On the tough Los Angeles elementary school circuit, where entertainers face skeptical crowds of 5- and 10- and 12-year-olds, Janet and Judy, the singing twins from Burbank, are legend.
They are booked solid through next summer at grammar schools from Chatsworth to San Pedro. They will sing about 500 shows this year, as many as four a day.
And the Robinson twins have made it big pushing a controversial subject among school children. Not only is their "Musical Fitness Show" educational, but also it sings the praises of fruits and vegetables. The performers tell young audiences that nutrients are your friends and sugar the enemy. They wax poetic about fruits and vegetables. Their melodic motto is: "Eat good food, get your rest and exercise."
"I like Michael Jackson, Boy George, Duran Duran, Billy Idol and Prince, but I like you more," one fan told them.
Believing that a spoonful of sugar helps any medicine go down, Janet and Judy have successfully packaged their educational message in an abundance of clever comedic sketches and a spirited cast of creatively clad characters the twins describe as "human Muppets."
And, if the young (late 20s), vibrant and wholesome pair have their way, the country will soon be blitzed by a carefully self-engineered mass dose of Janet and Judy mania. There will be a weekday morning TV show, a line of educational videos for the schools, maybe even "The Janet and Judy Movie."
"We think big," assures Janet, "but you know, you've got to. What else is there if you can't dream a little?"
The message of the Music Fitness Show probably wouldn't be nearly so palatable coming from the mouth of a health teacher.
In the 45-minute show, Janet plays straight man to Judy's excitable grab bag of silly characters and moods. During the song "When I Was a Young Girl," Judy becomes Nutritia, a 105-year-old woman from the Old Country who shares her wisdom on life and health (and break-dances to stay in shape). On the "Four Basic Foods Rap," she transforms herself into the sugared-out, infinitely hip Valley Girl, Candy Gum. Later she takes the form of a Jane Fonda look-alike and sound-alike named Miss Fit.
During a show at Aspen Elementary School in Thousand Oaks, Judy ducked behind a partition as one character and emerged a few seconds later as another, changing wigs and unfastening Velcro snaps or simply pulling the outfit over her head to change. The twins make all their own costumes, and, Janet acknowledges, "I don't think we'd be where we are if we couldn't sew."
Janet and Judy write every bit of their material, a necessary evil they both see as "torture." But the twins agree that school-based show-biz gigs aren't a bad way to make a living. They charge $200 a show (or a quantity discount of $325 for three shows).
So, although some twins are appearing on chewing gum commercials and others are posing partly nude in Playboy, Janet and Judy strive to make their marks in children's entertainment. They have enlisted an agent and a publicist. Their other secret weapons include a computer named Harry, a copying machine they call Fred and a Ford van dubbed Bill--alias the Billmobile.
Together the machines and humans work in sync to achieve the proverbial fame and fortune.
Despite their enormous popularity among a new-found, albeit juvenile, following, the twins hadn't exactly mapped out a career in elementary entertainment. Indeed, Janet and Judy never expected to be penning lyrics like:
Fruits and vegetables, corn and potatoes, avocados and tomatoes too;
fruits and vegetables, carrots and celery, they are so good for you (ah!)."
"Nobody plans a career in this sort of thing," said Janet. "We started out just wanting to be singers and songwriters."
Since moving to Southern California from their native Chicago in 1979, Janet and Judy have made their living strictly from playing music. Their mother and sister are music teachers, and Janet and Judy grew up strumming the guitar, banjo and fiddle.
Armed with degrees in music education from the University of Illinois and a few suitcases full of musical instruments, the Robinsons put their talent to use immediately upon arriving in California. First they performed folk songs in clubs. Then they moved to schools. By the end of their first year here, they had performed in 200 shows.
Although they have printed a brochure that was mailed to 1,200 Los Angeles schools to help get the Robinson name around, the twins believe most of their business comes purely through word of mouth.