Saturday, October 25, 2008

rehearsal with the mouse

many years ago, in another life, i was lucky enough to be one of several actors in milwaukee, wisconsin to appear in local shopping malls and at public grade school assemblies as al-luminum,” one of two "spokes-characters" for the city of milwaukee's recycling program.

al, a human aluminum can, wore silver high-top sneakers, a large foam “aluminum” can around his torso, floppy silver gloves with three fingers on each hand, and a hat designed to look like a soda can pop-top (the term pop-top alone reveals my age.) my good friend becky spice often appeared alongside me as “can-garoo" – you guessed it, a giant kangaroo. (nothing says reduce, re-use and recycle like a giant kangaroo.)

canga's costume was not only quite warm, but provided little protection from the swarms of fiesty 8-year olds who were much more interested in knocking over the big kangaroo and pulling it's long fuzzy tail than which bin the plastic milk carton went into.

i can recall the panic of becky's muffled cries – "tony! tony! get these kids off me!" – to this day.

considering these rather humble beginnings, i consider it the natural evolution of my theatrical career that yesterday i performed with mickey mouse.

disney on classic 2008, the symphony concert tour i'm part of this fall, made an appearance on friday (four hour-long appearances to be exact) at tokyo disney sea for thousands hundreds of screaming appreciative fans. most exciting about the disney gig: our abbreviated show included appearances by mickey, minnie, and, in fact, tens of other disney characters, including snow white, peter pan, chip and dale, prince charming, aladdin, jasmine, goofy, pluto, and donald duck. this is apparently rather unusual – all these disney characters performing together in one show – and i can tell you several of our cast members were quite, shall we say “taken” with the opportunity. (danny, have you been friended by peter pan yet?)

the strangest part of the entire disney experience was the national-security-like secrecy of it all. absolutely no photos could be taken on the “back-lot” of the disney grounds. upon arriving at the theater, we were informed that the bathroom just down the hall from our dressing room was not ours to use (it was mickey’s bathroom) and we would need to exit the theater through the back door and head down the alley to use another restroom (that didn’t happen, and we ended up having personal “escorts” to mickey's bathroom when he was nowhere in sight.) and there were "disney police" everywhere, kindly making sure we didn't break any of their rules. (we considered inviting mickey into our dressing room, holding him down, taking off his "helmet" and submitting him to intense questioning, but the mouse was never without his own personal disney bodyguard.)

but perhaps the most surreal part of it all was rehearsal on thursday. as i mentioned, we performed a shortened version of our usual concert, there were several changes made for the disney audience, and mickey needed to be worked into the show.

thus, rehearsal with mickey.

and by rehearsal with mickey, i don’t mean rehearsal with the actor who plays mickey (someone we would never see.) i mean rehearsal with mickey.

at no time during rehearsal was mickey not mickey. backstage, he behaved like mickey. hanging around the dressing room – mickey. onstage, he took direction like mickey. he interacted with the conductor, the other performers, the orchestra members, and the stage crew, as mickey. this was not only a rehearsal for mickey, but a performance for the actor playing mickey.

talk about method.

the same was true with the other characters. at one point, when pluto, donald, pan, et. al. were exiting the theater backstage right, waving and…waving, goofy somehow got left behind. the “handlers” had led the other disney-ites around to their dressing room (in the exclusive mickey’s bathroom area) and goofy was abandoned in the wings. alone and confused, he looked in the direction of the dressing rooms, he looked back at us, he loped one way, then the other, and finally, threw his hands up in the air and plopped down on the floor, goofy-like.

when all was said and done, as we were standing on stage during the performance singing “when you wish upon a star” in japanese, with mickey mouse conducting the tokyo philharmonic, i noticed a young girl in the front row with huge tears rolling down her cheeks.

it would be easy to be cold and cynical about it all, if i hadn’t had huge tears welling up in my own eyes.


  1. You may have omitted a word or two from Becky's exclamation (at least in her version), but hey, you're with Disney now.

  2. they were not 8 year olds. they were big mean 12 year olds, at least!!


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