Strawberry Shortcake's appeal crosses generations

Elaborate musical production brings beloved character to Kamloops stage

There's just something about Strawberry Shortcake.

Ever since the character was first introduced in the late 1970s, little girls - and even a few boys - have gone nuts for her strawberry shaped bonnet and sweet demeanour.

Strawberry Shortcake and her cat Custard first appeared in greeting cards in 1977 and quickly turned into an animated television show involving ever more characters. All were named after a dessert or fruit with matching clothing, and all lived and played in the magical work of Stawberryland.

She even had a villainous nemesis called the Peculiar Purple Pie Man who had a habit of doing a tap dance and chanting, "Yah-tah-tah-tah-tah-tah-tah-tah, tah-tah-tah-tah! Cha!"

The show's popularity soared and it's no surprise - the creativity of Strawberryland fuelled the imagination and even entertained adults.

Within a few years, the TV character had become a franchise with rag dolls, toys, posters, collectable scratch and sniff stickers, a clothing line, video games, bedding and even perfume.

But almost as quickly as she appeared, she was gone. Only five years into the 1980s, Strawberry Shortcake's popularity started to wane.

But she was imprinted on the social psyche and her comeback was never in doubt - it just needed the proper timing and tone for increasingly fickle kids.

In 1991, a toy and video company re-imagined the beloved character and her friends with a new image. It failed within a year.

More than a decade later in 2003 the franchised was revived more successfully with yet another look as well as licensing deals for television, DVD and CD release.

Then in 2006, the feature film Strawberry Shortcake: The Sweet Dreams Movie was released and generally panned. But her toehold remained.

In 2009, the Strawberry Shortcake's Berry Bitty Adventures animated television series again reinvented the character and gave her a new set of friends traipsing through a new setting, Berry Bitty City.

Capitalizing on this version's popularity, the musical Strawberry Shortcake: Follow Your Berry Own Beat! began hitting stages in 32 North American cities last January, including New York and L.A.

The 70-minute musical production comes to the Sagebrush Theatre in Kamloops on June 3.

The show's artistic director, Patti Caplette, believes the character's longevity and appeal is due to her multifaceted personality.

"She is very homespun in one way but she's extremely adventurous," said Caplette. "And she's probably one of those characters that have the biggest heart around.

"She has a very strong self empowerment - her motto is 'Itty bitty girls can do berry big things.' With that kind of motto every episode and all the songs are so positive, so enlightening and I think it's fantastic messages. That's of course extremely attractive."

The production came together under the banner of Koba Entertainment, which Caplette co-founded in 2004.

Koba puts on 200 shows a year by gaining the rights to children's TV shows or books. Caplette then builds a live musical show with an original storyline, familiar and original music, choreography and sets.

She has a successful track record of translating beloved kids series into live musical stage shows including Max & Ruby, Toopy & Binoo and The Backyardigans.

The director, choreographer and writer came by her talent at her mother's knee - or rather her mother's dance studio in Vancouver. By the age of five, Caplette was showing an impressive nascent talent for choreography and playwriting.

Barely out of her teens, she began performing internationally with Canada's leading dance companies: Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de MontrÉal and Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

Between 1973 and 1992 she travelled the globe, performing in more than 400 cities in 19 countries.

Her talent for translating a creative vision to stage has produced work with celebrated artists in dance, theatre, television, film, opera, cabaret, symphony, music videos, special events and even the circus.

The storyline for her latest offering brings audiences to the whimsical land of Berry Bitty City where the whole town is buzzing with anticipation for the Glitzy Glaze Talent Show.

The interactive stage show encourages fans to sing and dance with Strawberry Shortcake and friends as they each prepare for their moment in the spotlight, but not without some misguided mishaps along the way.

Plenty of familiar names emerge, including Orange Blossom, Lemon Meringue, Blueberry Muffin, Raspberry Torte, Plum Pudding and Cherry Jam.

Also introduced live on stage for the first time is the happy-go-lucky Huckleberry Pie, a character that allows little boys to identify with the story, said Caplette.

She and her team worked painstakingly to reproduce the sights and sounds as faithfully to the animated series as possible.

"The costuming has to be exact," she said. "The hair had to be voluminous, so over the top and all these great colours of hair. The actors had to look animated themselves. Then the actors and the singers (had to) create the same kind of voice that everyone's used to hearing on the TV."

It worked. Crowds have enthusiastically embraced the show, which is unique in bringing three generations of fans together.

"We get everybody coming in their get-ups, their hats and purses. It's just so cute," said Caplette. "What's really sweet is that you have the mothers who are reminiscing and grandmothers reminiscing about their girls reminiscing. I don't who's having more fun, the kids or the parents."

Beyond the name recognition value, the production also doesn't skimp on talent.

It features new songs co-written by Lorelei Bachman and her father Randy Bachman of The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

Scenic design and productions are created by F & D Scene Changes Ltd., the company behind Broadway shows such as Wicked, Mary Poppins and Les Miserables.

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Strawberry Shortcake

Strawberry Shortcake is everybody's berry best friend. When she's not running her Berry Cafe in Berry Bitty City, she's hosting get-togethers with her friends or offering them help and advice. Her optimism is contagious and she always sees big possibilities in everything - and everyone.

Cherry Jam

Cherry Jam is Berry Bitty City's most famous new resident. When the singing superstar is offstage, her cheery charm helps her fit right in as the town's favourite music teacher, voice coach and all-around fabulous friend.

Orange Blossom

Orange Blossom is all about solving problems with a smile. She runs Berry Bitty City's town market, Orange Mart - a little store that holds everything you could ever need. Orange loves being helpful and always puts everyone in a good mood.

Lemon Meringue

Lemon Meringue is an expert with a comb and blow dryer. She runs the Lemon Salon, where girls, pets and garden friends alike all get their hair styled. Lemon loves to keep everyone up to date on what's happening in Berry Bitty City.

Blueberry Muffin

Blueberry Muffin is super smart and knows something about everything. She runs Berry Bitty City's bookstore, Blueberry Books, and loves to read about how things work and grow. Her best buds know she's always there for them - a true blue friend to the end.

Huckleberry Pie

Huckleberry Pie is a happy-go-lucky boy from Berry Big City who runs a dog shelter. Huck's friendship with Strawberry and the other girls and his talent for matching the perfect pup to the right friend go a long way toward boosting his confidence.

Raspberry Torte

Super stylish Raspberry Torte loves giving fashion advice to all the girls in Berry Bitty City. She even owns and runs Fresh Fashions, a trendy boutique. Raspberry's friends know they can always count on her for the latest styles - and true friendship too.

Plum Pudding

Always on the move, Plum Pudding seems to hear a happy dance beat wherever she goes. She's a great dancer who teaches everything from hip-hop to ballet at the Sweet Beats Studio. Plum's kind heart and quirky ways make her a favourite friend in Berry Bitty City.

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