THE NEW FOOTE PATH : The Children's Entertainer Is Taking His Work in New Irreverent Directions

Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for the Times Orange County Edition.

Little armadillos

Basking in the sun.

Swinging from your nose hairs

When your day is done.

Living in a miracle

Right where they belong

It's pointless to ignore them

'cause they're 5 million strong.

--"Little Armadillos," from Norman Foote's 1991 release, "Foote Prints"

There's one in every class . . . like the kid who wears his atomic tangerine and cerise crayons to nubs while his classmates color inside the lines in red, blue and green. Or the one who returns from the restroom with her clothes buttoned, zippered or tied backward just to see the look on Teacher's face.

Among rank-and-file children's entertainers, Norman Foote marches to a different synthesizer. Welcome news to audiences hungry for a break from cheery but unimaginative tot pop.

A father of four children ages 2 months to 17 years, Foote has been playing to or, rather, playing with, family audiences for more than 15 years.

His credits include a 1993 stint at the Universal Amphitheatre, performances with the London Symphony Orchestra as well as the symphonies of major Western Canadian cities. After first playing Orange County in 1992, he has appeared at Mission Viejo's Saddleback College and Fashion Island Newport Beach and was a headliner at a 1993 children's music festival at Knott's Berry Farm.

This coming week, the 40-year-old Vancouver entertainer steps into the Robert B. Moore Theatre at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa for two shows: a 90-minute concert at 2:30 p.m. Sunday and an hourlong school show at 10 a.m. Monday. Tickets, from $5 to $13, are available for both performances.

A onetime street performer and folk musician, Foote punctuates his live performances with celebrity impressions, audience participation and the occasional puppet or, rather, "props with an attitude," an irreverent (but G-rated) assortment of oversize foam heads and other characters who aren't above hogging the spotlight from time to time.

Audiences may know Foote from his two refreshingly offbeat music videos--"The Man Who Ran Away With the Moon" and "Dinosaur and the Progress of Man"--both of which have aired on the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon.

Or they may have heard some of his pleasingly tweaked tunes: "Little Armadillos," a salute to microorganisms (which, when magnified, Foote thinks resemble armadillos), or "Raining Cats and Dogs" ("There are poodles in the puddle / I've got a pet store in my yard / Watch out, Mr. Postman / Here comes Sarah's St. Bernard!") or his good-natured musical jab at maternal meal-making: "Fancy Dinner" ("I know you cooked it to perfection / But would it pass the health inspection? / Did you get it from a recipe book? / 'Cause if you did, you better take another look"). All three are cuts from "Foote Prints," released by Disney's Music Box Artists Series in 1991. Disney followed that up the following year with "If the Shoe Fits."

However, Disney Records honchos recently decided retool a bit. And Foote--along with Parachute Express and Craig 'n Co., two other artists handpicked by Disney for their Music Box Series a few years ago--will not be recording any new releases for the label, although a company spokeswoman said they will continue to market the artists' earlier recordings.

Foote, for his part, isn't too broken up about the move.

Working with the entertainment giant "helped all of us on the label," Foote said recently. "It really got me out there and raised my profile."

However, he said, the Disney association can sometimes work against an artist: "It's not sour grapes, but when you're with Disney, I think (audiences) sometimes don't appreciate that you're an individual artist. Maybe they think you were created at a theme park or something.

"I appreciate what Disney did for me, and I feel good about coming this far, but now it's time to go on to the next creative level in my life."

At the moment, Foote is balancing several projects. His newest and as-yet untitled recording, scheduled to be released this fall, will feature several songs he has written with frequent musical collaborator Bruce Greenwood of Los Angeles. Foote is finalizing the details and keeping mum about which label it will be on. He is also considering a television deal with a Canadian producer that will integrate his concert footage, musical guests and music videos in a family-oriented show and is working on a children's short story.

A proponent of early music education, Foote recently initiated a workshop program at selected concert sites. School-age participants work with him to develop tunes that are then performed, often by them, as part of Foote's concert. (The workshop won't be offered in Orange County.)

He is also stepping up his work with youth symphonies, which perform special treatments of his songs arranged by his Vancouver musical director. He has nearly completed a songbook of 15 tunes scored for guitar, piano and ukulele, along with comments and an accompanying tape. He expects to release the package to schools soon, first in Canada and then in the United States.

Foote said he's encouraged by the success of Southern California's Greg & Steve and other children's artists who work in the educational environment.

"Schools have already started using my music in various areas," he said, "and it's great to see the reactions the kids have to it.

"The kids' music market is unique. You can think that you can make it by putting your video out and competing in the pop scene, but in children's music, a lot of it hinges on starting in the school."

Building a following of school-age children doesn't hurt at the box office either. And for Foote, live concerts are still a top priority.

"Direct contact with the audience is what works best for me," he said. "You can have all the props and little things, but what's most important is just keeping people up with you, keeping them wondering what is going to happen next."

* CHILDREN'S LISTINGS, Page 22

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

What: Norman Foote concerts.

When: 90-minute concert Sunday, March 5, at 2:30 p.m.; 60-minute show for school groups (single tickets available) Monday, March 6, at 10 a.m.

Where: Robert B. Moore Theatre at Orange Coast College, 2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa.

Whereabouts: From the San Diego (405) Freeway, exit at Fairview Road and drive east. Parking is free.

Wherewithal: Tickets to Sunday's show are $5 to $9 in advance; $7 to $13 at the door. Monday's show is $5 to $7 in advance or at the door.

Where to call: (714) 432-5880

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