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Between working with WDI and a new stage show, 2010 was loaded with "Great Moments" for John Tartaglia

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Between working with WDI and a new stage show, 2010 was loaded with "Great Moments" for John Tartaglia

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What's the weirdest place you ever got a job offer? Because I bet John Tartaglia has you beat.

Let me set the scene for you. It's September of 2009. And the star of  "Johnny and the Sprites" - having a fun few days exploring & experiencing the inaugural D23 Expo - was over at Disneyland Park with his friend, Imagineer Josh Shipley. And as the two of them were riding through the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, Shipley turned to this Tony Award-nominee and asked "What are you doing tomorrow?"

John explained to Josh that he was headed back to NYC the next afternoon to continue working on his latest project. Which was "ImaginOcean!," a brand-new family musical that Tartaglia was helping to create for  Royal Carribbean's newest cruise ship, Oasis of the Sea.

John Tartaglia with Dorsel (green), Bubbles (pink) and
Tank (orange) from "ImaginOcean!"

Shipley then asked Tartaglia if he could swing by WDI on his way to the airport. Because Josh was one of the Imagineers who was working on the new version of "Great Moments of Mr. Lincoln." And Shipley was wondering if Tartaglia might be interested in taking part in a live-action reference shoot that WDI was  thinking of doing for this revamped Disneyland attraction.

"Walt and the Imagineers did something similar to this back in the early 1960s," Josh explained. "They filmed Royal Dano performing the script of the 'Lincoln' show and then referenced that footage while they were programming this early AA figure. And with this new version of 'Mr. Lincoln,' we wanted to recapture some of this show's original magic. Bring more of a human quality to this figure's performance. Which is why we were looking to get some new live-action reference footage to work off of."

Now what Shipley didn't know when he recruited Tartgalia for this particular assignment was that John was already a huge fan of Disneyland's "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" show.

Copyright Walt Disney Productions, Inc. All rights reserved

"Back when I was a kid, I actually built a Mr. Lincoln puppet out of cardboard," John recalled. "I'd then make my Mom come down to the basement and - after I put on my 'Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln' storyteller LP on the stereo - I'd then make her watch my version of this Disneyland show. With that cardboard Lincoln standing in for the AA figure."

So to now be asked to help out with the live-action reference footage for this new version of "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" was like a dream come true for Tartaglia. Which was why - when he arrived at 1401 Flower Street the very next morning - John came prepared.

"We had sent him the script the night before," Josh recalled. "But John didn't need to reference those pages at all once we started to shoot. He already knew that material cold."

An image capture of John Tartaglia's live-action reference footage for "Great
Moments with Mr. Lincoln." Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

And as for what pieces of Targalia's live-action performance  the Imagineers then wound up referencing when they programmed the new Lincoln AA figure, Josh admitted that some of Josh's gestures did in fact make it into the final version of this show.

"There are acting choices that John made that morning that we never would have thought of. For example, there's this one arm movement that he made that really emphasized the text, which helped make our Lincoln figure seem that much more lifelike. Which is why we then incorporated his arm movement into our programming," Shipley said.

Mind you, it would be another year before Tartaglia finally got back to California and then got to see Disneyland's new "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" show. Which was an experience that John described as downright eerie.

"Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" 's next generation
Audio-Animatronic figure. Photo by Paul Hiffmeyer. 
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

"I mean, when you're as big a Disney theme park fan as I am, it was already a real honor to be recruited by Imagineering to help out with the redo of 'Mr. Lincoln,' " John stated. "But to then finally get to see the new version of this Disneyland show and then see this AA figure did some of the exact same things that I did for that live-action reference shoot was downright eerie. But also very cool."

But if the brand-new version of "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" opened back on December 18, 2009, then why did Tartaglia wait 'til September of this year to drop by the Main Street Opera House and finally check this AA figure out? Mostly because "ImaginOcean!" proved to be so popular as a cruise ship show that John & his creative team then reinvented this glow-in-the-dark, undersea musical adventure as a legitimate stage show. Which is why "ImaginOcean!" has been delighting audiences at NYC's New World Stages ever since March.

And if you're headed down to the Big Apple between now through January 2nd and want to see something special , then you should definitely consider dropping by the New World Stages. Where you can then see the special extended holiday version of "ImaginOcean!" Which features a 20 minute-long holiday sing-along complete with in-theater snow.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And if you're not headed down to the City anytime soon ... Not to worry. "ImaginOcean!" will begin a national tour sometime during the Summer of 2011. Tartaglia's also talking about taking this interactive piece of family entertainment and then - doing just what he did with "Johnny and the Sprites" for the Disney Channel - turning "ImaginOcean!" into a television series.

So - obviously - John has come a long way from those days in his parent's basement. Where he'd then  have his cardboard version of Honest Abe mouth along to that "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" storyteller album. So here's hoping that 2011 is loaded with even more "Great Moments" for this extremely talented performer / puppeteer.

For further information on "ImaginOcean!," please click on this link.

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  • If Disney likes Tartaglia so much, how come Disney Channel cancelled Johnny and the Sprites? It was one of the last decent shows they had on.

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