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Musical Attraction

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If you’re a parent who has wondered about an appropriate live professional musical for your kids, here’s a suggestion: “Elmo’s Coloring Book.”

The title suggests that this show, based on characters from television’s “Sesame Street,” is aimed at preschoolers. But there’s something in it for the whole family. It begins an eight-performance run at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza today.

“Elmo’s Coloring Book” is musical (foot-tapping, melodious), theatrical (borrowing from Max Reinhardt and the Ringling Brothers) and colorful (the printed program is a coloring book).

The story is simple. In this case, an absent-minded professor, the only character on stage who is not a Jim Henson-style Muppet, helps Elmo solve a mystery that begins when some of those famous “Sesame Street” characters lose their color. Oscar the Grouch, for instance, normally a bilious green, suddenly turns white in the story. But everything is set right by the end.

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From a purely technical standpoint, the show, touring 50 cities in its fourth year on the road, is a “voice-over” production. According to Executive Producer Vincent Egan, the cast of 17 essentially mimes their roles. The voices you hear on the theater’s sound system are those of original Muppet characters.

When Bert--of Bert and Ernie fame--appears, you hear the voice of the legendary Frank Oz. Big Bird’s voice is an original one, too--that of Carroll Spinney.

This aspect of the show may please grown-ups who have vivid memories of watching the beloved TV series decades ago. Things on stage will look and sound just as they remember them.

The late Jim Henson’s daughter, Cheryl, has been involved in the show’s development, and the writer of the “Elmo’s Coloring Book” script, Nancy Sims, was a “Sesame Street” writer for 12 years. She has nine Emmy Awards to show for it.

The touring performers, despite the anonymity imposed by appearing in head-to-toe character costumes, throw themselves into their roles--essentially a 90-minute dance routine--with great energy. (The understudies who travel with the show must be ready to suit up and play any one of five different parts in the show.)

The whole shebang is produced under an arrangement among Children’s Television Workshop, Jim Henson Productions and a Minneapolis company, Vee Corp. It’s one of several Sesame Street Live shows that Vee Corp. has toured worldwide since 1980.

“We just had a unit come back from Singapore, Japan and Germany and a couple of weeks in Dubai,” says Egan.

During this weekend’s shows, you can expect a lot of audience participation, including selection of audience members to come onstage and be outfitted as Henson-style characters.

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So if you or your kids are shy, don’t sit too close to the stage. You might get turned into a Muppet.

BE THERE

“Elmo’s Coloring Book,” a stage musical performed by Sesame Street Live touring company, today at 7 p.m.; Friday at 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m.; Saturday at 10:30 a.m., 2 and 5:30 p.m.; and Sunday at 1 and 4:30 p.m. Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza Auditorium, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd. Tickets: $11.50, $13.50 and $18. Discounts may apply for children and groups at selected performances. (805) 449-2787.


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