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D23 Fanniversary rolls into the City of Brotherly Love

D23 Fanniversary rolls into the City of Brotherly Love

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For a few hours, Philadelphia was "the happiest place on earth" for more than 200 fans of the Walt Disney Company.  It was standing room only at the Rainey Auditorium at Penn Museum in University City as Disney's official fan club D23 rolled out its Fanniversary celebration welcome mat for Disney fans in the City of Brotherly Love.

Upon arriving at the museum on South Street, guests were checked in by cast members of the Disney Store in Cherry Hill, New Jersey and they were presented with an official D23 Fanniversary pennant and a Disney Fanniversary button featuring Chip and Dale.  And just like waiting to get onto Splash Mountain or Test Track, fans cued up in line prior to entering the theater.

The auditorium was packed for the two-hour presentation hosted in part by original Disney Geek Jeffrey Epstein and fellow cast member Justin who worked at one time at Walt Disney World in Florida.  While Jeffrey and Justin were nicely attired in their official D23 polo-shirts and name badges, fans were decked out in everything Disney, from Mickey Mouse t-shirts to Disney Cruise Line hoodies complimented by Minnie Mouse necklaces and Avengers watches.

Being a lifelong Philadelphian, I had never visited the Penn Museum but Rainey Auditorium in the basement of the museum provided the intimate setting for the action-packed, fun-filled trip down memory lane complete with video and audio clips that took guests back to the origins of such Disney characters like Oswald the Lucky Rabbit as well as Goofy, Daisy Duck and Huey, Dewey and Louie, all of whom are celebrating significant anniversaries in 2012.

Guests were asked numerous times prior to show time to turn off cell phones and cautioned that no photography or video recording of any kind would be allowed during the presentation.  Also fellow Disney Geeks were asked not to blog about the show while it was in progress. At one point a cell phone rang in the middle of the show and in his best Maleficent impression, Jeffrey shot a stare at the audience which not only sent a message to the cell phone culprit but to the rest of the fans that cell phones are a distraction not only to the performers on stage but as well to the people gathered in the auditorium.

Philly Phanatics turned Disney fans for this one-night engagement gave a rousing warm welcome to Jeffrey and Justin and the audience was equally receptive to the presentation prompting Jeffrey at one point in the show to say that perhaps D23 should come back and visit the Northeast section of the country again real soon.  While D23 has staged other events in New York City, the Fanniversary was the first celebration in Philadelphia since Disney took their fan presentations on the road.

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Jeffrey is a natural on stage, comfortable and able to execute his hosting abilities without a hitch.  Even when dealing with a difficult water bottle which kept falling off a table onto the floor next to him, Jeffrey was able to ad lib his way out of the situation.  When his co-host lost his spot in the script, Jeffrey stepped in and ribbed Justin about "perhaps having one too many Philly cheese steaks."

While the fan celebration was action-packed in taking the audience through key anniversaries of the Walt Disney Company, more attention could have been paid to a movie that has a strong Philadelphia connection. 

"The Happiest Millionaire," released in 1967 was given a brief mention in the segment of the presentation marking 45-year anniversaries.  Besides being the last film that Walt Disney was involved in prior to his death in 1966, "Millionaire" starring Fred MacMurray was based on the true story of Philadelphia millionaire Anthony J. Drexel.  The screenplay was by A.J. Carothers based on the play from the book "My Philadelphia Father" by socialite Cordelia Drexel Biddle.  While showing production photos and posters of the film on screen, one of the graphics showed a cover of Biddle's book.  Perhaps a bit more attention to on-screen content coinciding with the script would have made the presentation feel a bit more tailored to the Philadelphia audience especially in marking "The Happiest Millionaire" milestone.  Fanniversary organizers could have also tipped their mouse ears to "The Happiest Millionaire" by staging the event at the Mandell Theater on the campus of Drexel University founded in 1891 by Anthony J. Drexel.

A true testimonial to any good show is always leaving the audience wanting more.  D23 Fanniversary did not disappoint as guests leaving the packed house talked excitedly about the program and offered up their personal reflections of their own favorite theme park attractions, movies and television shows from the Walt Disney Company as well as expressing their desire to attend the next fan event.  Jeffrey and Justin mingled with fans leaving the auditorium and even posed for a few photos.

D23 Fanniversary events are also scheduled for Seattle, Atlanta and Dallas.

With a bit of creative liberty from "the happiest cruise to ever set sail," it was a good show after all. 

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