The Earl of Sandwich restaurant in Downtown Disney makes a great Thanksgiving Special: turkey, gravy, stuffing, mayo and cranberry sauce on a toasted roll. I nearly choke on mine when my Disney pal Matt says, “We want to bring back the Dreamfinder.”
I cough, collect myself, and ask, “Who is ‘We’?”
“D23, the Official Disney Fan Club, is planning a weekend in May of next year to celebrate Walt Disney World’s 40th anniversary. The finale will be a concert of music from the parks starring Richard Sherman; we want Dreamfinder and Figment to honor Richard and surprise the D23 Members by showing up to sing One Little Spark with him.”
I gotta admire his guts. “A brilliant idea. It will never happen.”
# # # # #
May 15th, 2011
My best friend Josh and I cut through the crowd trying to act casual – in spite of being the only people at the D23 Event who have arrived with luggage; a suit bag, a wig box and a large blue sack.
At last we make it to the dressing room, tucked in a distant corner of the Contemporary Resort Convention Center. We drop our bags and make sure everything looks as innocuous as possible.
We head in the back way to the ballroom. For the past few days this space has been filled with thousands of rabid Disney Fans attending speeches and presentations about Walt Disney World (WDW), its history, its future and the people who made it happen. Just now, though, the room is sealed tight for this rehearsal. It’s the only chance the performers will get to run through tonight’s concert in the actual space before the doors are opened in less than two hours.
I recognize Denny Zavett, long-time featured talent on the Empress Lilly Steamboat, and several retired Kids of the Kingdom looking impossibly young and fit. There are dozens of Cast Choir members and musicians and a squadron of Disney Stage Techs swarming over the space, setting up lights and mics for the coming event.
Matt greets me and introduces me to the Stage Manager – one of the few people who know what we’re up to. He gives me my mic pack and sits me down to wait for my chance to rehearse.
On stage, Disney Historian Tim O’Day is by the grand piano, watching over Richard Sherman: one half of the team behind Mary Poppins and decades of Disney music. They spot me from the stage and wave.
At last they’re wrapping up their review of the songs Richard will share. They’ve done this dozens of times; the rehearsal has been, more than anything, a chance for them to coordinate their patter with the media that will fill the huge screens onstage. I’m guided to my spot off right as the crew cues up the video that will introduce my bit with Richard, a rarely seen video of the 1983 dedication of the Journey Into Imagination ride.
I stand in place, bathed in the light coming from the screen towering beside me. This is a clip I’ve never seen… that’s me, much younger and thinner, climbing out of a carriage, as nervous as I’ve ever been and facing the press, the public and the executive boards of Walt Disney Productions and Kodak for the first time. As my cue to step onstage approaches I hear myself in the video singing One Little Spark to a pre-recorded track twenty-eight years ago:
Two tiny wings, eyes big and yellow… horns of a steer, but a lovable fellow…
The video sound cuts out and my mic goes live as I stroll onstage, singing the new lyric I’ve written for this occasion in the voice originated by Chuck McCann, inspired by Frank Morgan and recreated by me since 1982:
He is my best imaginary friend… and just like that — we’re back again!
There is a gasp from everyone in the room as they hear that voice for the first time since the original Journey Into Imagination closed in 1998. I’m in my own clothes – no blue suit, no curly red beard and no dragon – but everyone is looking at me with wonder as, with a rush of emotion, they realize the Dreamfinder is back.
It’s a moment that catches everyone, especially me, by surprise. Those involved in our little scheme knew we’d create a sensation among the fans, but we hadn’t expected this reaction from the cast at rehearsal.
We finish the run-through and hurry back to the dressing room just as they start letting the crowd in. The performers backstage are swapping stories of where they’ve been and what they’ve done since leaving Disney. Pictures of grandchildren (!) are shared between Kids of the Kingdom and everyone reminisces about stage shows and commercial shoots back in the ’70s and ’80s.
So on with the suit. Not the original, but a clever recreation. Damn, I’ve put on weight since I was measured for it months ago. Then the rouge and lipstick. I flash back to the parade in Miami where I met the Burger King, another corporate mascot sporting a red beard and wig; we compared notes on shades of lipstick and brands of spirit gum.
The mustache next. This is the only part I have to glue on. Then the beard, held in place by elastic straps that are covered by the wig. Folks always want to know why I would shave my own beard for the job, never realizing that if I used my real beard as Dreamfinder I’d have had to sleep with my face in curlers every night. No, thank you.
Finally the hat and coat and there he is on my left again; the little purple demon who could take my mind off my itchy face even while causing my thumb to cramp up. We look at each other as we always did. He silently greets me and I tell him what’s going to happen – Figment’s reaction to any new experience is always the same: he curls himself into my chest until I can pry his head out to where he can see what’s happening; then he’s fine, like any curious child who just happens to have orange horns and scales.
I and my entourage of Josh and my costumer, make our way through the kitchen to the space behind the stage. I can hear Richard Sherman out front explaining the genesis of There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow. Matt is at his post, supervising the projections; he flashes me an excited smile. The Cast Choir is seated nearby and as I hurry past they quietly react to seeing Figment and I together; strange, since I can’t imagine many of these young people would be old enough to remember who we used to be.
We stretch out in the VIP lounge, used by the guest speakers that day; it’s just us now. Josh plays stage mother, running around to check our time, fetching me water and taking pictures. For the most part I’ve switched over to the reflective mood I used to maintain between sets as Dreamfinder in the ’80s. It just seems natural at this moment to sit as I used to at the make-up mirror, thinking about the job and the years and the road that brought me back here. To this place, with That Dragon…