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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Stage version of ‘Gabba Gabba!’ promises fun for parents, too

Christian Jacobs, left, and co-creator Scott Schultz pose with characters from “Yo Gabba Gabba.”

Anyone who has watched the Nick Jr. preschool show “Yo Gabba Gabba!” knows about DJ Lance and Biz Markie, about Muno and Foofa, Brobee and Toodee, and Plex the robot.

They know that this 5-year-old kid show is trippy and fun, full of bright colors, big-name guest stars (Jack Black and Elijah Wood) and cool bands (Jimmy Eat World, My Chemical Romance).

Still, they might not know what to expect when a live version of the show comes to town. For Spokane-area families contemplating going to see “Yo Gabba Gabba Live!” when it lands at the INB Performing Arts Center on Wednesday, show co-creator Christian Jacobs offers this assessment:

“The biggest thing is there’s not really a narrative,” he said by telephone earlier this month. “It’s just a big fun mixtape. It’s more like a concert.”

When creating a live version of the show, Jacobs and his fellow co-creator Scott Schultz learned from the good and the bad of the shows they’d taken their own children to.

“What would we want to see as parents?” he said. “Are we going to pay all this money for tickets and parking and souvenier cups and balloons and at the end of the day feel like we’ve been ripped off, or are we going to be like ‘Yeah, that was awesome. Let’s do that again, even without the kids.’ ”

Oh, and the guy playing DJ Lance up there on stage? No worries. It’s really DJ Lance

“We’re keeping it real,” Jacobs said. “We haven’t hired a lookalike DJ Lance. It’s really DJ Lance Rock. Most of the characters on the stage are actually played by the dancers who work on the show. The performers are the same performers.”

Chances are good, he added, that this “loud and big and fun show” will feature an appearance by Biz Markie, aka the Clown Prince of Hip-Hop. Jacobs said Markie sometimes has to leave the tour for other engagments.

“But for 95 percent of the shows he’s there, teaching 1,000 kids how to beatbox,” Jacobs said. “That right there to me, when it happens, the roof goes off and you know it was worth it. Just to see moms holding their toddlers beatboxing along with Biz Markie, it’s a really awesome and strange thing.”

Both Jacobs and Schultz have backgrounds in live entertainment. Jacobs is the lead singer and songwriter for the superhero-themed cult band The Aquabats – he’s The MC Bat Commander – which formed in 1994.

Shultz played with Jacobs in a band called The Moon Men before the Aquabats formed, and he later founded an indie pop group called Majestic.

“For the most part, doing a live show was something Scott and I felt more comfortable about,” Jacobs said. “In a lot of ways, pulling off a narrative TV show that would keep your interest for half an hour was always a little more complicated. From the get-go were we thinking of how this could translate live.”

Jacobs had a career as a child actor in the 1980s, with small roles in movies such as “Pretty in Pink” and TV shows “Roseanne” and “Gloria.”

He retired from acting in the ’90s, tired of the competitive nature of the business and more interested in creating his own work.

Still, it wasn’t kid fare he initially started out to make. He made skateboarding and music videos, and at one point designed skateboard graphics.

“As I started having a family, it all kind of tied together. … The things I was most excited about was stuff I watched when I was a kid.”

He added, with a laugh, “I’m going through a big, long midlife crisis.”

In creating “Yo Gabba Gabba,” he remembered his favorite shows from his youth – “Sesame Street,” “The Electric Company,” and the works of Sid and Marty Krofft, shows like “Lidsville,” and “The Krofft Supershow.”

These days, the TV market is pretty segmented, Jacobs said, with programming designed for specific age groups. TV in the 1970s was in a way more inclusive, Jacobs said. The kid fare had things that appealed to adults and the adult fare, while more mature, was never really so risqué that a family couldn’t enjoy it together.

“That was something that Scott and I wanted to do with ‘Yo Gabba’ was harken back to those shows like ‘Pufnstuf’ or ‘Lidsville,’ all those Sid and Marty Krofft shows that were on one hand for kids and on the other hand, you know, these guys were puppeteers at burlesque clubs,” Jacobs said. “There was more of an adult tone in the jokes, a lot of the jokes felt more vaudevillian. … That’s kind of in essence the same spirit that we’re doing with ‘Yo Gabba.’ ”