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Don't Laugh but 'Big Surprise' Is a Purple People Pleaser

Review: Barney and friends take their feel-good brand of merriment on the road in lavish style.

November 08, 1996|LYNNE HEFFLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

You may think you've got supersaur Barney's number--the high sucrose content, the merchandising empire--but just try to stay jaded as the thunder-thighed Pied Piper of PBS, goofy laugh and all, enraptures a couple thousand children at his live stage extravaganza "Barney's Big Surprise."

The big-budget touring event, a Barney first, opened Wednesday at Universal Amphitheatre with almost 3,000 tykes and their parents in attendance; it moves to the Anaheim Convention Center on Tuesday.

It's quite a show--lively, expertly staged and a lavish visual treat. (It's also pricey, although a portion of the two-year, 60-city tour's proceeds are going to the Starbright Foundation charity for seriously ill children. Barney T-shirts, banners and other stuff for sale are displayed with welcome restraint.)

Well-crafted, elaborate sets include a multilevel treehouse and "Professor Tinkerputt's" nifty toy factory; smaller set pieces accommodate nursery rhyme action and a balloon ride. The orange "Barney Mobile" is another crowd favorite.

The googly-eyed Purple One is joined by a quartet of stage-savvy kid performers, the aforementioned Professor, bunnies, Mother Goose and a very large gander, some oversize ducklings, a Humpty Dumpty puppet used to comical effect, a remarkably spry Old King Cole and dancing "robots."

Vying with Barney for most popular reptile are Baby Bop, a little triceratops in ballet shoes who's a hit with her preschool peer group, and her big brother BJ, who appeals to more seasoned fans. "He's just like me," observed one charmed 6-year-old.

The show revolves around BJ's seventh birthday party--the audience gets free paper birthday hats at intermission--and the surprise is what his gift will be. Needless to say, it's eye-poppingly big.

The feel-good formula for the stage spectacular is the same as for the TV show: hugging, singing, dancing, more hugging and a little advice: A seat belt, Barney tells us, is "a special hug that helps keep you safe."

Audience members can sing along with familiar tunes, dance to new ones, quack and bark to "Old MacDonald," play airplane and Simon Says, clap, stomp and shout. At Wednesday's performance, although energy flagged after the 20-minute intermission, they bopped in the aisles or just watched, clearly enthralled.

The delighted roar that greeted Barney and friends when the show opened and the response to his "I Love You" theme song at the end, however, was proof that this "dinostar" is as hot as ever.

A caveat: You might consider earplugs. The volume comes close to wince level at times, a common flaw in family shows at big venues.

* "Barney's Big Surprise," Universal Amphitheatre, today, 7 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.; Sunday, 2:30 and 5:30 p.m.; Anaheim Convention Center, Tuesday-next Friday, 7 p.m.; Nov. 16, 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.; Nov. 17, 2:30 and 5:30 p.m. $15, $18.50 and $30, plus local handling fees. (213) 480-3232, (714) 740-2000, (805) 583-8700, (619) 220-TIXS. Running time:1 hour, 40 minutes.

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