FOR THE KIDS : PERFORMANCE : In Concert : The Parachute Express puts together song and dance in a show designed to keep children entertained.

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The Parachute Express, a musical group plugged into the kid population, has a strange effect on some adults.

Parents have been known to commandeer their kids' tapes of the three-member group to ease the strain of rush-hour traffic.

At least that's the way Donny Becker, one of the group's members, tells it.

"We write our own music, and it's geared toward the whole family," Becker said. "It captures parents."

The Los Angeles-based Parachute Express is landing in Ventura on Saturday for a 3 p.m. show at Buena High School, 5670 Telegraph Road. Tickets for the show, the last offering of the season for the Ventura Children's Festival, are $10 for ages 2 and up.

The group has been around since 1983. They might sound familiar if you've had any contact with Gymboree, the nationally franchised parent and child play-movement program. They got together initially to provide the music for the program.

But last year they went big time and signed with Walt Disney Records. The Disney Channel airs two of their music videos frequently: "Walkin in My Neighborhood" and "Polka Dots, Checks and Stripes."

If "thirtysomething" is more your cup of tea, you might have caught one of their songs, "When I Build My House," on an episode last year.

They have released six albums. They have appeared on many television and radio shows, and they have crisscrossed the country on tours.

"Last fall we went to Boston, to the North Shore Music Theater in Beverly where they have a theater-in-the-round with 2,500 seats," Becker said. "We almost filled it twice."

Their music has been described as soft rock for kids, with a little jazz and folk tossed in. They sing to a track, but they also accompany themselves with guitar, flute and banjo. They target kids 2 to 10 years old.

To call them singers isn't really accurate, because they do a whole lot more than stand up and sing. They move constantly, choreographing their own footwork, and they are exuberant. They don't use props on stage, opting for pantomime, like the lawn mower you think you're seeing when they do "Walkin in My Neighborhood."

They don't stay on the stage either. In the silly tune, "High-5-ious," they run through the audience slapping high-fives with the kids. Or, they might snag some kids to be part of an imaginary train that snakes through the audience.

"Writing children's music is just as difficult as writing adult music," Becker said. "You have to be warm and connected." At the same time there must be an air of magic combined with movement because kids' attention span is short.

"A lot of people think they can do it, but they don't understand children," he said.

Becker, 43, a former teacher, tries out new material on his 8-year-old son and his 11-year-old daughter. Stephen Michael Schwartz, 38, another Parachute member, pitches material to his two sons, 10 years and 8 months. The third member, Janice Hubbard, 39, has no children.

The group got its start nine years ago in a rather unimpressive way. In 1981 Becker and his wife bought a Gymboree franchise in the San Fernando Valley. Needing new music for the program, Becker approached his neighbor, Schwartz, about it as the two of them were taking out the trash. Schwartz, in turn, got in touch with his friend Hubbard.

Schwartz is a veteran of films, commercials, television and music. At age 12, he was cast as Joey Bishop's son in the movie, "Who's Minding the Mint." His music has been performed by Barry Manilow and The Fifth Dimension. He composed music for the films "Amazing Stories" and "Revenge of the Nerds."

Hubbard grew up singing. At age 3 she joined her two sisters in the professional trio known in the New York area as the Hubbard Sisters. She received classical training in music and studied many musical instruments. She recorded with Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys and has also had her music performed by the Fifth Dimension.

Becker said the Parachute Express was influenced by other groups. The Beatles were innovators, he said, while Pete Seeger was a master of audience involvement and Peter, Paul and Mary provided "loving inspiration."

He said they will do a 65-minute show in Ventura that will include bits and pieces from their albums and videos. They will probably stick around after the show to schmooze with the kids and sign autographs.

"We almost spend more time outside the concert than in," he said.

* WHERE AND WHEN

The Parachute Express will be in Ventura for a 3 p.m. concert Saturday at Buena High School, 5670 Telegraph Road. Tickets are $10 for ages 2 and older. Tickets can be purchased at Adventures for Kids in Ventura, Serendipity Toys in Ojai and McCabe's Music in Santa Paula. For information, call 646-6997 or 650-9688.

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