Thursday, February 24, 2011

Vintage Headlines: Disney on Parade

Relating to yesterday's Window to the Past that features a publicity photograph from the 1973 edition of Disney on Parade, we present this Vintage Headline.  During the early summer of that year, the touring company for that elaborate stage production was appearing in venues located in western states.  Critic Robert McDougal, provided this very enthusiastic and rather detailed review of the show that was performed in Provo, Utah on May 30, 1973:
From the moment Mary Poppins came swooping out of the wings flying high above the crowd to he last moment when crowds of eager children rushed out to surround Mickey Mouse, the opening night of "Disney On Parade" Wednesday held a packed house spellbound.

The show is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Walt Disney empire which consists of cartoon and feature film production in addition to books, records and entertainment centers.

An apt description of the presentation is flawless, but a description of the spectacle is spectacular. Costume design, lighting, choreography and execution of the spectacle were all without fault.

The show depends on a mixed media approach for its effect and on lavish costume and spectacular sound and props. A large screen is used to project animated settings and backgrounds, then at the appropriate time, the character comes alive on stage and continues the plot.

Early in the show, the story of Pinocchio on Pleasure Island uses the device to good effect. The famous puppet with his conscience (Jiminy Cricket) plunges through a series of adventures until he rescues his father from a whale in a dynamic film presentation of the whale's antics and ferocious attempts to harm the heroes.

Clever costume changes, and a series of remote controlled hoists which flew characters in and out of the production were worthy of note.

An interesting trip to the bottom of the lagoon near the island of Naboombu involved the entire cast dressed as sea creatures for a 1920-ish mini musical revue complete with villains, beautiful girls and a hero. The staging was good and the costuming extremely imaginative and engaging. The story was perhaps a little too deep for the younger members of the audience whose attention seemed to wander, but only an occasional adult moved as a child prevailed on a parent to make a trip out for drinks and other necessaries.

The children were on the edge of their seats literally throughout the rest of the performance.

A hit with the children was a skit where two cars compete for the attention of Goofey. The scene ends in a high wire chase as Bug Herbie tries to force his attentions on the lovable hound in confrontation about 30 feet above the stage.

Most of the sound and music for the production came from a finely tuned Disney sound system, but is interestingly spiced with live music and sound effects which lend realism to the overall effect of the film, the actors and the music.

Act two was a Mary Poppins spectacular with a fleet of dancing chimney sweeps, and London's former social fabric in engaging and dancing. Mary enters and leaves by the aerial hoist system and appears to fly with the aid of her umbrella.

If your child has not seen one of the annual Disney productions, he should. If he has seen one before, the chances are that he has already persuaded you to go again this year.
McDougal was clearly not well versed in Disneyana.  He failed to identify the lagoon scene as being from Bednobs and Broomsticks, which had debuted in theaters just two years earlier.  The "Goofey" misspelling is not a typo on my part, it appeared that way in the article and apparently slipped past McDougal's editor as well.

An uncredited article in the Oxnard Press Courier provided additional details (likely in the form of a re-edited press release):
For the first time in any arena show "Disney On Parade " characters 'fly' suspended from a revolutionary $250,000 computerized monorail track high in the arena. Mary Poppins , fish from the "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" production, and bears from "Bear Band Jamboree" appear to actually fly through the air at speeds up to eight miles per hour.

Production numbers open with a brief film segment on a large screen in the storybook castle which completely fills one end of the world's largest portable stage, and then the cast brings the capsule versions of the stories to life. The famous wooden puppet returns in "The Further Adventures of Pinocchio" for a visit to the carnival setting of Pleasure Island where bad boys turn magically into donkeys right on stage.

For the "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" production the stage is transformed underwater to The Briny Ballroom for a 1920's mini musical revue with the entire cast appearing as sea creatures. In the "Used Car Lot" production, Goofy and Donald Duck can't pick between a vintage Model T and Herbie the Love Bug. Both comedy cars appear to come to life. Herbie makes theatrical history as the first car to drive across the high wire chasing a frightened Goofy.

But wait!  Believe it or not, there was apparently a second production of Disney on Parade, touring simultaneously (at least during June of 1973) with the one described above.  This review from the Tucson Daily Citizen on June 20, 1973 detailed an entirely different show:
The show opens with the traditional welcome by the familiars such as Mickey Mouse, Tigger and Goofy. Then there is an amusing birthday party for Winnie the Pooh, who makes herself sick eating honey"and has the most fascinating nightmare. Donald Duck, in long hair and Liberace-sequined dress-tails plays the piano like it has never been played before.
Goofy has a go-round with the Love Bugs — Hermie and Gloria and Junior, who violate all the traffic laws. The Love Bugs were the favorite of the young people with me. But I liked the Aristocats, a big production number of swinging Paris life seen through the eyes of cats and kittens. This year Snow White gave way to Sleeping Beauty. This is another full scale production piece which features a pas de deux danced by the Sleeping Beauty and her prince. The three good fairies are plump and protective and the wicked witch is quite frighteningly venomous. Another new and quite delightful number has Donald Duck going south of the border to fiesta with his two caballero pals, Panchito and Jose Carioca. The young people with me liked this one next best to the. Love Bug: I liked it next best to the Aristocats.
The program closed with a fresh rendering of "It's a Small World" and the kids all crowded close to" the 'stage to say hello to their favorites.
A very notable component of this production was its costuming.  Most prominent was the gown worn by the actress portraying Princess Aurora from Sleeping Beauty.  Valued at $7500, it contained more than 800 tiny lights and countless sequins.

It appears that the latter production was in fact the 1972 edition of Disney on Parade and the show's third incarnation.  The production featuring Mary Poppins was the fourth version of Disney on Parade and began touring in 1973.  The different productions would actually tour well beyond the calendar years they were initially identified with. 


dbenson said...

Long ago, the Disney Channel would sometimes run a one-hour TV special of the original show, taped with a live stadium audience. Then, for the final five minutes or so, they tacked on filmed (not taped) bits from a later production, featuring the Fantasia hippos and scenes from Pinnochio. Always wondered if that means, somewhere, there's a complete film or recording of that later version.

By the by -- In your explorations, did you ever come across the TV version of the Snow White stage musical at Radio City Music Hall? It turned up on cable back in the 70's.

Kevin Kidney said...

Gosh I love this, Jeff. The 1973 tour was the one and only Disney On Parade show that I ever saw, when it stopped in Phoenix. I scanned the original Mary Poppins program cover painting awhile ago, if you haven't seen it:

Thanks for the wonderful nostalgic post.