Hundreds gather at The Point to sing Mr. Rogers' theme song as part of film

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Alyssa Cwanger, Post-Gazette

Mr. McFeely (David Newell) waves with the crowd to a helicopter with a camera on it as part of the grand finale to Carl Kurlander's documentary about Pittsburgh called, "A Tale of Two Cities." This took place yesterday afternoon at Point State Park after everyone sang the Mr. Rogers Theme Song, "It's A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood," which was filmed for the movie. It was part of the Three Rivers Regatta.

By Bill Schackner
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Steeler great Franco Harris said if things got tough in the neighborhood, he'd lip sync.

County Chief Executive Dan Onorato wasn't about to let fear of a few off-key notes stop him from joining in a musical tribute to children's TV legend Fred Rogers.

   
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And talk show host Lynn Cullen clearly wasn't giving stage fright a second thought as she stood yesterday in the bright sunshine in Point State Park. "It doesn't matter in this setting," she said. "It ain't the Mormon Tabernacle Choir."

Their faces were obvious, but their voices it turns out were hard to distinguish from the hundreds of other Pittsburghers -- famous and less so -- who raised their voices in the park to give a distinctly local flavor to the grand finale of an upcoming movie, "A Tale of Two Cities."

Organizers were hoping for 200 or so participants in the afternoon sing-along, but it appeared they had attracted two to three times that number to a grassy spot near the park's main stage. At a few minutes past 5, the cameras were rolling for the first of six takes of "Won't You Be My Neighbor."

Its makers say the film will explore how Pittsburgh "built America with its steel, cured polio and invented everything from aluminum to the Big Mac" and is now "being challenged to reinvent itself."

It features screenwriter and TV producer Carl Kurlander, who moved back to Pittsburgh with his family from Los Angeles.

Sure, the sing-along attracted Pittsburgh Mayor Bob O'Connor and an eclectic mix of familiar personalities, from Cyril Wecht and Jim Roddey to Patty Pearce, who drew national attention to her Blawnox lingerie store in January when she placed Terrible Towels on its manikins.

"In this movie, the stars of Pittsburgh are not any individual people. It's the entire city. It's a neighborhood," Mr. Kurlander said.

Joanne Rogers, wife of the late Fred Rogers, joined the sing-along. She beamed as she thanked the crowd that came from various neighborhoods across the city, its suburbs and beyond.

"There are many ways to say 'I love you.' There's a sing-along way and we've done it today," she said.

David Newell, dressed as his Mister Rogers Neighborhood character, Mr. McFeely, signed autographs and uttered his famous words "Speedy Delivery."

The crowd, some of whom learned about the event from the newspaper or happened by it while at the Regatta, ranged from toddlers to senior citizens, some professing little singing ability. Many talked about their gratitude to what Mr. Rogers stood for and how the gathering reflected the city's spirit and why it was important to be a part of it.

"We love Mr. Rogers," said Sarah Windisch, 33, of Wexford, who was there with her finance, Erik Frankenstein. "We saw this on the Web site and said we have to come down here no matter what."

North Sider Randall Collins, wearing a Pirates cap adorned with American flags, said he grew up with the show and wanted to be a part of the tribute. "It touched my heart."


Bill Schackner can be reached at bschackner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1977.


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