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Published: Wednesday, 3/3/2004

Bear and pals to throw a party at SeaGate

Tutter the mouse enjoys the surprise party given to him by, clockwise from left, Ojo, Bear, Pip, Pop, and Treelo. Tutter the mouse enjoys the surprise party given to him by, clockwise from left, Ojo, Bear, Pip, Pop, and Treelo.

When Bear throws a birthday party for the mouse Tutter, all his friends help. They include Pip and Pop the otters, Ojo a little female bear, Treelo the lemur, and ... Max Velasquez.

Velasquez is the singer and dancer who has been bringing the title character to life in Bear in the Big Blue House Live!: Surprise Party, which opens tomorrow for seven performances in the SeaGate Centre.

The production, like Sesame Street Live! and Dora the Explorer Live!, brings favorite television characters to local stages to engage the younger set, teach them a few gentle lessons, and turn them into theater-lovers.

Bear in the Big Blue House Live! is based on a popular Disney Channel program for preschoolers that, according to Velasquez, "focuses on sharing and friendship, what it means to grow up, little things like that." It introduces children to lots of different experiences, from giving them insight into what the first day of school will be like to teaching them about nature.

In Surprise Party, Bear is the only costumed character; the others are large puppets, Velasquez says. "We also have four humans who help the audience believe that Bear is alive, that the puppets are real characters. It gets the kids more excited about the entire show."

Excitement is the aim of the Bear cast and crew.

"One thing I love about the show is how the kids are just overwhelmed. They're used to seeing Bear on TV; they don't realize how big he is until they see him live. And with the music, [the show] turns out to be like a little rock concert for 3-year-olds," Velasquez says.

In the show, Bear is planning a

celebration for Tutter's birthday. The audience knows the party is a secret, and the anticipation builds as each character works on his or her assignment. "Some of the puppets are in charge of decorations, some are in charge of making the cake. Others are in charge of the music and gift wrapping. It's a great lesson in cooperation," Velasquez says.

Of course, there's lots of singing and dancing, including the title character's signature move: "The Bear Cha-Cha-Cha."

"It's a little bit of salsa, meringue, samba, a little bit of the whole Latin influence. It's one of the most famous Bear songs, and it gets the kids out of their seats and dancing." Other songs in "Surprise Party" include "The Welcome Song," "What's That Smell?" "Friends Forever," and "Love is Incredible."

There's one other part of the show that Velasquez says a lot of the people in the audience like. "It's only 90 minutes long, so parents don't get tired of it."

"Bear in the Big Blue House Live" opens at 7 p.m. tomorrow in the SeaGate Convention Centre, 401 Jefferson Ave. Additional shows are at 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. Friday, 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday, and 1 and 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10 for opening night and $11 to $19 for the rest of the run from the SeaGate box office, 419-321-5007, and Ticketmaster, 419-474-1333.

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