Why last year's parade was nothing to be thankful for

Here's hoping that this year's Thanksgiving Day Parade gets off to a better start than last year's. These four lipsyncing performers kicked things off in the 2011 version with chants of "Phila-del-el-phi-a!"
Here's hoping that this year's Thanksgiving Day Parade gets off to a better start than last year's. These four lipsyncing performers kicked things off in the 2011 version with chants of "Phila-del-el-phi-a!"
Posted: November 21, 2012

ON THIS Thanksgiving eve, let's all think back to the opening number at Philadelphia's Thanksgiving Day Parade last year.

It took place at 8:30 a.m. in front of the Art Museum. Lasted five minutes.

(And, again, we're talking about the parade's very first act - not about the ensuing procession of marching bands, sponsored floats, giant character balloons, Cub Scout troops, etc. Nor are we delving into made-for-TV performances by Justin Guarini et al. Just the five-minute-long parade intro. Got it?)

Here we go.

First, Rick Williams and Cecily Tynan of co-sponsor 6ABC greeted the TV audience.

"Let's get the party started . . . Philadelphia style!" exclaimed Tynan.

"Let's go!" chimed in Rick Williams.

Next, the camera zoomed to the center of a double-file line of women and men in tight red vests and long skirts, each waving a hot-pink flag before the lens. The view then swung toward an elevated stage containing a quartet of lip-syncing singers, including one who bore a striking resemblance to a younger, blonder Will Ferrell. Bedecked and bedazzled outfits of shiny black bottoms and sequined shoulder-padded tops with fanciful sparkling brooches, the foursome swayed above a sea of dancers and took turns lipping these lyrics:

"They come from every corner, on this November day to celebrate together, in that Philadelphia way . . .

Put your hands together.

Get your face ready to smile!

We're gonna rock this town!

(We're gonna rock this town!)

Philadelphia Style!

Celebrating!

Parading!

In Philadelphia style!

It's inviting!

Exciting!

That's Philadelphia style!

A different kind of flash, a bit more flair!

A special kind of magic in the air!

Phila-del-el-phi-a (Phila-del-el-phi-a)!

Penn-syl-va-a-ni-a (Penn-syl-va-a-ni-a)!"

I'm no professional lyricist, but I think it's not unfair to point out that adding a syllable each to "Philadelphia" and "Pennsylvania" and repeatedly singing out these geographic names doesn't necessarily make a production feel especially Philadelphian. Or Pennsylvanian. Or, for that matter, stylish.

But don't take my word for it. Reuben "Big Rube" Harley, the People Paper's man-about-town style reporter, recently watched the opening production online. "What's stylish about that?" he asked.

He had a point. The production's dancers, many of whom represent local schools and studios, deserve props. They rehearsed for weeks and got up well before dawn to get to the Parkway - on Thanksgiving, to boot.

Those kids - our kids - did their jobs, and they did them well.

It was the production itself, the ideas, the aesthetic behind it - from a dozen young dancers' chartreuse go-go outfits to the wrangler of an oversized green balloon that bopped a quartet member in the head - that seemed out of place. On a cruise ship, it would have worked. Or in a theme park. But here in Philly?

South Jersey native Dan Lee goes to the parade every year. He called last year's opening sequence "a monstrosity, an exploding cheesesteak, right before the Rocky steps."

Ah, but if only there had been a cheesesteak, or some detail aside from iconic location and cheesy lyrics, that made the scene feel, well, local.

Why weren't the dance schools in the opener identified by name? Why couldn't the first sequence include one or two of our region's top marching bands? Where were our local baton twirlers and drum corps, or even Miss LaBelle, Boyz II Men or Mr. Guarini to belt a few bars?

Sure, maybe if you made it more local, it might not look quite as Broadway-esque. But it also wouldn't be nearly as cheesy. And, it would be . . . ours.

Marc Greenfield of Lower Makefield spent four years as a parade chaperone to Pennsbury High School's championship marching band, a group that's participated in the parade 29 times.

"Every one of those bands, I know how hard they work," said Greenfield of the 18 high-school and college groups. Wouldn't the student musicians want to be part of the kickoff performance?

"Oh, sure," he said. "They'd be happy to, especially the opening number," adding that most bands have to stand around for hours waiting their turn - and could use something else to do.

While bands are hanging out, they can watch the rest of the parade on TV. They even get to see the opening number, which, said Greenfield, "looks like a three-ring circus where there's so much going on, almost too much to focus on. You get blinded by the colors and fluff. Everybody knows the music is kind of canned anyhow. They try to make it like Macy's."

And the last thing a Philly parade should try to be is a New York parade.

Oh, well, better luck next year. Or this Thursday, when we tune in, same time, same station.

" @LaMcCutch

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