Wednesday, November 24, 2004

News Menu Button Go with the float: Thanksgiving on parade
Holiday tradition hovers high above others

By Mike Hughes
Lansing State Journal

Bobbin' along: SpongeBob SquarePants is one of the new additions to this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.

This is the week for helium and hype, for floats and flair, for bands making music and singers

pretending to.

It's time for a Thanksgiving Day parade. There are choices.

People can catch a parade in person in Detroit. Expect temperatures in the mid-30s, with a chance of snow showers.

Or they can catch one on TV at home. Expect temperatures in the 60s or 70s, with a chance of egg nog and cranberries.

Either way, this is part of a tradition. People involved with the Macy's parade in New York (telecast on NBC and CBS) can tell about that. Just ask:

Al Roker, one of the NBC commentators. He grew up in New York and has known the parade for most of his 50 years. "It's a sense of community," Roker said, "a sense of belonging to something big."

Robert Grippo, who wrote the book (literally) on the parade. He's from Long Island and has known the parade for most of his 47 years. "Everyone just brightens up," he said. "It's warm; it's holiday."

Curtis Cregan, who's about to be in his first parade. "I really don't know much about parades," he granted.

Cregan, 27, grew up in Okemos and now stars in an American kids' TV show ("Hi-5") taped in Australia. Sometime on Thanksgiving morning, he and his four castmates will have 90 seconds of NBC air time, singing and dancing.

"The hard part is doing it all on a 10-by-7 (foot) surface," he said.

That's the plan for the Macy's event. NBC promises four Broadway shows, two opera stars (Andrea Bocelli and Deborah Voight) and such pop people as Fantasia Barrino, Barenaked Ladies, Gavin DeGraw, Peter Cetera, Hayley Westenra, Ryan Cabrera and Jose Feliciano.

"It's a parade, but it's also an entertainment special," said Grippo, author of "Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade" (Arcadia, 2004, $21.99).

The catch is that these singers lip-sync to pre-recorded tracks."It's not like Ashlee Simpson," Roker said. "They're not trying to hide it."

(Simpson is the pop singer whose lip-syncing self-destructed on "Saturday Night Live." As it happens, she'll be at the Detroit parade.)

Grippo says one star - he won't say who - did try to sing live at the parade, while hearing the music track in his ear. It was a disaster.

So people stick to lip-syncing, he said. "Some are more adept at it than others."

Cregan (see story above) is optimistic about that. Throughout the parade, he said, Hi-5 will alternate between four tunes. Parade-goers will hear recorded songs, but the performers will sing along. "That should make it realistic."

The Macy's parade has always been a hybrid, Grippo said.

In the old days, many department stores sponsored parades to launch the Christmas season. Macy's started its parade in 1924; the event is 80 years old, but this is only the 78th parade, because of a wartime break.

Only a few of those parades - including Detroit's, once sponsored by the Hudson's department store - have survived. Macy's has prospered, possibly because:

New York always gets the spotlight. Even in the 1930s, the Macy's parade included such stars as Harpo Marx and Eddie Cantor.

The movie "Miracle on 34th Street" focused on the Macy's parade Santa. The 1947 film is a classic, remade in 1973 and '94.

Macy's had some innovators.

"Tony Sarg was an immigrant and an amazing talent," Grippo said. "He actually did puppet shows at Carnegie Hall. He decided that you could turn a puppet upside down and you have a balloon."

Those inflatables became one of the drawing points of the parades. This year, the Detroit parade is adding an "I'm Bringing Home a Baby Bumblebee" inflatable; returning ones include Elmo, Clownie and The Nutcracker.

New ones for the Macy's parade this year include SpongeBob Square Pants, plus Chicken Little, the Weebles and the red and yellow M&M's. They join Super Grover, Charlie Brown, Barney, Pikachu and Clifford the Big Red Dog.

"I defy anyone to not be in awe of those giant balloons," Roker said. "It takes 60-70 people to hold onto them."

They are volunteers. Alongside all the hype and hucksters, the parade has masses of people working free to hoist balloons and more. "It's such a rush of excitement," said Grippo, going into his fourth year as a volunteer clown.

Then there are the high school bands in the Macy's parade.

"We tend to be cynical," Roker said. "But often, these are people who have never been on a plane before; they've never been to New York. They always impress me."

Cregan understands that. He travels a lot and remembers pausing to see a small-town parade. "What I watched were the reactions of the people on the side. They were so involved."

Now he'll be in the parade, performing for the masses. The scale will be bigger, but Roker said the feeling will be the same. "New York is a collection of small towns."

On parade day, Grippo said, all of those forces converge. "On that one day, everyone is a New Yorker."


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Article located by Jon Voslo
Lansing State Journal
Copyright 2004


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