The BoDeans' song "Closer to Free" was a hit when it first hit the airwaves in 1993.
Twenty years later, the lyrics have taken on a greater significance as the adopted theme song of the Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven. The song promotes Smilow's mission of working to make the world cancer-free.
A group of young singers from throughout Fairfield County will deliver that message to television viewers on Super Bowl Sunday when 30- and 60-second versions of their "Closer to Free" commercial is broadcast before kickoff and later during the football game between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens.
The Fairfield County Children's Choir singers got to see their commercial last Wednesday at a preview party at Fairfield Woods Middle School, where they were rehearsing for their concert of Broadway music set for 7 p.m. Saturday at the Norwalk Concert Hall.
"This is the first time it's been screened," said Stephen Hayes, president of Mason Inc., a marketing communications firm that came up with the concept and created the commercial for Smilow Cancer Hospital.
Petrini told the choir: "I think we made something special happen. ... To do what you did in two (takes) is incredible,"
The commercials will continue to be broadcast in coming weeks in prime time and during the Grammy and Oscar awards ceremonies, Hayes said.
In November, 45 members of the FCCC staged the center's theme song as a flash mob -- a spontaneous and unexpected performance -- at Union Station in New Haven with professional production people, choreography and a film crew. At first, as is the case with a flash mob, the singers blended in with the unsuspecting crowd.
Then, Lazarus Brown, 13, of Bridgeport, stood up from the bench where he was sitting in the train station and began singing the song.
He was joined by the rest of the choir members, a dance troupe from Meriden, as well as physicians, caregivers and cancer survivors from Smilow Cancer Hospital, which recently opened another center on the Greenwich Hospital campus.
Petrini said the commercial provides a powerful message to cancer patients who want to know they can have their life back.
"It inspired not only the cancer patients and their families, but also the caregivers," he said.
"I think freedom took on a whole new meaning. It's getting your life back," said Anna Giannicchi, 17, of Redding, president of FCCC.
Abby Noyes, 14, of Orange, said Smilow offers cancer patients hope, a sentiment that was echoed by several other singers.
"It was so much fun," said Anika Vanderwal, 13, of Bridgeport. "It's going to mean that there's still hope and we're getting closer and closer (to a cure)."
Said Carly Georgen, 17, of Fairfield, "People get very negative when they think of cancer. This brings something positive. It shows (cancer patients) there are opportunities to get better. The lyrics have deep meaning and they represent the mission of the Smilow Hospital."
Some of the young singers, and Jon Noyes, the founder and musical director of FCCC, were interviewed about loved ones who have battled cancer for a video, "Closer to Free: Behind the Scenes," which is available to watch on the Yale-New Haven Health System website.
"This is awesome," said Marisa Carpanzano, 17, of Stamford, whose cousin Christina had thyroid cancer. "There's a personal connection for me. I could relate to what we were doing."
Jon Noyes said two aspects of filming the commercial were "thrilling beyond belief" -- the opportunity to help the mission of the Smilow Cancer Hospital and the chance to participate in a flash mob. He said the singers rehearsed for about a month and then pre-recorded their performance of the song at Sonalysts in Waterford, a professional recording studio, before doing it live at the New Haven train station.
The Super Bowl commercial is not the Fairfield County Children's Choir's first brush with stardom. The choir has performed throughout the United States and abroad, including concerts at the famed Carnegie Hall in New York City. One of those Carnegie Hall performances took place last month.
"To get to perform there, how many kids can say that?" said Patrick Agonito, 15, of Fairfield.
Georgen said, "It's the most famous concert hall in America. Just knowing the history and knowing that so many famous musicians performed there made the experience more meaningful."
"It's breath-taking," said Anna Giannicchi, who performed there the first time when she was 9.