Friday, February 23, 2007

The Wiggles Are Coming!

Posted on Fri, Feb 23, 2007 at 4:00 AM

When the Wiggles come to FedExForum this Saturday, they’ll be bringing more than just a touring show filled with song and dance: They’ll bring an international brand name and superstardom to the event. In 2005 (and again in 2006), the Wiggles topped Australia’s richest-entertainers list, earning $45 million Australian in income, above Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe, among others. The group was back in the news last November with the announcement that founding member Greg Page, a.k.a. the Yellow Wiggle, was leaving the band due to a serious illness. His understudy of nine years, Sam Moran, fills in as the new Yellow Wiggle beginning on this tour, “Racing to the Rainbow."

The Flyer recently spoke with Anthony Field, the Blue Wiggle, about the show, Elvis Presley, Greg Page’s condition, and being on guard duty with an Uzi machine gun.

by Greg Akers

Flyer: What should audiences expect to see with “The Wiggles: Racing to the Rainbow Live”?

Anthony Field: It’s a brand new show, beautiful, colorful, inflatable sets, lots of beautiful costumes, new songs, and a lot of Wiggly favorites. Lots of dancing and slapstick humor.

How does a show like this come to be? Who writes it, and what level of participation does the group members have in creating it?

We [the Wiggles] write the show ourselves and write the music. The audience members are writers themselves too, as the show progresses, because we go off the script and go where the children want us to go in the show. Sometimes they yell out requests for songs or crazy things like asking you to fall over or do a handstand. [laughs] The show can go anywhere.

Do you enjoy that kind of spontaneity?

Oh, totally. It’s never the same show for us. If we go on a tour and do 50 or 60 shows in a month, no show is the same, because you don’t know where [the audience is] going to go with it, don’t know what they’re going to say. Which really keeps you on your toes.

How much of your year is devoted to touring versus being in the recording studio or taping shows?

We tour about six or seven months a year, either in the States, Canada, England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, or Asia. The rest is in the studio writing songs and we do TV as well. Then about a month is holiday.

What do you do when you’re on holiday?

I live in Sydney on the water, and I go kayak out in the ocean [or] go fishing. I spend time with my family: getting out at the beach, really doing the coastal sort of lifestyle thing.

I read that you work in your wife’s café as well.

Well, we just folded because my wife’s expecting our third baby. I got married when I was 40, and we’ve had a baby every year. We had the café, and every year was harder because my poor wife had two children right in the café. Now, with the third one on the way, we just said, that’s too much. But, I used to go in after we’d toured, I’d go help her in the shop, pour coffees and teas like that, which made me realize that that’s really working. Working in the café, that’s work! [laughs]

Do you get recognized in Australia a lot?

All the time. We’ve been on television there for 15 years, and people know us. They’re a very laid back bunch, so they just say, “Hey, here you go, mate.” It’s really nice.

Describe what it’s like to tour for six months out of the year all over the world.

It’s very hard to be away from your family, that’s the only downside of it. The upside is, you get to meet lots of great people all over the world, and you realize that the world’s a big place. But it’s also not that big, because you can go all over the world and within a day you’re on the other side of the world. It’s very exciting going to places you’ve never been to before or even revisiting places. Also, we’ve got such a great camaraderie, all the Wiggle guys and all the dancers. We’ve stuck together for all that time, and we’re all mates and help each other out. If anyone gets down, you try to help them out. It’s a good life, because we surround ourselves with good people.

You have a background in early-childhood education. How does what you learned in college inform what the Wiggles do?

It’s the reason we came to be. We wanted to use what we’d learned at university for theater for children. Everything we learned at university comes back to us all the time. If something doesn’t quite gel with the audience, we analyze it and go back to what we learned at university and say, why didn’t the children understand what that was about. Was it aimed too high above their level? In everything we do, we try to be positive and encourage the development of their self-esteem and their cognitive development, all sorts of things we wouldn’t have thought about if we hadn’t gone to university.

How does having children of your own affect your work?

I’ve had two little girls so far, both under three, and it has affected what we’ve done. We’re just filming and recording new material, and I think we’ve got a bit more ballet in The Wiggles now. Dorothy [the Dinosaur] is getting into tutus and [other] things that I’ve seen my little girls get into more.

Name some music in your iPod or CD player that you listen to regularly./p>

I listen to a lot of really old music and a lot of Latin music. I’ve got Carlos Gardel, the king of the tango, from Argentina. Of course, Elvis, the Memphis man. A lot of Julio Iglesias, I love Julio, his Spanish stuff is fantastic. There’s a lot of stuff, but not much contemporary. But if you ask Murray for his iPod, he would give you every band you’ve ever heard of. I love John Fogerty too, so a lot of Fogerty, Creedance, things like that.

What did Elvis’ music mean to you growing up?

Elvis meant everything to me. I can’t believe how talented he was. He had everything: looks, talent. He was so musical, his whole body responded to the music he was making. I loved his arrangements and in the ’70s when he had the big band and orchestra as well as 10 or 12 singers behind him, Elvis was the greatest. It’s great when we go to Memphis. We’ve been to Graceland every time we go there. I love that Graceland is not as big as you’d think it would be. The guy was the king of music, and I’m he sure he could’ve gone to a bigger place. It’s a nice place, but he obviously wanted to stay with his roots.

How’s Greg Page doing?

Greg is coping with what he’s got. Some days are better than others: Some days he can be walking around and other days he has a hard day. Occasionally I get a text message from him saying, I’m going all right today. I think every day is a different day for Greg, he’s just learning how to cope with it.

What’s it been like touring without him?

It’s been strange, really. You expect him to be in the dressing room, and then he’s not there. It’s very sad. The other side of it is that Sam [Moran], his replacement, is such a nice guy and has been so good. He’s a friend of Greg’s too, and he’s got the right attitude, and he’s just brilliant. He’s also younger than us, and it’s injected a sort of youthful exuberance into us. There are two sides to it. One side is, [groans] I miss Greg, and the other side is, Sam’s been fantastic. It’s a strange time for us. The audiences in Australia, when we did a tour with [Sam], they loved him and of course missed Greg at the same time, just like we do.

Tell me about your time as an infantry soldier.

That actually was inspired by Elvis, believe it or not: [the 1960 film] G.I. Blues. Crazily, I thought, it’s going to be like that. We’re going to be on a train singing “Frankfort Special.” [laughs] But it wasn’t like that when I joined the army. I was 19 when I joined. I was in the regular army for three years as a rifleman. I went to Germany before the [Gulf] war came down. I was on guard duty there once with a fully loaded Uzi machine gun, and I was thinking to myself, what the hell am I doing here? [laughs] There were some good things about the army, nice guys in the army. It taught me about discipline, and I still get up really early every morning and get the hair [cut] short.

Tell me about the Cockroaches [his popular 1980s rock band].

They were a great band, a real surf band in Australia. We used to play the east coast of Australia, just up and down at all the surf clubs. That was in my 20s after the army, so it was a real great time to let off steam. The music we did was not too different from what the Wiggles do, but just different lyrics. More about love and things like that, no hot potatoes. But it was good, mate, it was good.

How long do the Wiggles plan on keeping going?

We’re still loving it. It’s been a new challenge for us, with Sam, to make it all happen. I think that’s been good for us, because we’ve had to really look at ourselves again and say, let’s really get into this. I think we’re rocking. I think we’re going to be going for a while, because we’re still enjoying it.

What do you see yourself doing whenever you do retire?

I’ll be on my boat or on my kayak, fishing; with my kids and my wife, just taking it easy. Put some sunscreen on and just chill out.

Please tell me, for the sake of my 2-year-old daughter, that there’s a regular party where the Wiggles get together with Barney, the Doodlebops, and Dora the Explorer.

Absolutely, we all get together. We dance on stage with the Doodlebops. When we have to go to another place, we ask Dora the Explorer how to get there. When we have to go to another country, we get in the rocket ship with Little Einsteins. [laughs] We have a great time. Sometimes we have to ask Blue for clues, then we end up at Mickey’s Clubhouse, and we have a great time singing, “Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggity dog.” [laughs] I’ve got little girls too, so I watch all the shows. [laughs]

“The Wiggles: Racing to the Rainbow Live!” Saturday, February 24th, 1:30 and 5 p.m. FedExForum. $18-$35. (525-1515)

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