The power of Wiggles

Thursday, February 22, 2007
Show Me Center staff members tried to keep dancing children away from the stage as The Wiggles' Murray sang at the concert Wednesday. The crowd sang along with most of the Australian group's songs. (Kit Doyle)

On Wednesday night, the Show Me Center belonged to the children.

They danced in the aisles, they danced in their chairs, they raised their hands up high, they sang, they did basically whatever they wanted. The children owned the arena, and it was The Wiggles that empowered them.

Angel McClanahand, 3, and her mother Becky watched a large-screen video of The Wiggles before the concert Wednesday at the Show Me Center. Angel dressed up like Wiggles character Dorothy the Dinosaur and brought a rose, the character's favorite food. (Kit Doyle)

Wednesday night The Wiggles, billed as the "world's No. 1 preschool band," kicked off its latest North American tour in Cape Girardeau (pronounced jokingly by band members several ways, including Gi-rar-dew). They did so to the delight of 3,543 children and parents, most of whom wiggled for the entire 80 minutes of show.

The crowd was nearly 93 percent capacity for this particular show, said Show Me Center marketing director Shannon Buford.

Some drove from places like Paducah, Ky., and Murphysboro, Ill., to see the show, arriving at 5 p.m. for the 6:30 p.m. performance.

With bright colors, plenty of dancing and characters like Wags the Dog, Dorothy the Dinosaur and Captain Feathersword the Friendly Pirate, the four-man band from Australia kept the Show Me Center crowd mesmerized and on their feet almost the entire time.

Wiggles fans and their parents and grandparents came from all around the region for the show, the first one in the United States featuring Sam Moran, the new Yellow Wiggle who recently replaced group member Greg Page.

Page had to quit the band last year due to chronic illness.

"Excited," Moran said in a preshow interview about feelings before his first U.S. appearance as the Yellow Wiggle. "I'm really looking forward to seeing the response from the audience, and I think they're going to love the show, because it's a brand-new show. ... It's a huge show."

The audience response was bigger than the show. The children at the Show Me Center seemed not to even notice one of their Wiggles had changed. Instead they were focused on dancing and singing their favorite tunes. This was not the audience the Wiggles see in their native Australia, Moran said.

"We do notice a difference between countries, Australia and America," Moran said. "The audiences are definitely different. In Australia, the audiences are more laid-back."

In Australia they clap, Moran said, but in America they get up and move around.

From the moment the Wiggles came on stage in their red car, a modified golf cart, the children who'd only been walking for a few years were up in the aisles and in their seats, wiggling to songs about fruit salad, fish and other child-friendly themes. The children's mood was contagious, as their parents and grandparents wore smiles throughout the show, watching their preschool-age children having fun.

The night was especially important to Janet Duckworth of Poplar Bluff, Mo., who brought her 3-year-old granddaughter, Chloe Camp, to the show. Duckworth experienced some health problems in recent months that took away her mobility. During those difficulties, she would never have been able to take Chloe to see The Wiggles.

"One day she looked at me and said 'Grandma, you don't wiggle anymore,'" Duckworth said. "I didn't know if I'd wiggle again."

Duckworth was diagnosed with the congenital heart disease patent foramen ovale in December -- a condition defined by a hole in the heart. But after heart surgery in December, she was able to dance all night with Chloe.

Grandparents Bud and Bonnie Armstrong of Matthews, Mo., also brought their granddaughter, 3-year-old Abigail Armstrong. They drove to Kennett, Mo., last night to meet Abigail, whose parents brought her up from Truman, Ark. For the Armstrongs, the Wiggles concert was a chance to bond with their granddaughter, who they don't get to see on a regular basis.

The last time Abigail saw The Wiggles was in Memphis, Tenn., when she was 18 months old. "I was a baby," she exclaimed before the show.

Armed with a red rose, one of Dorothy the Dinosaur's trademarks, Abigail stood in her seat in the front row and sang along to many of the Wiggles songs, while just a few feet away the floor space in front of the stage was filled with children just like her.

Two-year-old Keegan Gracey was one of them. His mother, Melanie, brought him from Piedmont, Mo., and Keegan made sure to give her a workout.

"He's a little mosh-pitter, I think," said Melanie Gracey, just before running off after Keegan. "It's like a rock concert."

In the world of preschool pop, The Wiggles are the ultimate rock stars. Guitarist Murray Cook made sure to throw in some rock for the parents, too, playing the opening of "Stairway to Heaven" for a few seconds at the beginning of one tune.

But Cook was just throwing the parents a bone, like the kind children throughout the audience brought for Wags the Dog's enjoyment. As new Yellow Wiggle Moran reminded the adults, Wednesday night was all about the children.

"We ask you to give a big clap for the stars of the show, the children of Cape Girardeau," Moran told the crowd before the set's final number.

335-6611, extension 182

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