2008 - John Stamos
2009 - Jon Voight
2010 - Tom Skerritt
2011 - Gary Sinise
2012 - Kurt Russell, Edward James Olmos, Dick Van Dyke, John Stamos
2014 - Beau Bridges
2015 - Geena Davis
2016 - Ginnifer Goodwin
2017 - Chris Hemsworth
Looking back, I wasn't all that verbose in my early reports.
At 5:25pm, Nancy Sulahian took the stage and started it all off. The orchestra started playing and even from where we were standing, you could hear voices coming from down at the end of Main Street.
The area in front of us was not even close to being filled. At 5:27, cast members started pulling people from the crowd to sit in the chairs. They asked those of us in the front row first. I was not interested at all. Would I rather be in one of the very last seats with lots of heads in front of me, or would I want to be in the very front row standing with an un-obstructed view above all those heads. Easy decision.
But there were plenty of takers.
By this point, I'm used to it being completely dark in this area. Hey guys, kill the lights!
Ruston (and the rest of the choirs) have been practicing for Candlelight since September, but it wasn't until the rehearsal on Thursday night at the park when they would learn what show they'd be performing in and where on the tree they would be standing. So on Thursday we learned that he was going to be on the City Hall side, but really low on the tree. I asked if he could see the Opera House side. No. What about the City Hall side? No, he's covered by the Hand Bell Choir. D'oh! Well he'll just have to sing extra loud so we can hear him instead.
I do see one person I recognize though. Hi Paula!
Ladies and Gentlemen - Chris Pratt!
A quick wave.
Then throwing everyone a "Peace" sign.
It was certainly a different show than we've seen before. Chris Pratt apparently likes to go off-script. For instance he started with the following.
"About 2000 years ago, God, sends an angel named Gabriel to a city in Galilee named Nazareth to a virgin, who was betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, who was a descendant of King David. And that virgin's name was Mary.
"And having come in, the angel said to her, Rejoice fine favored one, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women.
"And the Bible says, when she saw him she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manor of greeting this was.
"That seems confusing to me so I'll just paraphrase.
"SHE WAS KINDA SCARED BECAUSE AN ANGEL JUST FELL OUT FROM THE CEILING!"
The next one I don't think he meant to do, but was a true mistake.
"But that angel said to her, Mary do not be afraid, you have found favor with God. And behold, you will consume... consume... heh, nope. Behold you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a son. And you shall call this son Jesus."
I think he was chuckling a little to himself when he sat down after that one.
After this, both T and I noticed he seemed to slow down his reading a little bit. Perhaps because he was trying to make sure he didn't mess up any other lines.
The singing of Away in a Manger is always so sweet. I don't know who she is, but she did an excellent job.
The Hand Bell Choir.
Just a little more off-script.
"So it was that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.
Mary gonna have that baby.
And she brought forth her first born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger."
A duet singing What Child Is This?
I felt at least that Chris was taking it a little more seriously after this.
One of the Dapper Dans, Drew Tablak singing Silent Night in Spanish. And I realize I don't know who is playing the guitar, but it's been the same person for years now. At least since 2008.
One of my favorite parts of the show is when Drew walks over to Nancy Sulahian and they lead the entire audience in the singing of Silent Night.
And not just the audience is singing. I'm always curious to see if the narrator is as into it as the rest of us are. And yes, Chris Pratt was closing his eyes and singing Silent Night with everyone else. That made me smile.
Another of my favorite parts is the introduction and the singing of the Hallelujah chorus. When everybody stands as one and sings along again.
One last view of the stage before the end.
At the end, as with all the other years, the narrators can go off-script and speak a few personal words. Some years the narrators use a generic "Thank you" message that we've heard a few minor variations of over the years.
Not surprisingly Chris Pratt decided to say said a few words on his own.
"Thank you so much ladies and gentlemen it was really my honor to share this beautiful candlelight ceremony with all of you. It's been a very special and inspiring night.
For me, being a parent has changed my life in so many ways. And one of those ways is to understand, truly, the love that a father can have for a child. And when I stare at this precious little creation of mine here, and I watch the ways in which he tries to please me, I just feel the love that is so pure, and unending.
And the way we love our children. and the more we love our children, the more we will understand the capacity for our Father in heaven to love us (lots of applause). Each and every one of us, is his creation, and he just marvels in the ways in which we can try to please him. And that should give us all a great deal of comfort, I know it does for me.
This holiday season, let us embrace every one of our tomorrows with hope and love, and through this holiday spirit, may we continue to spread peace and goodwill throughout the world."
"Thank you and MERRY CHRISTMAS!"
He made sure to emphasize the Merry Christmas part of it, and received loud cheers for it.
So how did Chris Pratt do?
I thought he was very genuine. He's certainly not traditional, but again I don't think that's his personality. The characters he plays like Star Lord or Andy (from Parks and Rec) never take themselves that seriously. And even though Candlelight is a very traditional format, I don't think you can completely take away the personality of the narrator.
And when he was speaking, especially at the end, I thought it came from the heart.
I recorded audio of the entire show along with snapping photos. It's mostly for my benefit so I can remember more details later. I clipped out just the portions where Chris Pratt is speaking so you can hear some of the things I talk about above. You'll also hear such gems as: Ian asking repeatedly where Uncle Ruston is at the beginning, Alli asking "Was that the end of it?" after the first song, and Alli asking for kisses during the middle.
If you want a more "polished" version of the entire Candlelight Processional, check out the video from DAPS MAGIC.
What would I do different next year? For the past few years, I've gone over to the Opera House side. It's a very long ways from the narrator, but you get a pretty good view of the entire stage. Last year I was a little higher up and had an issue with the tree branches covering up the narrator. Standing where I was this year (on the white X below) there were no more trees obstructing my view of the narrator, but there was a giant tree covering up the trumpeters along the Main Street Railroad rooftop. I'm not sure if there's some happy medium between the two where both are visible.
There is the option to move over to the City Hall side, but there are more trees blocking your view of the entire stage. And while you can see the narrator much better, it's always in profile and they rarely look over in that direction.
Guess there's only one thing to do. Become a Disney Legend in the next year and get invited to sit in the VIP section. We'll see how that goes next year.
After the show, the choirs all started filing out. While they made their way out, I left Theresa with the stroller and me and the kids made our way forward. All the way to the front of the stage where the last of the choir was walking out and the lantern holders followed shortly after.
I really wanted to just say hi to Nancy Sulahian and thank her for her dedication in putting this on all these years. In all my times coming, I've never seen another conductor. Even during 2012 when there were 20 straight nights of Candlelight.
The kids waved at the violinists while we waited.
I know she's busy and had another show to prepare for in just an hour, so as she was walking off the conductor's stand and down the stage, the kids and I both thanked her. She stopped and bent down to shake both of the kid's hands. It was a long stretch, so she said "let me just come down and see you".
As soon as she got to our level, the Ian went up to her completely unprompted and gave her a big hug. Alli followed immediately after. They sure do know how to endear themselves to people
Nancy asked the kids' names, asked if they liked music, and even let Alli hold her baton.
After Alli gave it back, she made sure to give it to Ian and then said it was going to be extra special now that they'd rubbed it.
Then she led them over to the nearby chairs and suggested I take a picture of them.
I was able to thank her for all the work she does to put this show on every year. I told her, I wasn't sure if she would remember it or not, but me and a couple of other friends (with the dog) made a book about Candlelight back in 2012 and presented her a copy.
We said our goodbyes and wished her good luck the rest of the shows. I couldn't have asked for a better interaction. Really awesome.
I asked a gentleman if he wouldn't mind taking a photo of me and the kids together. He happily obliged.
He even asked if I wanted another picture facing the other direction with the tree in the background. Sure!
Afterwards he apologized that he couldn't frame it such that the guys on the right weren't in the photo. No worries.
Oh, and who was that on the right side of the frame. Tony Baxter, signing an autograph for someone. If I'd had been thinking clearly I would have told Ian that he was the Imagineer who came up with one of his very favorite rides, Splash Mountain. But I wasn't thinking clearly and just said he was an important Disney Imagineer.
Just one more picture before we leave. Smile kids. Smile Star Lord.
At this point, ~6:40pm, cast members were really pushing to get the area cleared out for the next showing. The entire area where people have been sitting, standing, the benches, everything, is cleared out. New VIPS are sat for the 2nd show. The queue for the "free" areas started lining up on Main Street as soon as the Processional passed by for the first show. They'll get the chance to be the first to stand at the curbs that we waited for all afternoon.
Afterwards we joined Theresa and waited for our real star of the show.
Nice work Ruston! The kids gave him giant hugs.
It's tradition to get a photo together in front of the tree.
We also waited for one more of Ruston's friends to say Hi. She was on the City Hall side.
It's also tradition to go sit down and drink spiced tea and snack afterwards. Normally that would be a gingerbread cookie, or something like that. The line for the Jolly Holiday bakery stretched out the door and all the way to the main walkway. No cookies tonight.
Instead, we sipped steaming spiced tea made from my Grandma's recipe. This spiced tea is just the taste of Christmas to me. It's made with cloves, cinnamon sticks, orange/pineapple/lemon juice, and tea bags. (I happen to be sipping a mug of it as I write this up. Delicious.) We all enjoy our warm drinks and other snacks while watching the castle and the holiday light show.
And while we're on the topic on Holiday Light shows, the lights around it's a small world are beautiful at Christmas.
The kids really enjoyed watching the projection show here and wanted to wait for it to run again.
I remember in years past it ran every 15 minutes. I went over to a cast member just to make sure, and learned that it's now every 30 minutes. She explained that having the show every 15 minutes caused too much congestion in the area, so it was scaled back this year.
30 minutes is just a little too long for us to wait.
We walked out right around 7:45pm as the second processional started.
And here's a view I'm not used to seeing. The trumpeters on the top of the Railway Station, but from the back.
We said our goodbyes to Ruston and set off through Downtown Disney to walk to the car. On the way, this happened. They've both done so good today.
It was another successful year of Candlelight. Will we be back next year? Absolutely!