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KID STUFF

FOOTE BALL : Singer, Comic, Puppeteer Norman Foote's Roving Nuttiness Is a Real Kick

October 29, 1992|CORINNE FLOCKEN | Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for The Times Orange County Edition.

Finding a tidy description for Norman Foote is like trying to corral grapes on a toddler's lunch plate. The minute you get things arranged, some irrepressible force sends them flying in all directions.

Part stand-up comic, part singer/songwriter, part puppeteer, Foote is an artist who isn't easily shoehorned into the traditional family entertainer role. His two American releases, "Foote Prints" (1991) and "If the Shoe Fits. . ." (1992) on Walt Disney's Music Box Artist Series, are an eclectic mix of musical styles and themes, all trimmed in Foote's roving and refreshingly sophisticated nuttiness.

Foote, who is Canadian, makes his Orange County debut on Saturday with two free concerts at Fashion Island Newport Beach.

In a phone interview that was more verbal pinball than conversation, Foote ricocheted between topics and dropped into character voices ranging from Arnold Schwarzenegger to a syrupy sing-along meister. Even a fairly straight discussion on the strong showing of Canadian children's artists in the international market closed with this:

". . . and this French thing has us so confused. Besides, we don't have television . . . so the only thing for us to do is write children's songs."

He says his off-the-wall style serves him well on stage, helping to involve listeners of all ages. At Fashion Island, for example, he will enhance his music with a blend of visual humor and prop comedy (he doesn't have puppets, he has "props with an attitude"), as well as celebrity impressions such as Bob Dylan singing "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" and Schwarzenegger doing an Elton John tune ("Don't go breakin' my heart . . . or I'll be back").

Foote says that one of his primary goals is to give older children "an alternative to what they hear on the radio."

"I don't really aim for the 3- and 4-year-olds" as much as other children's artists do, he said. "I'm trying to reach the 10- and 11-year-olds as well.

"My philosophy is to let children be children as long as they can be. Why do they have to grow up and think the only cool things on Earth are Madonna and Guns N' Roses?"

As the father of girls age 12 and 14, Foote has had some experience with this age group.

"My girls have always been a good inspiration for me," he said. "But now that they're older, its more (he slips into an impression of a petulant preteen), ' Daaad , not another silly song.' "

On both Disney releases, Foote's musical style is wide-ranging, incorporating everything from swing to Calypso. His lyrics are clever, whether they are tongue-in-cheek takes on traditional folk songs ("Mama's little baby loves short'nin' bread/. . . Mama's little baby has high cholesterol") or soft-pedaled environmental messages, as in "Dinosaur and the Progress of Man," which tells of a dinosaur's displeasure with the modern world.

But even when working with popular themes such as dinosaurs and the environment, Foote says he likes to stay a little outside the pack.

"I had always refused to write a dinosaur song because they've been done to death . . . you could do a whole show of just bad dinosaur songs," he says wryly. "I was even going to call it, 'Yet Another Dinosaur Song.' "

But as with most of his other tunes, Foote avoids triteness with lyrics that "take another listen to."

"If you put a closing line on a song that says (his voice takes on sickeningly sweet edge), 'Now remember, kids. Man is not as powerful as Mother Earth,' you've ruined the song. There are ways to say things without hitting people over the head."

Who: Norman Foote, in concert.

When: Saturday, Oct. 31, at 3 and 4 p.m.

Where: Neiman Marcus/Broadway Plaza at Fashion Island, 600 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach.: Whereabouts

From the San Diego (405) Freeway, exit at Jamboree Road and drive south. Turn left on San Joaquin Hills Road. Turn right on Santa Rosa and right on Newport Center Drive.

Wherewithal: Admission is free.

Where to call: (714) 644-7520 or 721-2000.

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