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Who's strutting what this year? Divisions putting finishing touches on costumes, choreography

The Daily News checked in with a handful of Mummers earlier this month to see how they were preparing for the New Year's Day festivities. Here's a glimpse of the strutting going on behind the scenes:

The Daily News checked in with a handful of Mummers earlier this month to see how they were preparing for the New Year's Day festivities. Here's a glimpse of the strutting going on behind the scenes:

If Broadway and Mardi Gras had a love child, it might look something like the two shows the Fancy Brigade stage at the Convention Center on New Year's Day.

More than a decade after the 11 Brigade clubs opted to take their act indoors, they continue to up the Wow Factor with ceiling-scraping set pieces, elaborate costumes and pulse-pounding dance routines.

Veteran Brigade members say the big performances have translated into an ever-growing pool of fans who turn out for the noon and 5 p.m. shows.

"We're getting close to 3,000 people for each of the shows," said Jim Julia, the captain of the Downtowners and the president of the Mummers Fancy Brigade Association.

Julia said about 400 out-of-town fans will visit the Convention Center shows on Jan. 1.

"It's somewhere between Mardi Gras and Broadway, and people like that," Julia added. "There's always something exciting going on."

Some Fancy Brigade clubs spend more than $100,000 on their props, costumes and choreography.

While the results are often jaw-dropping, much of the work is "done by longshoremen, policemen and firemen — run-of-the-mill guys who just love doing this," said Mickey Adams, the captain of Bill McIntyre's Shooting Stars.

The Shooting Stars won first place last year with their wild theme, "India, Land of the Tiger." This time, they will feature wizards and dragons, Adams said.

"We're probably as big as we've been in a long time, with props and everything," Adams said. "It ought to be interesting."

Tickets to the Fancy Brigade shows are $14 and $19, and children 3 and under get in for free.

Crunch time for Fralinger String Band began in September, when Tuesday evening practices started to stretch to three hours.

Now, with the 2009 Mummers Parade just days away, four- or five-hour weekend practices are par for course, said Anthony D'Amore, a banjo player who's been with Fralinger for 39 years.

Fralinger is out to make history again, having finished in first place six years in a row. Last year's win was for their rollicking cowboy theme, "Grab Your Partner, Swing Them 'Round, Fralinger is Westward Bound!" This year, they will trot out an Arabian theme.

While the thrill of victory is sweet, D'Amore and many of his fellow strummers find their true reward for months of hard work is getting to share the joy of the parade with their children.

D'Amore's sons, Anthony, 24, Thomas, 20, and Christopher, 15, have marched up Broad Street with him for the past several years.

"To us, it's a way of life," said D'Amore, 53. "Getting to go up Broad Street with them is a thrill and I really love it."

The parade is still a giddy tradition for some who don't march. D'Amore said 15 to 20 people cram into his South Philly home on Jan. 1 and hang out with his wife, Karen. They watch a few snippets on TV and then dash around town to cheer on Fralinger, D'Amore said.

"People who aren't from this city don't buy it, but it's a wonderfully contagious thing," he said. "We still have a lot of fun."

Women weren't allowed to march in the Mummers Parade when Jackie McCann was a little girl.

She was about 10 when the rules finally changed and she was allowed to join her dad's club, Hog Island. McCann has kept at it for 33 years — still as thrilled as ever by the magical march up Broad Street — and taken over as Hog Island's president along the way.

So when the city announced in early November that it was cutting prize money because of a budget crisis and expecting the Mummers to pay for city services — a fee initially estimated at $760,000 — McCann was stunned, devastated and worried sick.

"You could say that nerves were running pretty high there," she said. "I mean, I can't imagine what we would've done. We had no chance to prepare for something like that."

The city eventually agreed to fork over $300,000 to cover most of the cost of city services for a shorter, 6½ hour parade.

McCann, 43, said her members were relieved. They had already completed most of their work on the costumes and floats for their festive "Mardi Gras Review" theme.

Some performers, though, have already started to worry about the parade's future. Mayor Nutter has said the city will not contribute any money to the parade next year.

"We're taking it one day at a time," McCann said. "We'll worry about next year on Jan. 2. Right now, I'm just thinking about seeing all of the people on Broad Street and getting to City Hall."

Bud Emig and Richard Porco have heard all the jokes and stereotypes about the members of the Comics Division. They're tired of 'em.

"There is a big misconception that the Comics are a bunch of drunks, and that's simply not true," said Emig, 53, the captain of the B. Love Strutters.

"People don't understand, it's not that way any more," said Porco, the president of the Murray comic club. "They're not allowed to act like that anymore."

What the merry marchers are allowed to do, Emig said, is get people to have a little fun — a welcome concept during bleak economic times.

"When you go up Broad Street, people are on the sidelines, looking out, and they want to interact," he said.

"Our members love pulling kids and older folks out into the street with them, getting them to laugh and do the strut and have a good time, no matter what's going on in the rest of the world."

But more than a few Mummers have had their normally giddy grins turned upside down in recent months.

The city budget crisis casts doubt on the parade's future beyond this year, and no club has been immune to the larger national economic crisis that's led to waves of layoffs.

"A lot of our members are laid off," Emig said. "We've had to reduce the amount of dues people pay, and then we had that whole ordeal with the city."

The glut of gloomy news has served to reinforce many Mummers' desire to put on a festive show Jan. 1.

"Our philosophy," Emig said, "is we're determined to bring joy to Broad Street." *