For three nights this month I was narrator to a very beautiful holiday tradition at Walt Disney World, the Candlelight Processional. Began by Walt Disney himself some 50 years ago, the processional combines a celebrity narrator, an American Sign Language interpreter, magnificent choirs composed of Walt Disney World cast members, high school students and other guest choirs, the Voices of Liberty, and an amazing 50-piece orchestra.
It’s a magical spectacle that opened Nov. 23 and is ongoing till Dec. 30 at the American Gardens Theater in Epcot, one of four theme parks at Walt Disney World in Bay Lake, Florida.
My family and I arrived in Orlando on Dec. 12. Since Nicole was with us, we had to take in some Disney magic by visiting the park the following day.
Rob was jet lagged, so it was a mommy-daughter date day. We took a few rides during our visit to Magic Kingdom: Aladdin, Dumbo, Barnstormer, Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh and Pirates of the Caribbean (we saw Capt. Jack Sparrow a few times).
We wanted to check out the brand-new Ariel ride, but I guess it was experiencing technical difficulties. Even so, it was a lovely afternoon. We didn’t stay for very long; the weather was uncharacteristically cool and we were in need of sleep.
1st work day
Dec. 14, my first day at work: Aw heck, I had a feeling this wouldn’t be work.
The afternoon began with a visit to rehearsals, where the guest choirs were working with conductor Rick Mizell (the other conductor I worked with was Chris Confessore). I said hello. (This was how I would start the afternoon before the first show of each day I was narrating. The pianist would underscore my entrance, playing something from “Miss Saigon.” Turned out, he was involved in the Polish production many years ago.)
Immediately afterwards, the show’s director, Forrest Bahruth, walked me through the paces: a sound check at the podium to make sure microphone levels worked for me; reminders on how to make this an effective show (don’t speak too fast, or too slow; get into telling a good story; don’t read like you’re reading in church).
Once done, I was ushered into the trusted hands of one of the park’s makeup people. My green Rajo Laurel gown was newly pressed, and since I would largely be obscured and standing for much of the evening, I was wearing my sneakers. A wise decision, since even in my comfy shoes, my legs started to get tired.
From what I learned later, I wouldn’t be the only one feeling the burn.
The weather plays a role in the stamina of everyone standing on stage. Often, members of the choir (at one point, a member of the Voices of Liberty) would start to feel weak. Sometimes, the ill performer would take a French leave, heading backstage for a little rest (paramedics are always on standby). However, it takes someone from backstage to launch a rescue, head into the risers and take someone who clearly needs help.
A couple of people out front (one stage manager sitting high above the audience, and another at the back of the house with binoculars) are able to spot a weary choir member. The face goes pale, the swaying starts, and someone looks like he hasn’t been singing the last song or two. From the back, one of the rescuers (wearing a choir gown identical to what the guest choirs are wearing) rushes to the stage and helps whoever needs escorting. It’s quite interesting when, out of the corner of my eye, I am able to spot a moving yellow blur.
The music is the highlight of the evening, and to be surrounded by it 360 degrees is the most incredible thing. The massive choir behind me, the Voices of Liberty and that orchestra in front, is a thrill that cannot be equaled.
At the podium there is no such thing as waiting for a song to end before starting the next part of the narration. There is only the great appreciation for everything taking place around you.
The Voices of Liberty’s tight harmonies and precise cutoffs are worthy of jaw-dropping admiration (the members rotate, but the sound they produce remains consistent, no matter who’s the alto, soprano or baritone for the performance).
The orchestra plays like a well-oiled machine. Mizell and Confessore are both incredible to watch—expressive and moving.
And the choirs? Once everyone launches into the “Hallelujah Chorus” of Handel’s “Messiah Part II,” it gets everyone into the spirit of the season and the existence of God is confirmed.
There are 10 more days before the end of the Candlelight Processional, so if you happen to be in Epcot, I urge you to experience it. Show times are 5 p.m. 6:45 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. It’s an hour of moving scripture and wonderful music, executed in the magnificent fashion that can only be Disney’s.