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Backyardigans' latest adventure brings musical pals to Vancouver

Composer Evan Lurie shifted to a new musical genre for each episode of the popular animated show
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Backyardigans' musical magic begins in the mind of this man, Evan Lurie.

For two shows in Vancouver this Sunday afternoon (Sept. 11), some toe-tapping tunes penned by a guy named Evan Lurie will make kids sing and dance.

Lurie, a New Yorker who lives part time in western Massachusetts, is the brains behind the musical magic of The Backyardigans. The animated TV series follows a group of pals who go on wild adventures in their shared backyard. Its fun to watchand to hear.

At home, Ive always encouraged my six-year-old son to watch the show because the music really is head and shoulders above anything else in the world of childrens television. Having kids hear the songs and absorb them is an education in music.

For eight seasons, Lurie and the Nickelodeon-backed creators have composed songs of one musical genre for each episodereggae, surf, tango, bluegrass, African highlife and so many more. In a word, its wonderful.

Luries job has not been without its challenges.

At times it felt like wed never come up with more [musical] genres, as we moved on and did more and more shows. But then Id hear something on the radio, or a musician friend would call me, and there would be a whole blizzard of genres that were discussed.

Some 80 Backyardigans shows have been made, with a couple of double episodes in the mix, meaning 77 musical genres have been covered over the past eight seasons. For Lurie, its the end of an era, because no new Backyardigans episodes are planned.

Thirty years ago, he was a piano player in The Lounge Lizards, an offbeat and critically acclaimed combo that made noise on the New York music scene.

When he got involved in The Backyardigans, Lurie was asked by the shows producers to get creative with the music and shuffle genres frequently.

I dont think any of us thought itd get as crazy as it did, honestly, he said. You know, the first season theres a lot of genres that you can do quite easily with small groups reggae, tango, James Brown, a bunch like that, although there was a Gilbert and Sullivan one in there, too. As it went on, we became more and more obsessed with pulling off these different genres.

Luries budget, set by the people at Nickelodeon, called for a limited number of session musicians per set of episodes, leading to some juggling in the recording studio.

As long as I balanced it out correctly, and we did some simpler genres that needed only a couple of playerslike bluegrass or somethingthen we could steal those players for the larger ensembles we needed, like the Rossini episode.

Lurie is particularly fond of the music for the Princess Prison Break episode, based on producer Phil Spectors wall of sound music. That was one I didnt really expect to work but we really did pull it off, he said.

An episode with the dissonant, improv-jazz sounds of Sun Ra was nixed, Lurie noted. Blues is another genre that never made the cut.

It just didnt seem right to have young kids sing about having the blues, he explained. On the show, we used one child to sing the lyrics and another child to speak the lines, he continued. The songs were not always easy for these children to sing, and it was sometimes beyond anything theyd ever heard before. That was a challenge.

The latest touring Backyardigans show, "Quest for the Extra Ordinary Aliens," will be staged Sunday at The Centre for the Performing Arts at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Luries connection to Koba Entertainments live production is limited to his musical compositions for the TV show, which stars Pablo the penguin, Tyrone the moose, Uniqua the purple-spotted creature, Tasha the hippo and Austin the kangaroo.

They are using songs I wrote, he said, but I didnt have any input as to the choices of those songs. The songs all existed and were used on the showdifferent episodes, so itll be a variety of genres used for the live show. None of the songs are new, although some of the lyrics have been changed to fit the story line, I believe.

Koba bills the production as a non-stop musical expedition as The Backyardigans become Daring Detectives, Cookie Security Guards and Space Ace Reporters who travel in hot pursuit of a mysterious space ship and its missing passengers: the cookie crumbling aliens!

For show info and tickets, visit thebackyardigansontour.com.

tzillich@thenownewspaper.com