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Still Wiggling after nearly 20 years

Last year they earned $45-million, more than actor Russell Crowe and singer Keith Urban, to top Australia's list of richest people. But the Wiggles work hard, doing 200 concerts a year across four continents and airing twice daily on the Disney Channel. Their fellow Aussies recently rated them more trustworthy than a blue chip telecommunications company.

This weekend the world famous preschool band say g'day to the Tampa Bay area as they chugga chug their Big Red Car into the St. Pete Times Forum on Saturday. Anthony Field aka, the Blue Wiggle and on-screen foodie, talked with the St. Petersburg Times by phone during a break in the group's Pop Go the Wiggles Live! tour. He dished on what's new on stage, how much TV his kids watch and a new Wiggles show. And he admitted that sometimes even he tires — a little — of their classic hits.

Congratulations on your son. (Field and his wife Miki had their third child, Antonio Carlos, last year.) How is your family doing?

He's a little beauty. I'm probably away too much. I'm going home in about two weeks.

How's the tour going?

It's really fun. The good thing about our shows (is) they start off as something and by the end of the tour they're something different. They're always evolving as we're putting in new tricks. It's as interesting for us as all of the audience.

So, what's new?

There's lots of props and an inflatable floor that comes on to "Play the Guitar With Murray." There's lots of tumbling and Captain Feathersword does somersaults and Murray lies across it.

In 2006, Greg Page retired as the Yellow Wiggle due to a serious health condition and was replaced by former understudy Sam Moran. How is Greg doing now? Does he still provide creative input?

He's recuperating. He's got to really manage his health at the moment. The stress of being one of us (laughs softly) is too much for him. When he retired, he retired. We've got a new (TV) series with Sam. It's run in Canada and Australia, and has been a great success. The Disney Channel has been holding off for a long time to put it on, but I think they're finally going to do it at the end of November. It really is better for the children to see Sam because if they come to the show they'll know who Sam is.

What's the new television series like?

The new series is quite different than what we've done before. It's all computer green screen background, digital animated background. Very bright colors and lots of costumes but also brand new songs. There's no Hot Potato and Toot Toot Chugga Chugga. I'm a parent at home, and I've got to say I was happy with the new ones. We were watching the old series so many times, I was waiting for a new one to come on.

What does Sam bring to the group?

Sam's doing really well. He's different from Greg, different voice, different person. Sam's developing his own personality . . . Sam's more classical, more operatic. Greg reminded me of Perry Como, a fantastic crooner. Sam's got more of a (Andrea) Bocelli type of voice. He can really sing opera. When we do our music we kind of cater for that.

In Wiggle World, everyone has a shtick. Yours is eating. Murray's is playing guitar, and Jeff's is sleeping. What is Sam's?

He hasn't developed one yet. I think that was one of those subconscious things that we forgot about. But it'll develop.

What are the Wiggles' shticks in real life?

Murray really does love music and loves the guitar . . . He's got a collection of 40 to 50 guitars. His character really is similar to what he's like. Jeff is a little bit more active off stage than he is on. He's a real keen surfer. He spends most of his days in the water waiting for the perfect wave. Off camera, I love getting on a boat and going around Sydney Harbor and just relaxing with the family. Sam's right into computers; he's a very technical guy.

The Wiggles recently released a CD and DVD of nursery rhymes. What made you choose that theme?

A lot of parents are saying they can't source classic nursery rhymes anywhere or if they do, they're not happy with the versions of them. In Australia it was one of the most successful albums we've ever done. It's about rhyming and having fun with the language, and they speak of times gone by.

Do you ever have creative differences and if so, how do you handle them?

It sounds funny that the Wiggles have creative differences, but there are sometimes. . . . We have to agree on it or we can't do it. That works pretty well. When one person writes a song, all four will get the credit for it so that stops arguments. From day one we've split the song writing royalties to save people from splitting up and fighting.

How much television are your kids allowed to watch? What shows do they see?

I'd be a hypocrite if I said I didn't think there was something valuable in children's television because there is. Children get a lot of learning from good shows, good quality shows like Sesame Street, they learn a lot from Dora the Explorer, the Backyardigans, with all the problem-solving going on, the Wiggles is good for them, and Dorothy the Dinosaur we've got in Australia and it's a good, gentle show. We've got lovely sunshine in Sydney, and we get out a lot, go to the park, and get on swings and go to the beach to get the them out. They watch television in the morning after breakfast; they enjoy it for an hour or so, an hour and a half maybe. And maybe at nighttime, we sometimes watch a movie to settle them before sleep.

When you're not performing, how often do children approach you? What kinds of things do they tell you?

Especially in Australia . . . we're so recognized because we've been around so long there, and parents come up of course, it's really never a hassle, it's always quite nice. We've had pacifiers handed into us, things like that. . . . If I'm driving in my car — I've got a Volkswagen car at home — I've had children say "Where is the big red car. Why aren't you driving the big red car?" I say "Ah well, Sam's got it."

You started the Wiggles in a pre-9/11 world. Do you find the need to address more serious topics than you used to?

I think with preschoolers, the Wiggles always are just such an innocent, happy world. I remember after 9/11, we did the Macy's Parade in New York. A lot of parents gave us great feedback because there were 24-hour images on television, they said they really enjoyed putting the Wiggles on, which was just totally innocent and safe for the children to watch. I think we just keep going with what we're doing.

We're more about the children participating in the whole experience and feeling better about themselves without actually saying that. We model pro-social things. We're happy with each other. We try to solve things without getting violent with each other. Maybe that's the message we still need.

You're 45, and the oldest, Purple Wiggle Jeff Fatt, is 10 years older. When do you think the group will retire and what do you see yourself doing after that? Or will you be like the Rolling Stones and go on forever?

Sometimes, I feel like we are. We're almost 20 years going now. We've just done a TV show ,The Kingdom of Paramithic, so we've done a production that's not The Wiggles. That was a good thing (so) maybe one day down the track we'll be producing other shows. For me, as soon as it stops being fun, or I'm not getting on with people or it's too hard at home for me to keep going away, that's when I'll probably call it quits. But at the moment, I'm still in there and enjoying it.

Lisa Buie can be reached at buie@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4604.

If you go

Tickets for the Wiggles show at the St. Pete Times Forum are available through all Ticketmaster locations (www.ticketmaster.com) or by calling (813) 287-8844 in Hillsborough or (727) 898-2100 in Pinellas and at the McDonald's Box Office at the Times Forum. Show times are 1:30 and 5 p.m. Saturday. Prices range from $18-$38 (additional facility fees and service charges may apply). Seating for tickets purchased at the $38 level will take place in the "hot potato seats" and will include an exclusive Wiggles giveaway.

Still Wiggling after nearly 20 years 11/18/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 19, 2008 4:16pm]

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