Tag Archives: Mickey Mouse

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

See Ya Real Soon

25 May

Hi, readers! Greetings from Orlando, where tomorrow I will spend my last day of vacation. This week has been absolutely unreal – three days at Disney World followed by an incredible three days aboard the Disney Dream with my friend, Brance, and today I spent the day at Kennedy Space Center with my friends Kristi and Sara, who were also good enough to drive me to my hotel so I didn’t have to find a shuttle bus or taxi.

There are so many things to write about – and I will, but not necessarily tonight because I need to get to bed if I’m to get up in time for the bus to Magic Kingdom in the morning. But there were so many magical moments this week and, honestly, I’m quite sad to have said “so long” to Brance and the Disney Dream. I found myself getting quite emotional and reflective yesterday, wishing that my cruising experience could continue and that I could spend more time with my friend. I miss him already.

Pirate Mickey and me on Pirate Night aboard the Disney Dream.

Pirate Mickey and me on Pirate Night aboard the Disney Dream.

I cannot begin to express the gratitude that I feel for this past week. “Thank you’s” and small gifts just don’t seem to be sufficient expressions of appreciation, but I’m afraid they’re all I can offer at this point. Brance can’t possibly know what this has meant to and for me. This was exactly what I needed to recharge my batteries and to find my bliss again, and I’m so excited to have one more day in the Happiest Place On Earth.

I will definitely have more to write in the coming days as I return to Evita and the road. See ya real soon!

Y’See…It’s Just Like I Told You…Wishes Can Come True If You Believe In Them With All Your Heart

5 Apr

It’s been a long time since my last entry. The last couple of weeks have been incredibly busy and exciting and, if you’ll forgive me, magical.

As I wrote in my last entry, I spent last week at Walt Disney World, visiting the parks for the first time in 30 years. The last time I was there was with my grandparents and it was absolutely the most miserable vacation of my life. I got so sunburnt at the beach that I had huge blisters on both shoulders, making it impossible to raise my arms even to take my shirt off, and the ensuing sun poisoning had me puking my way across Orlando. I didn’t really get to enjoy my time at Disney World which, at that time, consisted only of the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT. Because Evita was playing Orlando for a week, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to go back and have the experience I had wished for as a kid.

A photo of me looking at a photo of me standing in roughly the same spot 30 years earlier. Very meta and just a little bit magical.

A photo of me looking at a photo of me standing in roughly the same spot 30 years earlier. Very meta and just a little bit magical.

The show’s head electrician, Stephen, and I decided to stay in one of the value resorts on Disney property, sharing a room at the All-Star Sports Resort near Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The room was only $114/night which, when split between the two of us, ended up being cheaper than what we would have paid at the hotel where the company was staying. Parking was included in the resort stay, both at the hotel and at the parks, and we also had access to free shuttle buses to the parks. As resort guests, we also got to enjoy Extra Magic Hours, meaning one of the parks would open an hour early and one would stay open two hours after closing each day exclusively for resort guests. Because we both had to leave for the theatre at 4:30 or 5:00, depending on Orlando traffic, those Extra Magic Hours were crucial in our getting to fully enjoy the parks.

As resort guests, we were also able to test the new MagicBands, which are basically plastic wrist bands with RFID chips in them. These chips connect your MagicBand to your vacation account – you can charge your meals and merchandise to your room with the band, it serves as your room key and park ticket and is connected to your three FastPass+ choices each day, as well. FastPass+ allows you to choose 3 attractions per day (all within the same park) for which you are assigned a time and during that timeframe you are basically able to skip the majority of the line. For instance, you could book FastPass+ for Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean for your day at Magic Kingdom. You are given three or four options for time slots for these reservations, so you can shape your day as you’d like it based on availability. Your FastPass+ time for Haunted Mansion might be 10:30-11:30, Space Mountain from 12:15-1:15 and Pirates from 2:30-3:30. You can show up during that hour-long window of time and get in the FastPass+ line and essentially skip the lines. It’s a great way to basically ensure you get to ride your top 3 attraction picks, but the drawback is that you can only reserve times within the same park and you cannot get FastPass+ for the same ride twice in one day. This past Monday, FastPass+ and MagicBands became available to the general public. I’m curious to see how that works out considering resort guests can make their FastPass+ reservations months in advance – I’m not sure if non-resort guests will have that option.

My MagicBand!

My MagicBand!

Speaking of reservations…I was quite disappointed with the reservation system they have in place for their sit down dining – particularly at Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Disney World offers many food options throughout the 4 parks, including sit down full-service dining, quick-service cafeteria-style dining and food kiosks. In addition to being known for world-class attractions and entertainment, Disney parks are known for their fantastic food – especially in the World Showcase at Epcot – and I was really looking forward to some great meals. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the full-service sit down restaurants were booked months in advance and had no seating available. Stephen and I were able to grab one of the last available tables at the Liberty Tree Tavern in Liberty Square at the Magic Kingdom, but it was 11:30 in the morning and even that early, they could barely fit us in. This past Monday, my friend Jonathan and I were able to walk into the Biergarten Buffet in the German section of the World Showcase at Epcot. It was around 4:30 and by the time we left at around 6:00 the place was filling up quickly. (No, we didn’t eat the whole time – there was a great show during our dinner that we took a break to watch).

One of my goals at Magic Kingdom was to eat at the new Be Our Guest restaurant in New Fantasyland. I really wanted to try the Grey Stuff. I hear it’s delicious. That restaurant is booked up 6 months in advance. While that’s no skin off Disney’s back – they’re making their money and there are butts in the seats – there’s little opportunity for park goers without reservations to eat there. Ever. Because it’s so difficult to eat at a sit down restaurant in the parks, the quick service options are constantly packed with lines spilling out the doors and into the specially tinted streets of Frontierland and Fantasyland. Stephen and I waited a good 30 minutes in line at Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe only to end up eating our BBQ pork sandwiches sitting on the edge of a flowerbed because all the tables were taken. We were both so hungry at that point that we didn’t care where we sat, as long as we weren’t on our feet any longer and had food in our bellies.

So where did we eat? At Magic Kingdom, we had a great meal at the Liberty Tree Tavern. I had the Pilgrim’s Feast, which is basically Thanksgiving dinner, and it was delicious. Stephen had the same thing, but he also ordered a bowl of clam chowder, which he said was very good. At Pecos Bill’s we had the BBQ pulled pork sandwich and fries. It was very good, but like I said – we were so hungry, I think we would have thought a cardboard box tasted good. We also had gigantic cinnamon rolls at Gaston’s Tavern in New Fantasyland. Here’s a tip: SHARE ONE. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, he and I had a so-so cheeseburger lunch at the ABC Commissary. The original plan was to eat at the 50’s Prime Time Café, but they were booked up with reservations. At Animal Kingdom we had a pretty decent breakfast at Pizzafari – one of the few places we found that actually served breakfast. Here’s a little money- (and calorie-) saving tip: You can order child sized portions and they won’t question you.

 

The Pilgrim's Feast at Liberty Tree Tavern in Liberty Square at Magic Kingdom.

The Pilgrim’s Feast at Liberty Tree Tavern in Liberty Square at Magic Kingdom.

Epcot was where I did some serious eating. My first day there I was nursing a queasy stomach after riding Mission: Space, so I waited too long to get anything in a sit-down restaurant, so I hopped from country to country in the World Showcase and sampled foods from the quick-service restaurants. I had a delicious cinnamon sugar croissant donut in Canada, some fish and chips in the UK and an amazing caramel bar from Germany. We pigged out at the Biergarten Buffet on my second trip to Epcot, where we enjoyed sausages, potato salads, pot roast, roast pork, pork schnitzel, spätzel, German cheesecake, berry compotes and more. The price is a little steep at $40, but it was worth it. I left full, but not sick and didn’t need to eat again until I got back to the hotel at the end of the night.

The Cinnamon Sugar Croissant Donut from the Canadian Pavilion at the World Showcase at Epcot.

The Cinnamon Sugar Croissant Donut from the Canadian Pavilion at the World Showcase at Epcot.

The dinner show at the Biergarten Buffet in the German Pavilion at World Showcase in Epcot.

The dinner show at the Biergarten Buffet in the German Pavilion at World Showcase in Epcot.

My biggest food indulgence on this trip was the incredible Dole Whip and Citrus Swirl floats at the Aloha Isle kiosk in Adventureland at Magic Kingdom. Dole Whip is essentially pineapple soft serve that is only available in a handful of places at Disney World, whereas Citrus Swirl is an orange/vanilla soft serve twist that tastes like an orangesicle. What makes it a float, you ask? The cup of ice cold pineapple juice that the soft serve is floating in. It is the most refreshing thing maybe on the planet and, unfortunately, the floats are only available at the Aloha Isle kiosk in Magic Kingdom, which means lines. There are four windows, but only two lines, so be prepared to wait at least 10 minutes – maybe longer – for your delicious float. It’s totally worth the wait. I promise.

The Citrus Swirl Float from Aloha Isle in Adventureland at Magic Kingdom. Definitely worth the wait.

The Citrus Swirl Float from Aloha Isle in Adventureland at Magic Kingdom. Definitely worth the wait.

If you’re planning a trip to Disney World, be prepared to hurry up and wait. As the busiest theme park in the world, you should expect the lines to be pretty long. It’s quite common to wait an hour or more to get onto any attraction and the wait to meet characters could be just as long, if not longer. It’s no secret that I love to meet the characters – even as a 37 year old man, they’re magical to me. I remember when I was there 30 years ago, the characters would wander around the parks in their appropriate “Land” and we, the guests, could approach them for pictures. No more. With the crowds swelling to 100,000 on capacity days at the Magic Kingdom, poor Mickey Mouse would be absolutely trampled if he were seen just meandering about the park, so characters now have designated areas where guests can wait in line to meet them. Depending on the character, the line could be 5 people deep, which equates to a 5-minute wait, or it could be 50-100 people deep, which means more than an hour. The most popular characters – the Princesses – often have waits of 2 hours or more, though you get more bang for your buck with them as you typically get to meet 2 Princesses in one room. This may sound like a very long time to wait to meet Snow White and Rapunzel – and it is – but it’s nothing compared to the 5-6 hour wait to meet Anna and Elsa at the Norway Pavilion at Epcot. Yes…5-6 hours for a 1-minute meet and greet.

While I really wanted to meet as many characters as I could, I felt it was more prudent to spend my time enjoying the attractions and soaking in the atmosphere, which is as much a part of the experience as anything else. I spent hours with my camera walking around snapping shots of iconic rides and buildings and, yes, characters, trying to capture the spirit of it all in a few thousand photographs. But really, this trip was about reclaiming the experience that I wanted to have when I was a kid, and I really feel I succeeded. Whether it was watching the fireworks at Magic Kingdom or Epcot or seeing the parades or meeting Mickey Mouse (who now talks to you!), I never stopped being amazed and slightly baffled by Disney World. What a strange thing to be a grown man waiting in line to meet a talking mouse or waving at a Princess as she passes by on a giant float or to catch yourself singing along at full voice as you float through Splash Mountain or to catch yourself crying during the fireworks show. Stephen kept pointing out that the parks are basically nothing but a marketing tool to promote Disney’s films – a never-ending opportunity to sell merchandise and make money – and even though the grown-up in me was aware of that, part of me didn’t care. Seeing a Make-A-Wish kid hugging Minnie Mouse – and seeing that Minnie clearly did not want to let go – reminded me of what Disney means to me. Hope. Love. Magic. Dreams coming true. There is something magical about it and I can’t wait to go back and maybe even work there someday.

Minnie Mouse and me on Main Street U.S.A. at the Magic Kingdom.

Minnie Mouse and me on Main Street U.S.A. at the Magic Kingdom.

This entry has become quite long and there’s still so much I could say about my week with the Mouse. Maybe I’ll write more later, or maybe I’ll just hold on to the rest of my memories as a personal souvenir. But I will share with you some of the photos that I took during the week after the jump. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did when I took them!

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The Vinyl Menagerie

31 Jan

I know what many of you have been wondering – “If I were to get Jason a gift, what would it be?” Well, let me tell you.

I’ve never been one to have collections for the sake of collecting things. I once half-heartedly collected quarters for a while, but that’s about it. Yes, I had a huge assortment of Star Wars and He-Man toys when I was a kid, but that wasn’t really a collection per se. They were functional – I actually played with them. Thinking back on it now, I wish I hadn’t because they’d be worth a lot of money now. I had a huge collection of CDs, but again – those were functional. I listened to music all the time in school and used those CDs as much for research as I did for my own personal enjoyment. They took up a huge amount of space and were hard to move and now I have converted everything over to digital files.

Neither of my parents were collectors, so I guess it’s not really in my genes. My Mom is an amazing keeper of house – everything is spotless and in its place at all times, so “stuff” just sitting around collecting dust wasn’t something we had in our house. I do recall having a collection of Toby mugs as a kid living in England, but those have somehow been absorbed by my parents and are not longer considered mine.

As I’ve written on many occasions, I’ve recently rekindled my love of all things Disney and I’m looking quite forward to moving to San Diego sometime this year where I hope to have just a bit more space than I did back in New York. So I’ve started a collection that I’ve been adding to since Christmas.

There’s a line of Disney figures called the Funko Pop Vinyl Disney series, which are basically 4 1/4-inch tall vinyl figures of various Disney characters. It won’t be any surprise that my favorite villain, Maleficent, was the first one I bought, quickly followed by Mary Poppins. My plan was to start collecting just the figures of the characters that I liked, or maybe to do a collection of Villains and Princesses or something, but now I’m slightly obsessed with completing each of the various series. For instance, Series 1 is Mickey Mouse, Buzz Lightyear, Woody, Sulley, Mike, Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket, Snow White, Maleficent, Tinker Bell, Cruella deVil and Stitch. I’m not sure how they picked who would be in what series – it would seem more logical to do the series by popularity of character or in chronological order of their appearances, but I guess it does make sense to spread the major characters out in order to increase sales.

From what I can tell, there are 6 series, each with 12 figures, and they’ve also introduced a Disney Pixar series with Nemo, Dory, etc. and a new Monsters University series, as well. I’m curious to know when Rapunzel, Elsa, Anna and Olaf will be released.

So far I have 6 figures – Mickey Mouse, Maleficent, Mary Poppins, Buzz Lightyear, Ariel, Tinker Bell – nowhere near completing a full series. They are available at your local Disney or Barnes & Noble stores or online at BN.com and Amazon.com…just in case you wanted to send me a little pick-me-up or needed birthday, Christmas or Valentine’s Day gift ideas.

Funko's Pop Vinyl Disney Mickey Mouse figure.

Funko’s Pop Vinyl Disney Mickey Mouse figure.

Funko's Pop Vinyl Disney Mary Poppins figure.

Funko’s Pop Vinyl Disney Mary Poppins figure.

Funko's Pop Vinyl Disney Maleficent figure.

Funko’s Pop Vinyl Disney Maleficent figure.

Funko's Pop Vinyl Disney Ariel figure.

Funko’s Pop Vinyl Disney Ariel figure.

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

10 Things You Probably Don’t Care To Know About Me

16 Nov

So there’s this thing happening on Facebook now where someone writes a few things about themselves that no one supposedly knows about them, and if a friend “likes” the post, the writer of the post assigns the liker of the post a number. The liker is then expected to write his or her own post chock full of facts that no one cares about. The number of facts they’re supposed to write directly corresponds to the number the writer of the post that they liked assigned to them. Confused yet? It’s really much simpler and more unnecessary than it sounds, but I actually find it to be kind of interesting. Who knew that so-and-so’s grandfather was one of the motorcycle cops riding alongside JFK’s limo when he was shot in Dallas? How interesting that that person knows how to change the brakes on her car! As fun as these things are to know, I’m not sure that Facebook is the forum in which to share them. It seems more like a thing that one would share in say…a blog. Like this one here. As opposed to posting it on Facebook where everyone is forced to look at it as they scroll past it, you can choose to read this or not here and you never have to look at it again. No harm, no foul. So…here goes.

1. When I was 5 years old, my family moved to a little village outside London, England, for my Dad’s job. Dad was the international quality control manager for Kentucky Fried Chicken in the early 80’s and we were relocated to a village called Bookham in Surrey for two years. I started school at Eastwick First School, where on my first day of class we went out to pick blackberries. The next day we made blackberry jam as a science project. Our headmistress was named Mrs. Rump. I don’t really remember her much, but whenever I hear her name, I have visions of Miss Trunchbull from “Matilda.” We were required to wear uniforms at Eastwick, which I actually liked a lot and I looked very cute if I do say so myself. Our gym outfits were another story for another day. (Always leave ’em wanting more, right…?)

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Me in my Eastwick First School uniform.

2. I have a very healthy respect/fear of authoritative figures, though I hate to be told what to do and have no tolerance for abuse of power. I believe it is possible to be an authority figure without being a bully or condescending. The second I feel you’re taking advantage of your position or condescend to me, I start bucking up and getting sassy. But if there’s any chance you might be able to throw me in jail, I will probably cry and be as cooperative as possible (See Below).

3. I have been investigated by the FBI. It’s a long story that I don’t have the time or energy to go into again, so just read the post I wrote about it this summer. The One About the FBI.

4. I am absolutely terrified of “haunted” houses, but I am fascinated by haunted houses. When I was 8 years old, my next door neighbor’s dad took some of us to a local radio station’s walk-through haunted house and I haven’t set foot in one since. Again – another post for another day. I am, however, fascinated by houses that may actually be haunted by spirits…not by people jumping out from behind things with chainsaws.

5. I am nearly 37 years old and I have never smoked a cigarette – tobacco or otherwise. I’ve also never done drugs and I don’t drink alcohol. None of it has ever interested me. Honestly, if I’m self-medicating, I’d rather have a cake or cookies. Also, I’ve seen and felt the effects of drug and alcohol abuse on my family. I’ll stick to Twinkies and pie, thanks.

6. My love of Disney began – and was temporarily halted – by my maternal grandparents. My grandparents used to take me to see Disney movies at the cinema when they were being re-released in the late 70’s/early 80’s. Specifically, I remember seeing “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and being terrified of the Evil Hag. My grandmother also took me to meet Mickey Mouse at a mall meet-and-greet in Lexington. A few years later, they took me to Walt Disney World and EPCOT, but I was so badly sunburnt from our trip to the beach in Ft. Myers the day before that I cried and/or vomited my way through Orlando. It was 25 years before I set foot in another Disney Park and now I’m obsessed, reliving my childhood as I wanted it to be the first time.

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Timidly introducing myself to Captain Hook at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom circa 1986.

7. I am a self-diagnosed misophoniac. According to Wikipedia, “people who have misophonia are most commonly angered, and even enraged, by common ambient sounds, such as other people clipping their nails, brushing teeth, eating crushed ice, eating, breathing, sniffing, talking, sneezing, yawning, walking, chewing gum, laughing, snoring, typing on a keyboard, whistling or coughing; certain consonants; or repetitive sounds.” Sounds that are particularly annoying to me include people who eat as if they are chewing cud, clicking jaws, nail clipping, unwrapping hard candies and the sound of hard-soled shoes and heels clicking on tile or concrete in an otherwise silent environment. Specific, huh?

8. When I was in 5th grade, I threw up in front of the entire school. It was during our Christmas show. The principal had just gotten up to give her greeting and we had just finished singing an interminable holiday tune during which I found myself slightly swaying back and forth. At some point during her speech, I tossed my cookies – or, more specifically, the broccoli casserole they’d served at lunch – down the front of my new holiday sweater. And yet I chose to pursue a performance career…

9. When I was in 7th grade, I began working in the school cafeteria to get out of gym class. Connie Fisher and I were the only ones who raised our hands to get out of P.E. In my opinion, coming home smelling like spaghetti casserole and spoiled milk was way better than coming home smelling like sweaty gym socks and B.O. In 25 years, this has not changed.

10. I am terrified of tornados. As a kid, my Dad told me a story about the tornados that ripped through Louisville in the mid-70’s. He was on his way home as the storm was building and, according to what I remember from the story, he basically saved his family’s house by opening the door and regulating the air pressure. From that point on, I would lay awake in my bed at night during thunderstorms, worrying that we would sleep through the tornado sirens and be blown away. I would even make sure that my stuffed animals slept on the side of the bed nearest the windows in the hopes that, should the windows be blown in, they would protect me from the flying glass.

On that fateful trip to Florida (See No. 6 Above), we got a flat tire and my grandfather and uncle had to get out in the middle of a storm to change the tire. I sat in the front seat with my grandmother and sobbed, begging my Popaw to get back in the car because I was certain he was going to die in a tornado. Ironically, the first show I ever did was The Wizard of Oz and I played Uncle Henry. I was the one who had to run onstage screaming, “It’s a twister! It’s a TWISTER!” Even more baffling is the fact that I chose to move to Oklahoma City – the very heart of Tornado Alley – to go to graduate school, just three months after the huge tornado outbreak in Oklahoma in 1999. I’m either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid.

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.