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Sue Kruse
A Practically Perfect Evening


I must confess that when I heard about Disney turning the movie Mary Poppins into a sing-along event, I thought the idea was a little stupid. Rocky Horror Picture Show is one thing, but Mary Poppins? I really could not imagine dressing in costume for it. I mean, who is there to dress up as besides Mary? A suffragette? Admiral Boom?

In a word, yes.

Suffragettes, Admiral Boom, Penguin Waiters, Chimney Sweeps, Cook, George Banks, and of course, Mary Poppins.

Some of the folks who dressed up!
Some of the folks who dressed up!

Yes, Dear Readers, now that I have experienced it first hand, I can say without a doubt that I was wrong about Sing Along with Mary being a stupid idea. It has the potential to be a great deal of fun if you let it. In fact, I think I want to dust off that Mary Poppins hat I have left over from the costume I wore to the late lamented Mickeyís Halloween Treat, grab a few friends (suitably attired ones, of course) and head back to the El Capitan Theatre for a repeat performance.

Do you like dressing up in costume? Have you ever found yourself singing the words to Letís Go Fly A Kite during a Disney fireworks show? Do you occasionally talk back to the movie youíre watching? Do you have a group of crazy friends you can hang out with, who arenít afraid to act silly? Do you just want to have fun? If the answer to any of those questions was yes, then this is the event for you. 

Grab your friends or your children or both, dress as your favorite Mary Poppins character and get yourself down to Disneyís El Capitan Theatre.

Last nightís premiere performance of El Capitanís Sing Along engagement of Mary Poppins took place at 7 PM and I was much later getting to the theater than I wanted to be. I hate the feeling of being rushed. Traffic being what it was, it took me over two hours to get to Hollywood from Orange County and I felt a bit frazzled when I arrived. As I approached the front of the theatre, I couldnít help but break out in a big old stress relieving smile and the feelings of frenzy from the long drive melted away. I think I expected lots of media types but instead, I saw a squadron of Chimney Sweeps, a few Suffragettes milling about, several Mr. Banks types and a big group of Kite Flyers with colorful homemade kites.

Dan Rogala created the lobby display
Dan Rogala created the lobby display

I moved past the Chimney sweeps and Suffragettes and handed my ticket to the cheery El Capitan cast member at the door who welcomed me and wished me a good time. After a quick trip to the restrooms, which were nice and clean (two hours in rush hour traffic plus a big iced tea equals... well, you know), I found my fellow MousePlaneteers who had graciously saved me a seat and settled in waiting for the show to begin.

My wait was not long...

El Capitanís own Dave, dressed in an old fashioned and very nifty usher uniform (I thought he was quite dashing), greeted the crowd and introduced members of the audience who were participating in the costume contest. First up was Rick from El Monte. I have to say Rick was real inventive. He came dressed as Admiral Boom, complete with a bundle of rockets and a huge spyglass [see above]. Next were Richard and Mickey from Los Angeles, a father and son duo. They were cleverly attired as penguin waiters dressed in tuxedos with white towels flung over their arms and plates to toss to the crowd. They even went so far as to wear black swim fins to simulate penguin feet. 

Also competing were, Therese from Long Beach whose costume resembled Cook (played by Reta Shaw in the movie), a little girl named Darcy who couldnít remember where she was from and was dressed as a tiny chimney sweep (soot included), and lastly, a gentleman who, when Dave inquired as to his name and hometown replied, "George Banks, number 17, Cherry Tree Lane."

Winner of the costume contest was determined by applause and the father and son Penguins garnered the most. They received a Mary Poppins DVD for their efforts and all contestants received Mary Poppins CDs.

Itís always a treat to be witness to the reminiscences of the folks who worked on some of the Disney classics, especially when they tell Walt stories. Dave introduced the next two gentlemen aptly with the words, "They are the men who put the Pop in Mary Poppins," Richard and Robert Sherman.

The Sherman Brothers
The Sherman Brothers

The curtains of the theatre drew back to the strains of Chim Chim Cher-ee revealing the two brothers seated at a baby grand piano. As Iím sure you can imagine Dear Readers, the crowd went a little nuts with applause. It was very clear that the Sherman brothers are big favorites with the Disney fans. Richard did most of the talking with Robert (who seemed a little infirm), every once in a while interjecting thoughts that he read from a script.

Richard began his reminiscences by talking about working with Bill Justice and X. Atencio, the two gentlemen who designed the Nursery Sequence in the movie. You all remember that one donít you? Mary Poppins snaps her fingers and spit spot, the toys jump back into the toy chest. Richard Sherman introduced Bill Justice who was in the audience. Bill stood up and waved to the crowd who gave him a warm welcome. Then the brothers talked about Walt giving them the PL Travers novel to read and asking them just what they thought a nanny was. Evidently both Walt and the brothers read the novel writing notes in the book as they read. When they compared them, Richard remembered that the notes in both books were very similar.

Richard then played a little of Letís Go Fly A Kite while the folks in the audience waved their homemade kites wildly. The brothers further reminiscenced about a drawing of chimney sweeps inspiring the song Chim Chim Cher-ee and about Waltís favorite song, Feed The Birds. Walt would come into the studios, greet the two brothers and then say, "Play it," which was the cue for the brothers to strike up Feed The Birds on their piano. Richard said he felt the song was not so much about feeding birds, as it was about kindness.

Another member of the Mary Poppins team was brought out, Dee Dee Wood, who along with Marc Breaux, choreographed the big dance numbers. Richard Sherman asked her how she choreographed a parasol and cane, referring to Mary Poppins and Bertís dance number within the chalk drawing sequence. Dee Dee said that she saw the parasol and cane lying against a fence one day and it occurred to her that it would be wonderful if they could dance. She voiced the thought that she didnít know how she could get them to do that out loud. "Well," she said, "Never say that at Walt Disney studios." Just days later, the special effects people had it all figured out and the cane and parasol "danced".

The three continued with a story about the chimney sweepís rooftop dance, which Richard Sherman thought was just wonderful. The problem with it though was that it was 14 minutes long. The director of the movie wanted it cut to three minutes. The brothers loved that music and didnít want to hack it to pieces so they consulted Walt who requested they film it with a home movie camera as they wanted it to appear. When he saw the little film that had been made, Walt vetoed the directorís wish by saying, "Do that," and the brothers got their 14-minute sequence after all.

Dee Dee Wood and the Chimney Sweeps
Dee Dee Wood and the Chimney Sweeps

Dee Dee Wood then introduced two of the original chimney sweeps from that roof top sequence who told their story about the sound that was used for the penguins. It seems they were finishing lunch one day and it had been particularly satiating. They were patting their tummies when the musical director of Mary Poppins happened by. He liked the sound that the tummy patting made and it became the sound of the penguins flapping about.

To top off their appearance, Richard Sherman brought out a letter to read to the audience. It was a lovely wish for a jolly good time from Mary Poppins herself, Julie Andrews. She regretted that she could not be with everyone as she was in New York and she remembered with fondness how much fun it was making the movie, Mary Poppins.

With that, Richard added, "There are no words to describe the experience."

"To the contrary," added his brother.

Iím sure you can guess what came nextÖ


And as we were all singing that catchy little tune, from out of the crowd came Mary Poppins. 

Mary Poppins!
Mary Poppins!

The practically perfect Miss Poppins instructed us to have fun. We were to watch for little musical notes to appear on the screen...

Musical note
Musical note seen on screen

...which would signal the start of each sing along sequence and from there we could just follow the words on the screen and sing along.

How the sing-along titles work
How the sing-along titles work

When other instructions appeared, we were to follow those as well. To help us get the hang of it, Mary had everyone snap their fingers, spit spot. "Well done, everyone."

With that... the movie began.

And I had a Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious time thank you very much.


Also read these related columns:

Parenting in the Parks - Adrienne Krock discusses the family aspects of this event

TAG - Adrienne and Tony Phoenix discuss access issues for the El Capitan theater


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