Tag Archives: Tokyo DisneySea

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

Advertisements

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.

20130811-124259.jpg

This just in from Eden Espinosa.

Hana Wa Saku

19 Jul

Today at lunch I was talking with a friend who had recently traveled to Japan. He spent a week there last year, mostly staying in Tokyo with a short trip to Kyoto. Anyone who knows me knows that I will talk about Japan until I’m hoarse, and he made the mistake of asking me what I liked about Japan. He wasn’t being critical – he just wanted to understand why I loved my time there so much.

I gave him the only answer I could come up with: I loved everything. I completely fell in love with the country, the people, the architecture, the landscapes, the culture, the language, the order and structure and, as I would come to realize midway through our tour, I fell in love with Japanese tamashii, or spirit.

A few months ago, as I was flipping through the channels on our television, I came across a new channel – NHK World – which basically featured all things Japanese, just in English. I love to watch their news broadcasts to find out what’s actually going on in the rest of the world as opposed to hearing more about Jodi Arias or what the Kardashians are up to these days. It’s nice to have another perspective on the world. And their cultural programming warms my heart and brings tears to my eyes because it often reminds me of the wonderful friends I made while I was working there.

The more I watched, the more I noticed a tune in the background of all of the NHK World commercials. It was beautiful, but I’d never heard it before and I had no way of identifying it. Shazaam certainly was of no help, so I did some investigating by way of Google. Finding a Japanese song title is incredibly difficult when you don’t read or write kanji, so I used the listening skills I learned in Japan to write out a line of the song phonetically so I could search it. Turns out, it was either incredibly easy to find, or my Japanese is better than I thought.

The song was written and produced by NHK – the Japan Broadcasting Corporation – in response to the devastating earthquake and tsunami in the Tohoku region of eastern Japan in March, 2011. The version I’d been hearing on NHK World was sung by a children’s choir, but I found this video of various Japanese celebrities lending their voice to the song. It’s called “Hana wa saku,” which roughly means, “flowers will continue to bloom.” It’s a song about strength and hope and faith. Every time I hear it, it makes me think of our time in Kuji, Japan.

As I mentioned in “You Gotta Have Heart! Miles and Miles and Miles of Heart,” I went to Japan in September of 2011, just six months after that devastating earthquake and tsunami, to do a concert tour with the Tokyo Philharmonic “Neverland” Orchestra. All of us involved in the show had been keeping a close eye on the State Department website regarding the nuclear crisis happening in Fukushima, worried that our government might find it unsafe for us to travel there. But mostly I kept watching and wishing that there was something that I could do to help. I didn’t have any money to send, and I wasn’t entirely sure that money was what they wanted or needed, anyway. I felt helpless. I wanted to help them and couldn’t. I saw booking the concert tour as my opportunity to do something – even if it was just to make someone forget for a minute or two or to make them smile with a song. That desire to be good for them drove me to study my music and to do the best I could at each and every rehearsal and performance.

There was one show in particular that stood out from the rest. We had been in Sapporo, on the northern island of Hokkaido, which is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in my life, and we traveled south by train, back to the main island of Honshu. At the time, we still weren’t allowed by the U.S. government to travel within 50 miles of Fukushima, so we weren’t able to perform in any of the hardest hit areas, but we were able to perform in Kuji, a small town about 250 miles north of Fukushima.

From the train station, we transferred to a bus that would take us to Kuji. Japan is a country of overstimulation – color and lights everywhere – but we could tell something was different about Kuji. It was dark. Most of us didn’t even know we’d passed through the downtown area. There were no lights – not from houses, not from businesses, not from billboards or street lights. It was just dark. I think it was then that we realized that the town had taken a serious beating. It was dark because they still didn’t have enough power to illuminate the whole town.

The next day we went to the theatre to do our show, and in the daylight most everything where we were looked alright. We were told, though, that a few miles out toward the shore was a completely different story.

Before every performance, we would arrive at the theatre approximately four hours before the curtain actually went up. (That would never fly in the States). During those four hours, each and every instrument on the stage got its own private sound check. Every triangle, every flute, piccolo and penny whistle…they all got a sound check. Then each section of the orchestra would have a sound check together for balance. And then the entire orchestra would have a sound check for balance. Then it was the singer’s turn – each of us got about 30 seconds to sing whatever we wanted as we wandered the stage, checking to make sure they could hear us and that we could hear ourselves in the monitors. Then our Navigator (emcee), Francesco Sasaki-san, would get his own sound check. And then we’d have a rehearsal. Depending on what needed to be run, we would spot check songs or do entire pieces – with choreography – to make sure everything was right. The Japanese aren’t known for being perfectionists for nothing! After our rehearsal, we would be fed. The orchestra would get pre-packaged bento boxes, but the singers and our conductor got hot catered food – usually something the caterers thought Americans would like, which typically meant some form of a hamburg steak (a beef patty smothered in a Worchestershire-esque sauce) and/or a piece of grey, chewy chicken. There was also often salad or fruit of some sort, which is incredibly expensive in Japan, and there was always miso and rice. We also had a fantastic snack and drink table where we’d have all kinds of cookies and rice crackers and chocolates. They took great care of us.

In Kuji, we were still called four hours prior to curtain, but that day, our rehearsal would be an open one, meaning there would be people there watching us. We had a set list, and instead of spot checking numbers, we would basically give an hour-long performance. The audience members would be people who had lost their homes in the tsunami as well as many children who had been orphaned in the disaster. Backstage, next to the snack table, was a book about the tsunami and someone had marked the section with photos from Kuji.

Kuji, Japan, after the March 2011 tsunami.

Kuji, Japan, after the March 2011 tsunami.

The devastation was unreal, and to think that we were there to sing some Disney songs made the whole situation seem ridiculous. All through rehearsals in New York we had made jokes at the expense of some of the lyrics we were singing. In the opening number, “One Man’s Dream,” we sang about Walt Disney’s dream “to give to us a Disneyland where young and old can play” at a breakneck tempo. The next number was a song that had been written for the 10th anniversary of the Tokyo DisneySea theme park. It was called, “Be Magical!” and featured lyrics like, “Friends will be near for you./It’s all here for you./The perfect place to be,/Tokyo DisneySea!/It’ll be magical!” and “Worries behind you/Here you will find excitement instead.” That transitioned into “Fantasmic!”, in which we had to sing, “Imagination!/Follow your dreams/Imagination!/Catch a ride upon a moonbeam!” And then, of course, we closed the show singing “When You Wish Upon A Star” in Japanese, complete with a violin solo that would make even the hardest heart explode into fairy dust. It just seemed so trite. So…silly. Or maybe we were just jaded New Yorkers…

Those songs and their silly lyrics took on a whole new meaning that day. Standing out there, singing to kids who somehow were able to smile and laugh after all they’d lost; seeing grown men and women – Japanese men and women, who are notoriously stoic – openly weeping, either from joy or sorrow, or both. It suddenly made me realize that all they had were dreams and hopes and wishes and imagination, and we were telling them to follow those dreams. That nothing was impossible. And we were telling them that somehow, everything would be alright. Uncle Walt would make it so. And standing on that stage as Aoki-san started playing the all-too familiar, all-too sentimental melody of “When You Wish Upon A Star” as thousands of colored lights began to rise up all around us on stage, I found myself weeping, too. That’s what I had come to Japan for. That’s why I was there. I had finally found my way to help. I had never felt so fulfilled and satisfied in my entire life. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much gratitude and humility.

The rest of the tour took on a new feel for me after that, and I think for some of my cast mates, too. That day changed the show for us. We were all a little more committed to those lyrics. They felt a little more relevant and substantial. It was…magical.

Taking our bows after the open rehearsal in Kuji, Japan.

Taking our bows after the open rehearsal in Kuji, Japan.

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.

Image

“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.

Image

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!