Mummers finery, crowds easily trump gray skies

A Hog Island Fancy Brigade member dances to "Walk Like an Egyptian." Results of the 113th annual Mummers Parade, A6. The "Drag Brigade" - family friendly - made a return this time, B1.
A Hog Island Fancy Brigade member dances to "Walk Like an Egyptian." Results of the 113th annual Mummers Parade, A6. The "Drag Brigade" - family friendly - made a return this time, B1. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 02, 2013

Kellianne Nicholas, 24, has been dancing almost all her life - 15 years with the Children's Ballet Theater of Philadelphia, followed by several years more at Hofstra University.

Recently, she decided to pass on her knowledge to a bunch of folks with somewhat less formal training: the Pennsport String Band.

"Interesting and challenging," she said, after helping the band with its Egyptian-themed routine.

Nicholas was one of many creative sparks behind the 113th Mummers Parade on New Year's Day. Costume makers attaching sequins and feathers, music arrangers coordinating saxophones and banjos, set designers re-creating such diverse venues as the Wild West and the inside of a pastry shop. It all came together so hundreds could march in chilly temperatures under a gray sky in front of thousands of spectators jamming sidewalks along South Broad Street.

Some were more familiar with the spectacle than others.

Zhou Yuzhou, 15, a Beijing native who now lives in New York, was watching the parade for the first time.

"What is this for?" Zhou asked.

In China, the lunar New Year, which this year falls on Feb. 10, is a major holiday - not Jan. 1. Zhou took in the parade with his parents and other relatives, pronouncing the parade "pretty cool."

"The atmosphere is good," the teenager said. "It's a new thing. We all think it's pretty interesting."

Nicholas, the Pennsport choreographer, is the daughter of band captain Charlie Nicholas. She acknowledged that in teaching people with no formal dance training, her effort was like something out of the Silver Linings Playbook movie.

"It's very rewarding to see how people with two left feet turn into real, actual dancers," she said. "Especially the guys."

"You're saying I'm not a real dancer?" her father interjected, pretending to be offended.

When the group performed later at Broad Street and Washington Avenue, it was clear that Nicholas' teaching had paid off. Rows of sparkly mummies and gold-caped Cleopatras stepped smartly through their paces.

Danielle Reh, 38, a Connecticut native who lives in Queen Village and works in foster care, was marching for the first time with the Froggy Carr wench brigade. The first time she saw the parade 12 years ago with her co-worker and Mummer veteran Brenna Wallace, Reh, like many, was befuddled.

"She said, 'I don't understand. There are all these macho, macho men and they're dressed up as girls. It doesn't make sense,' " Wallace recalled.

Now, Reh is marching with them as a woman dressed up as a man dressed up as a woman. Or something like that.

"I love weird," Reh said.

Members of the Fralinger String Band said they were especially grateful to be on Broad Street, after a Dec. 10 fire struck the building where the group was storing its props.

The 150-member club was able to salvage most of the pieces, thanks to a fire wall that separated the building's second and first floors. This year's theme was "Back From the Dead" - which Fralinger chairman Steve Coper acknowledged was fitting, even though it was picked before the fire.

"We're lucky because it could have been so much worse," Fralinger bassist Ken Pooler Jr. said. "We're here and we're going to have fun today." (They did more than that, placing first in the string band division.)

As always, spectators used creative tactics to get a better view. Danielle Stollak is 5 feet, 21/2 inches, but she achieved good sight lines by standing on a $4 bathroom stool that she bought for the occasion.

Her friend Kate Reese got up even higher with the help of a plastic milk crate. Reese, a Texas native who had never heard of the Mummers before moving to the area to attend Haverford College, said she had attended the parade each of the last six years.

"There's nothing like it," Reese said, watching string bands perform at Broad and Washington.

If a canine division is ever added to the event, a pit bull named Connor will have had some experience wearing a costume. His owner, spectator Sara Anzelowitz, hung Mardi Gras beads and plastic leis around his neck and placed a Happy New Year headband behind his ears.

A few blocks south, below Broad and Federal, members of the South Side Shooters comic brigade joined spectators after they finished marching.

Still in garish costumes for their "Ghouls Just Wanna Have Fun" theme, a dozen members perched on doorsteps with cold beverages in hand. Captain Joe D'Urso said it was the group's 40th anniversary. His father, Anthony, helped found the club.

Fancy Brigades marched up Broad Street as well, but as usual they were evaluated by judges later in the day inside the Convention Center.

Golden Crown presented an apocalyptic view of the future in its routine, with an elaborate set that featured prison walls topped with coils of razor wire. Men in mohawks rode giant three-wheeled carts that looked like something out of the Mad Max movies.

Later came Bill McIntyre's Shooting Stars, who performed a comic-book routine with legions of superheroes and villains. Multiple Captain Americas, Supermen, and Wolverines battled against Doc Octopus, Green Goblin, and other bad guys. Brigade captain Michael Adams, dressed as the Joker with neon-green hair, ended the show by appearing to pop out of a giant jack-in-the-box.

The secret to his special effect?

"Bungee cords," Adams said.


The Comics lead off the 113th annual Mummers Parade, marching up Broad Street. See a video at www.philly.com/113mummersmarch


Contact Tom Avril at 215-854-2430 or tavril@phillynews.com

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