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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 29, 2002

Dragon Tales live

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

'Dragon Tales Live'

A sing-along musical based on the hit PBS-TV show

Premieres at 7 p.m. today; repeats at 10:30 a.m., 2 and 5:30 p.m. Saturday; 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sunday; and again at 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 5; 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 6: 10:30 a.m., 2 and 5:30 p.m. Dec. 7; and 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Dec. 8

Blaisdell Arena

$11, $15


"I wish, I wish, with all my heart, to fly with dragons in a land apart."

That's the rhyme, constantly repeated, in "Dragon Tales Live," the TV-series-turned-stage-attraction, opening a 15-performance run tonight at Blaisdell Arena.

Ask the kids. They'll know.

From small-screen animation to larger-than-life arenas, "Dragon Tales Live" is "edutainment," a form of education and entertainment for its pint-sized followers, says its director.

"There's always some degree of familiarity when youngsters come to see the show," said Kim Gladman, performance director who journeys with cast and crew from city to city to ensure the show's vision of bringing a popular TV family to the performing arena.

"The kids can recite and sing along; they know, because they watch.

"Dragon Tales appeals to the 2- to 5-year-old set, slightly younger than the "Sesame Street" crowd, said Gladman, who should know. She's been a director of "Dragon" since June but has had an association with "Sesame Street Live," a sister show, since 1984. Both productions, as well as the equally popular "Bear in the Big Blue House Live," are produced by VEE Corporation, which specializes in family entertainment.

The show, which launched a national tour in October and will be on the road through June, is based on the most popular PBS TV show ever. The younger demographics are the reason.

And there are some terms to know about "Dragon Tales" before going to the show.

Dragons, said Gladman, are friends, not creatures. No one in the company calls the dragons "characters" or their garb "costumes."

Other things to know: Ord is the blue, big, flying dragon who is afraid of his own shadow. Dragonberries are the food of choice in Dragon Land. And Max and Emmy, the two youngsters who travel to and from Dragon land, must wish on a magical dragon scale to make their commute.

And, of course, recite the proper rhyme.

The actors who voice the animated figures on TV are heard — via pre-recorded voice tracks — in the traveling shows.

But the only live voices heard in the show are those of Emmy and Max. When they sing, they are lip-syncing to pre-recorded music.

And yes, kids who are fans of "Dragon Tales" know all the nuances of the show.

"They know the rhymes that take us to Dragon Land and the rhymes to get back home," Gladman said. "They know everything about every character."

There's Cassie, the teeny and youngest dragon. Zak and Wheezie are brother and sister joined at the torso, meaning there are two minds to that single body. Quetzal is the wise sage (and eldest) of the dragons and serves as teacher at the School in the Sky.

Ultimately, the show fosters understanding about challenging experiences in life, tapping on the inhabitants of Dragon Land.

Alexa Campbell, 9, plays Max, and her sister Danielle Campbell, 12, plays Emmy in the touring production. On a recent day off in San Diego, Alexa shared tales about her life as a boy in the show.

"It's really easy — not too hard — to play a boy, except I have to wear a wig, since I have very long hair," she said. Max, she said, is a 4-year-old, so she's playing much younger. "He's very curious, always getting into mischief; he loves to sneak up on people and scare them," she said, giggling. "Actually, I kind of act like him. I'm always doing that kind of stuff."

Alexa is in the fourth grade, lives in Washington, D.C., and generally travels in the company of her mother, Carla.

"I love to sing," she said. "My dream is to be on Broadway some day." She and her sister previously were in a tour of "The Sound of Music" with Barry Williams, and she continues to pursue musical roles.

It's not all songs, however. Because she's a minor and still has studies to tend to, a tutor provides instruction while the show is on the road. "We have to have 15 hours of studying in a week," said Alexa.

She is making her first visit here and looks forward to "going surfing, scuba diving ... I love the ocean."

The show generally tours via bus and truck, though obviously a plane ride is required for Hawai'i.

"It's always tough to take any show on the road," said Gladman. "But it's a geography lesson in and of itself, and also a sociology lesson, since we all see different regions of the country, experience different lifestyles, and it's all part of learning."

The challenge, she said, is to keep the production looking and feeling fresh.

Child labor laws require alternating casts for minors, so Alexa and sister Danielle never perform together. There are 15 performers, nine crew members, six concessionaires and three management staffers on tour.

"The audience response is great," said Alexa, who adores the cheers. One downside of touring: "I miss my friends from home. But I also have a lot of friends and meet new ones on tour."

"What's nice is that the show, which presents the TV friends in bigger-than-life situations, is a great introduction to theater," said Gladman. "There's a certain decorum, when the lights go down and the music begins; for 90 minutes, the children are thinking, involved and learning. Every time one of the friends of Dragon Land comes out, there's a big cheer. The show has no villains, so there are no negatives. It's just a lot of happy friends."

Reach Wayne Harada at wharada@honoluluadvertiser.com, phone 525-8067, or fax 525-8055.