Audience members at Epcot's Candlelight Processional are experiencing new sounds this season. Among them is narration that describes a broken church organ, a spur-of-the-moment poem and an amateur guitarist, leading into a rendition of "Silent Night."
That's one of the more obvious changes made to the event, which incorporates a mass choir, orchestra and celebrity narrator telling the Christmas story, said show director Forrest Bahruth. It has been produced at Walt Disney World since 1971.
"We realized there were several things in the show that were not quite working," Bahruth said. A few transitions between narration and song were jarring, he said, and some of the Biblical scripture was not in chronological order.
"We were telling a story that was out of time," Bahruth said.
He fixed that by changing the song order — swapping the positions of "Away in a Manger" and "Il Est Ne" — and altering some narrations between songs.
"When they talk about finding a babe in the manger, suddenly we go to 'Away in a Manger,' " he said. "Everything began working."
The event's "One Solitary Life" speech is considered a high point of the narration, Bahruth said, but following it with the gentle "Silent Night" created a "road bump." This year, a boisterous "Joy to the World" follows that narration.
That left "Silent Night" without a lead-in or related scripture. So, a story tied to the making of the song, written in the early 1800s, was inserted. The new narration talks about a church in Austria with an organ that did not work. The minister is inspired to write a poem and asks the organist to accompany him on the guitar. Alas, he protests: He knows only three chords.
"Well, then three chords is all you'll need," the minister says in the script. Their cooperation creates the "most beautiful and beloved of all the Christmas carols," the narrator reads.
Historians quibble about details of this story, but it's an enduring tale.
"There are actually about five or six versions of it, but we took the most traditional one," Bahruth said. "We've used that several times here at Disney before." It was previously incorporated into a show called "Holiday Splendor" and told in small groups at the Germany pavilion at Epcot, he said.
Some of the Candlelight changes are visual. Background pillars that stood before a giant screen have been removed from the background.
"It opened up the look of the stage and provided a huge backdrop for lighting and special effects," Bahruth said. "Before, we only had sections we could work with. Now we had a huge canvas."
Expect more alterations next year.
"We never change the apple, but we keep polishing," Bahruth said.
Candlelight Processional is included in regular Epcot admission ($89 general, $83 ages 3-9). It's presented three times nightly through Dec. 30. Show times are 5, 6:45 and 8:15 p.m.
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