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Dick Van Dyke Is Still Vantastix!


It's an "only in Hollywood" story -- or more accurately, only in Malibu -- when Mike Mendyke, a former aerospace engineer and NASA employee, bumped into Dick Van Dyke in a coffee shop back in 2000.


Mike's love of music had overcome his engineering desires and he was especially fond of vocal music (a cappella), singing in his own group called Five O'clock Shadow. When he happened to see Dick, he knew it was an opportunity he had to investigate.


"I just happened to know the year prior Dick was made an honorary life member of the Barbershop Harmony Society. The first words out of my mouth were, 'I understand you are a big fan of barbershop,'" says Mike, adding that Dick responded with a wish that there were more people in the area to sing with.


Grasping this perfect invitation, Mike turned to his other talented friends, Bryan Chadima and Eric Bradley, and asked them if they would like to sing with Dick Van Dyke. After convincing them he wasn't joking, the guys eagerly jumped at the chance. Before long, the group was gathered around Dick's piano eating pizza and harmonizing their hearts out.


From there they began singing at charity events in Los Angeles, appeared on television during the TV Land Awards and sang the national anthem at a couple of Lakers games. Dick even used his newfound buddies to surprise his friend Mary Tyler Moore during a Larry King Show interview when they sang the theme song to Mary's popular television show.


With all this love and harmony, it's no surprise these guys have recorded and released a CD of some of their favorite songs. Dick Van Dyke and The Vantastix: Put On A Happy Face is an energizing collection of wonderful music that will appeal to a wide age range. It includes selections Dick helped make famous, including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious  ("It took a long time to learn how to spell that," says Mike.)


Speaking of their first CD effort, Mike says the project sprung from their desire to leave an enduring legacy.


"The CD was a real labor of love. We wanted to see if we could do this. I have been enjoying working with the group for so long now, I wanted a formal record that this group existed," explains Mike, adding that making the CD is only part of the effort. "We made the album and now we are trying to figure out what to do with it. We don't have a big record label or production company."


Calling it a "grass roots effort," Mike is using his computer skills to market and promote the recording, which is available from the website at www.vantastix.com or can be downloaded in digital from another site Mike co-founded that specializes in a cappella music.


Listening to the final result, I would describe it as anything but "grass roots." The harmonies are superb and Dick's frequent embellishments add a great note of fun entertainment to songs we've heard many times before. He even offers the theme from his original Dick Van Dyke Show with unpublished lyrics attributed to Dick's co-star on the show, Morey Amsterdam. Other tunes include You've Got A Friend In Me, Baby of Mine, Bare Necessities and a very cool rendition of A Lover's Question with Dick handling the bass while Bryan Chadima croons the melody. (Brian, who along with Eric, is a professional singer, is also responsible for recording and mixing this technically superb disc.)


Possibly one of the greatest messages coming from this effort isn't in the songs themselves but in what it represents. Big media is currently obsessed with reaching specific demographics -- usually based on age. That has fractured our use of media into distinct groups, leaving us with far too many formulated products that are pigeonholed into categories like kids movies, teen music, and adult dramas. In contrast, Put On A Happy Face has the potential to cross these superfluous age barriers.


Mike agrees, saying, "We have heard that message about integration of generations from many other people. People Dick's age are delighted to see him up there. My kids love it, and I love it too. We do each other good by enjoying one another's company."


Rarely does an item come across my desk with this much heart and soul. With two bonus Christmas songs completing the selections, The Vantastix album Put on A Happy Face is a prime holiday gift that won't go stale for a long, long time.


To purchase a copy of Dick Van Dyke & The Vantastix: Put on A Happy Face, go to the official Vantastix web site.


Rod Gustafson

Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.

Parenting and the Media by Rod Gustafson

The Parents Television Council - www.parentstv.org

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