Joined: Aug. 2001
||Posted: Mar. 11, 2003 10:10 am/pm
Bear in the Big Blue House goes on the road
By Derek J. Fuchs ( firstname.lastname@example.org )
Leave it to the Jim Henson Company to make a burly, 7-foot-tall grizzly bear into one of the characters beloved by the millions of preschoolers who watch Playhouse Disney programs.
Bear, a new Muppet whose show "Bear in the Big Blue House" runs daily on the Disney Channel, smiles, sings and wiggles his furry behind in a buoyant cha-cha-cha. He lives in a big blue house in the woods, where woodland creatures drop by for daily visits and talk about life.
The live, touring version of the show will open Thursday at the Benedum Center.
"Little 3-year-olds relate so well to the bear. He comes up and sniffs close to the glass (on the television show). As soon as he steps out onstage, they go, 'Bear! It's me, Billy!'" says Mark Saltzman, an actor in the new production, titled "A First Time for Everything." The show is aimed at ages 2 to 7.
Bear, like Steve in "Blues Clues" and characters from other kids' shows before it, speaks directly to the audience. He'll look into the camera, sniff around, and ask questions of his viewers.
Kids answer the television as though Bear is standing in their rooms.
The live production plays up that interaction, mostly by getting the crowd involved in singing.
"A lot of the songs they know and recognize from the show," Saltzman says. "You can hear the parents sing right along with the kids."
And everyone gets to cha-cha-cha along with Bear.
"They often stand up in the aisles with Bear and his friends. A lot of songs allow for audience participation. There's the 'ABC' song - and everyone knows that - so yeah, it's definitely encouraged," says Tami Zerrillo, performance director for "A First Time for Everything."
The live production isn't too different from the TV show in terms of plot: Bear and his fellow Muppets, such as Ojo the bear and the otter twins Pip and Pop, talk about going to school for the first time, or riding a bicycle. And they spend plenty of time singing and dancing.
Saltzman plays Hugh Mann, the father of a human family whose car breaks down in the forest where Bear's Big Blue House sits. The family befriends the creatures during the show, creating understanding between Mann and animal.
And like every episode of "Bear in the Big Blue House," it has a moral: "Doing something for the first time can be scary," Zerrillo says, "but with help and friends, you can get through it."
Derek J. Fuchs can be reached at email@example.com or (412) 320-7987.