With its solo debut at Universal Amphitheatre on Saturday, the nationally touring, locally based children's music trio Parachute Express proved why it belongs among the class acts in the field, along with such luminaries as Canadians Fred Penner and Raffi.
Dynamic harmonies, instrumental integrity, comic interplay and an enormous sense of fun galvanized more than 3,000 young children and parents into clapping and swaying along and acting out some of the smoothest lyrics in the business. And the warmth and enthusiasm of these 40-ish adults never rings false.
Living up to the promise the group showed when it opened for Fred Penner at the amphitheatre in 1992 and virtually stole the show, Parachute Express offered a mix of the familiar and the new in its Saturday concert. Parachute members Stephen Michael Schwartz, Janice Hubbard and Donny Becker led with this year's signature song, "Friends Forever," an upbeat affirmation of their 10 years together. (The group began by recording music for Gymboree, the national movement/play program for parents and preschoolers.)
They then launched into "Happy to Be Here," the title song from last year's Walt Disney Records album, a joyous anthem that was greeted with shouts of recognition.
Participatory favorites were "Polka Dots, Checks and Stripes," "When I Build My House," "Walkin' in My Neighborhood" and a masterpiece of the absurd, "Ups and Downs," that had the audience standing and sitting on cue to comic effect. For adults, the big hit was "Butterfly," the trio's memorable three-part vocal harmony, with deceptively simple accompaniment on bass, sax and keyboard.
The big difference in this concert compared to the group's past shows, however, is a confident new theatricality, with props, costumes and a central theme--a mysterious gift that must be opened at the "right time." Known for their very physical performances, the singers' imaginative choreography, comedy bits and miming skills now inform the banter and tie the songs together, effectively complementing the sophisticated musicality.