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‘Mary Poppins,’ chimney sweeps in Gazette Holiday Parade

Gazette Holiday Parade

‘Mary Poppins,’ chimney sweeps in Gazette Holiday Parade

Cassandra Coppola might open her umbrella and fly Saturday night.
‘Mary Poppins,’ chimney sweeps in Gazette Holiday Parade
Alplaus Fire Dept. Lt. Chris Breslin, as Burt, and Cassadra Coppola, as Mary Poppins, on Sunday at the Alplaus Fire Department prepared for the Gazette Holiday Parade, which takes place Saturday.
Photographer: Erica Miller

Cassandra Coppola might open her umbrella and fly Saturday night.

But probably not. Coppola will dress as Mary Poppins in a long gray coat and smart black cap — popular fashion choices for British nannies during the early 1900s — and help entertain thousands of people at the 48th annual Daily Gazette Holiday Parade.

“I can twirl,” an umbrella-carrying Coppola said earlier this week, as members of the Alplaus Fire Department showed off their costumes and previewed their float.

At a glance

What: 48th annual Daily Gazette Holiday Parade

WHEN: 5 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: State Street, downtown Schenectady


MORE INFO: www.capitalregionchamber.com

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Hundreds of others will be twirling, singing, marching and smiling when the parade steps off at Schenectady County Community College at 5 p.m. “Musicals” is the theme for this year’s late autumn greeting to the yule and winter seasons; floats, musical bands and Santa Claus all will make the downtown scene.

So will police. In the aftermath of last weekend’s terrorist attacks in France, security has become an issue for an event that has drawn more than 20,000 in past years.

“We’re taking appropriate measures, but we’re not discussing what they are,” said Lt. Mark McCracken, a spokesman for the Schenectady Police Department. “As always, you can expect a strong police presence at the parade. We are taking additional measures, but we’re not going to discuss them. Can’t discuss manpower, can’t discuss what they’re going to be.”

People watching the parade, often described as the largest evening parade in the Northeast, should expect bunches of different acts.

“There’s some really good variety. There are a lot of different musicals being represented,” said Kristin Morris, manager of member relations for the Chamber of Schenectady County, which is organizing the show. “Musicals being represented include ‘Mary Poppins,’ ‘Rudolph,’ ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ ‘A Chorus Line,’ ‘White Christmas’ and ‘Elf: The Musical.’ There will be dancing munchkins from the ‘Wizard of Oz’ and people dressed up from the 1950s for ‘Grease: The Musical.’ ”

Some quick facts people should know about the parade:

• Upon exit from Schenectady County Community College, marchers, musicians and masqueraders will travel up State Street and turn left on Lafayette Street, disbanding at Franklin Street at 1 Liberty Square.

• Public parking will be available at eight local lots, including the Broadway Parking Garage.

• Proctors CEO Philip Morris will serve as the parade’s grand marshal.

• The reviewing stand will be near the Aperitivo Bistro restaurant.

• Mona Golub, vice president of public relations and consumer services for the Price Chopper supermarket chain, and CBS 6 anchor and reporter Cody Holyoke will serve as masters of ceremonies.

Glenville resident Coppola, an Alplaus firefighter and emergency medical technician, will have company on the department float. Chris Breslin will soot up as Bert, the singing chimney sweep. Megan Breslin, 8, and Charlie Breslin, 7, will join their father in the act as Mary’s pals Jane and Michael Banks. Alplaus Fire Chief Andy Coppola will also be on the sweep team.

Coppola said Alplaus has been represented in the parade every year since the late 1970s. “We abide by the theme every year,” he said. “We’ve been ‘Peter Pan,’ we’ve had the ‘Dukes of Hazzard.’ Anybody can put lights on. We always try to do the theme.”

The “Mary Poppins” movie works for Alplaus because the holiday greeting will come with a tip about preventing chimney fires. “Chimney fires are one of the leading causes of structure fires,” Coppola said. “If we can bring a message across to please keep your chimneys clean, and at the same time have people enjoy our ‘Mary Poppins’ musical, we thought it would work out.”

Some of the actors will be in the bed of a red Alplaus Fire Department Ford F-350 truck, now equipped with a miniature shingled roof and a chimney rigged to puff smoke. Alplaus firefighters, dressed for action in turnout gear, will be part of the detail. So will the department’s airboat.

The airboat’s propellers will take the night off, and for good reason. “Whoever who would be behind us would have a really bad day,” Coppola said. “The thing throws some serious wind.”

Chris Breslin, a department lieutenant who lives in Alplaus, will dress in cap, shirt and vest, black striped pants and a red neckerchief. He’s been watching the 1964 Disney movie with his fellow family actors — although Charlie is not crazy about the show — to pick up some of Dick Van Dyke’s moves.

Like Van Dyke, Breslin will be an animated performer.

“I’ll be on the boat, I’ll be off the boat,” he said. “I’m the kind of guy who will be getting out into the crowd.”

Coppola has played Mary Poppins before in a recital for Merritt Dance Center in Schenectady.

“We’ll be singing, dancing, waving — the whole nine yards,” she said. “There are a lot of songs in ‘Mary Poppins.’ We’ll be doing five of the iconic ones.”

So parade fans lining State Street will hear the sweet “A Spoonful of Sugar,” the jaunty “Chim Chim Cher-ee” and the tongue-twisting “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

“The songs are delightful and upbeat, and I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of crowd involvement,” Coppola said. “Who doesn’t know these songs?”

Unlike her brother, Megan Breslin likes watching Julie Andrews and company in the film.

“When we watched the movie, I was doing all the movements the whole day,” she said.

Other groups are preparing for their appearances. Schenectady’s Habitat for Humanity will have a “Fiddler on the Roof” for its float. Twelve dancers from the Dance Me studio on upper Union Street in Schenectady will dress as elves for a frolic inspired by “Elf: The Musical.”

“I love Christmastime, I like to be part of the community,” said Kathy Holtz, who opened the studio this past summer. “This was a perfect opportunity to be part of the community.”

The dancers, all between the ages of 8 and 16, are ready.

“They’ve been practicing very hard,” Holtz said. “They’re very excited. We had a two-hour practice last week, and they’re psyched.”

Emma Riegel, 9, of Scotia, is among the psyched. “We’ll be dancing and showing what we can do,” she said. “We’ll just be having fun, because we’re elves!”

The dance team will be dressed in red and green, with tiny bells on caps and boots. “I love the costumes,” Riegel said. “They’re comfortable, they’re cute and they’re nice and warm.”

Andy Coppola said people on the parade route should watch for the red “glow” inside the Alplaus chimney. Red lights will become a safe substitute for fire.

And he’s still thinking about a way to make Mary “fly” in downtown Schenectady. The department has a silhouette cutout of the Poppins character.

“I’m definitely going to incorporate the silhouette of Mary Poppins,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s going to go on the front of the truck, but we’re definitely going to do something with it. It would be nice if we could fly Mary.”

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected] or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter. His blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/wilkin.

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