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ENTERTAINMENT : Healthy Fun : The Tickle Tune Typhoons will shower Ventura children with playful songs about vegetables, tooth fairies and racial harmony.

October 08, 1992|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Tickle Tune Typhoon whirls into Ventura next week, ushering in a new lineup of live children's entertainment offered this year by the Ventura Children's Festival.

If you haven't caught them on the Disney Channel, the Seattle-based Tickle Tune Typhoon is a seven-member musical group that gears its music and message to the 3- to 10-year-old crowd.

That's not to say adults will gag on this juvenile fare when the group performs Oct. 16 at Ventura High School.

The music is surprisingly sophisticated, original and varied. Although the group is just a handful of musicians, the richness of their music makes them sound like an orchestra.

"Musically, it's very full," said Dennis Westphall, who founded the group with Lorraine Bayes in 1979. She has a background in early-childhood education. The two, both in their late 30s, are the lead singers. Their style is gentle, less frenetic than some other groups.

Tickle Tune's message is familiar--feel good about yourself, have fun, care about the environment, promote racial harmony--but it goes one step beyond in stunning clarity.

One of the performers, Danny Deardroff, contracted polio as a child.

His body is twisted so he performs from a wheelchair, singing and playing guitar. The father of four also serves as the group's musical director and recording producer.

In the song "Everyone is Differently Abled," he poignantly focuses on the things people can do, rather than those they can't do.

In the group's video, "Let's Be Friends," they stretch the point even further. Armless drummer Alvin Law sits in for a number, holding the drumsticks with his feet. You have to see it to believe it.

But the group doesn't dwell on the serious side--how could they with a name like Tickle Tune Typhoon?

They do a rap number called "Vegaboogie" while dancers flit about dressed as vegetables. "Garbage Blues" beats the drum for recycling. In "Pearly White Waltz," winged tooth fairies cozy up to a giant toothbrush.

Some songs are funny, but carry a serious message, like "Skin" ("We are all the same relation, no matter what the pigmentation"). "Kye Kye Kule" is an African version of "Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes."

The group, which does 75 to 100 shows a year mostly in the Northwest, has a pool of five dancers who travel with them, providing the visual accompaniment. Two will be with the group in Ventura, Tickle Tune's first venture into California.

The group got its start in Seattle where four of its members were folk musicians, singing for all ages in the street or at folk festivals.

"We got this idea, why not put on a show," Westphall said. They rented a hall, made posters and put on a folk sing-along show. "The response was great." About 200 people showed up.

The name, Tickle Tune Typhoon, came out of a brainstorming session. In the earlier days, "we did what we do now, but on a simpler scale," he said. Their popularity grew and they put out an album in 1984. That year they picked up two awards, Parents Choice Award and the American Library Assn. The second album came out in 1985, and again they walked away with the same awards.

"That's when things really started to change," he said. They signed on with Disney and widened their concert circuit. They put out three more albums. Despite their success, they have not slipped over into mainstream entertainment, as some children's performers have. They feel strongly about reaching kids.

"There is a real need and a hunger for material and experiences that speak to them," said Bayes, formerly a preschool teacher who also taught at the community college level. "They live in a complex world and they are increasingly aware of the complexities." But it's still necessary, she said, to let them have fun.

"Hopefully, they go away with that," she said.

The Ventura Children's Festival, led by director Brian Bemel, is entering its seventh year of bringing live children's entertainment--music, theater and puppetry--to Ventura County.

Next in the lineup is a repeat performance Nov. 20 by Norman Foote, who is hilarious in a Robin Williams sort-of way, for kids.

He is followed by the Chenille Sisters, who will be in town Jan. 18.

Jim Jackson in "Mimic Sole, a One Clown Circus," is scheduled for March 27.

Singer Red Grammer will be here April 23, followed by the Parachute Express on June 5.

* WHERE AND WHEN

The Tickle Tune Typhoon will perform a family concert Oct. 16, at Ventura High School, 2155 E. Main St., at 7 p.m. Tickets, $8 in advance and $10 at the door, are available at Adventures for Kids in Ventura, Serendipity Toys in Ojai and Ventura College's Community Services department. For more information, call 646-6997. The group also will present a special workshop Oct. 21 for teachers and parents on integrating music into education. For information call 388-4410.

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