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Dick Van Dyke & the Vantastix bring the crowd to their feet at D23's Destination D: 75 Years of Disney Animated Features event

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Dick Van Dyke & the Vantastix bring the crowd to their feet at D23's Destination D: 75 Years of Disney Animated Features event

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"Did you enjoy attending the 2011 edition of the D23 EXPO?"

For a lot of Official Disney Fan Club members, the answer to that question depends largely on how early they got in line for last year's  Dick Van Dyke and the Vantastix concert. If you were among the folks who got in line early-early outside of Stage 23, you had a genuinely wonderful time at this three-day-long event. On the other hand, if you were among the hundreds who wound up getting turned away that Friday night because this 1000-seat venue filled up amazingly quickly ... Well, you then complained for weeks afterwards about how you missed out on this once-in-a-lifetime chance to see Van Dyke performing live onstage.

To  give the folks who run the Official Disney Fan Club credit, they actually listened to the complaints they received from these D23 EXPO attendees. Which is why -- when they were assembling the entertainment line-up for last weekend's Destination D: 75 Years of Disney Animated Features event -- they once again reached out to Dick and asked if he & the Vantastix might be interested in performing at another D23 event.

(L to R) Bryan Chadima, Dick Van Dyke, Eric Bradley and Mike
Mendyke. Photo by Jim Hill

Happily, Van Dyke said "Yes." Which is why -- last Saturday night -- the Grand Ballroom of the Disneyland Hotel was filled with cheering Official Disney Fan Club members when the Vantastix took to the stage.

As Dick looked out over the crowd giving him and his a capella group their first standing O of the evening, Van Dyke joked "I feel just like Justin Bieber."

What followed was not so much a show as a party. As Dick explained, these Vantastix concert appearances basically grew out of he, Eric Bradley, Bryan Chadima and Mike Mendyke standing around a piano singing songs that they loved while they ate pizza & drank Coca-Cola. So their performances together -- rather than being polished and professional -- tended to be more loose and fun.

Photo by Jim Hill

Which isn't to say that watching Dick and the Vantastix sing close harmony isn't supremely entertaining. As this a capella group launched into their first song of the evening, "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," you should seen the  smiles spread across the faces of every baby boomer in the room.

"I hope it's okay that we opened with a song that's not from a Disney film," Van Dyke remarks before the Vantastix then began performing "Put On a Happy Face" & "Rosie" from Dick's 1960 Broadway hit, "Bye Bye Birdie."

After these two numbers were completed, Dick took a moment to acknowledge that Disney Legend Marge Champion (i.e. the 92 year-old dancer who served as the live-action reference model for Snow White. Not to mention being the widow of legendary Broadway director/choreographer Gower Champion) was in the audience that night. And given that Gower was the guy who had cast Dick in this Broadway hit ... Well, Van Dyke made a point of saying that the Champions had basically changed his life as a performer. That -- thanks to Gower shaping "Birdie" into such a showcase for Dick's talent -- this Broadway musical then set him on the path for a hugely successful career in television &  the movies.

Dick poses with Marge Champion for
photographs after Saturday night's
concert. Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of movies, it was now time for the Vantastix to start paying tribute to the Disney songbook. So the first song out of the gate was "Jolly Holiday" from "Mary Poppins ." Which gave Van Dyke the chance to trot out his somewhat-less-than-authentic Cockney accent.

From there, Dick and the Vantastix did an abbreviated version of "Fidelity Fiduciary Bank" from that film. Though -- since that he's now 86 year-old and white haired -- Van Dyke was quick to point out that " ... I no longer have to spend three hours in a make-up chair" in order to play Mr. Dawes Senior.

This "Mary Poppins" number was then followed by a bouncy rendition of Randy Newman's "You've Got a Friend in Me" from "Toy Story." Then Dick told this hilarious story about how the Vantastix had once been invited to take part in a musical tribute to the Sherman Brothers . So for their number in this show, this a cappela group decided to perform "The Bare Necessities." Which turned out to be the one song out of that film's score which Dick & Bob didn't write for "The Jungle Book."

One of the real highlights of Saturday night's show was when Dick and the
Vanstatix performed a choreographed version of "Me Ol' Bamboo" from
"Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." Photo by Jim Hill

Van Dyke chalked this mishap up to " ... that old senility." Which then gave Dick an excuse to launch into the parody version of "The Bare Necessities" which he'd written. Where -- instead of "forget about all your troubles and your strife" -- growing older makes you "not recognize your neighbors or your wife."

This is the tone that continued throughout the show. Dick and the three other members of Vantastix up there onstage, being loose and teasing one another before they'd then launch into these heartfelt versions of classic Disney songs like "Baby Mine" from "Dumbo." Every so often, just to mix things up, this quartet would then throw in a gospel number like "Down by the Riverside" or a boogie-woogie tune from the 1940s like "Straighten Up and Fly Right."

Another fun moment in the show came when Dick invited his wife Arlene up onstage so that she & the other members of Vantastix could then perform memorable TV theme songs from shows like "Cheers," "All in the Family" and "The Jeffersons ." And speaking of television, one of the real highlights of the night came when Dick revealed the lyrics that Morey Amsterdam had written for the "Dick Van Dyke Show " theme song. This was followed by a recreation of the "I am a Fine Musician" number from that classic CBS sitcom.

Dick Van Dyke looks on approvingly as his wife Arlene and members of the Vantastix
perform memorable TV theme songs from the 1970s & 1980s. Photo by Jim Hill

There was all this -- plus the other members of Vantastix doing their bagpipe impression, plus Arlene performing "Go To Sleep Little Baby" from "Oh Brother Where Art Thou." But as Saturday evening's performance drew to a close, it only made sense that Dick and the Vantastix would then circle back on "Mary Poppins" and begin performing the more famous numbers from this Academy Award-winning film. To be specific "Chim Chim-Cheree," "Step in Time," "Supercalifraglisticexpialidocious," "A Spoonful of Sugar" and "Let's Go Fly a Kite."

Mind you, I wonder what Walt would have thought of Dick briefly busting out into a rap version  of "A Spoonful of Sugar." But given that Van Dyke was just channeling his inner Justin Bieber as he performed for all those D23 members in the Grand Ballroom at the Disneyland Hotel, I'm sure that the Old Mousetro would have eventually approved. I think.

In short, it was one of those nights (given the extended standing ovation that Dick and the Vantastix received as they took their final bows) that members of the Official Disney Fan Club will obviously remember for years yet to come. Even those folks who spent much of the past year complaining about how they weren't able to get into Stage 23 to see Van Dyke perform at the 2011 edition of the D23 EXPO.

Alan Menken gets a standing ovation at the end of last Sunday night's concert at D23's
Destination D: 75 Years of Disney Animation Features event. Photo by Jim Hill

As I left the Disneyland Hotel that night, I wondered how the people who are in charge of the Official Disney Fan Club were ever going to be able to top a performance like that. But then on Sunday night in the exact same performance space, I saw "An Evening with Alan Menken." Which was as good if not better than Saturday's Dick Van Dyke and the Vantastix concert had been.

But I'll get to that story sometime later this week, okay?

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  • It was a fan-tastic weekend.  Dick and the guys were great.  Alan Mencken was incredible. I can't imagine a better event for us Disney fans.  There was so many highlights, but I'd like to add that all the talk about how good Paperman is are true.

  • It was a terrific performance. For all the disappointment related to the last D23 Expo, the Destination D events are really enjoyable, partly because everyone is GUARANTEED admission and there's no waiting or guessing if you're going to be seated. But, these events are more in-depth and meaningful to Disney fans. I would have paid the admission price just to see the two concerts in a theater for Dick Van Dyke and Alan Menken, so all the panels and other VIPS was so worth it!

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