe the most amazing piece of merchandising I’ve ever seen. Sadly, I have no idea where that umbrella is now.

As a child, I believed there was magic in that umbrella. Even after 12 years of living in New York, which is enough to make anyone jaded, I still do. Watching Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke – bad Cockney accent and all – dancing through cartoon farmyards still makes me think, “How did they do that?!” “Step In Time” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (or “dociousaliexpiisticfragilcalirupus” backwards (kind of), but that’s going a bit too far, don’t you think?) take me back to a time when I wanted to recreate those numbers step by step on a stage for people to enjoy as much as I did. “Stay Awake” still gives me that melancholy feeling of knowing it’s time to go to bed, even though you don’t want to. And watching Mary Poppins fly off into the sunset always makes me feel a little bit as if she’s leaving me – not the Banks children. What a comfort to know that I can always hit PLAY and there she’ll be again, sitting in that cloud, powdering her nose.

Needless to say, I am very excited about “Saving Mr. Banks.” I’ll be in Costa Mesa again the week it opens. If there’s anything happening at Disneyland to celebrate the premiere, I plan to find a way to be there. Now get off your computer and go fly a kite!

And for those of you who are keeping up: I’m now 93 hours diet soda free. Woohoo!