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‘Super WHY!’ live show set for Chicago tour stop

“Super WHY! Live” brings characters from hit PBS kids’ series life live stage show. | JoshuSmith PHOTO

“Super WHY! Live” brings the characters from the hit PBS kids’ series to life in live stage show. | Joshua Smith PHOTO

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‘Super WHY! Live: You’ve got the

♦ 6 p.m. April 26

♦ Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State

♦ Tickets, $26.50-$39.50

♦ (800) 745-3000;

Updated: May 1, 2013 3:58PM

For years one of the most popular shows on PBS has been Angela Santomero’s Emmy-nominated, interactive, reading-centric “Super WHY!” On April 26, she and her sizeable team of animators, actors, costumers, lighting experts and musicians will bring her beloved interactive kids program to life at the Chicago Theatre for a one-night-only production of “Super WHY! Live,” which began a 27-city tour earlier this month in Seattle.

Staged by the developers/producers of Broadway’s “Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark,” it’s directed by Glenn Orsher (a “Spider-Man” executive producer) and soundtracked by the Grammy-winning band fun.

“It’s almost like making a baby,” Santomero (who also created “Blues Clues” and “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood”) joked of the nine-month pre-production process required to bring “SWL” from page to stage.

The mother of two daughters, 12 and nine, Santomero recently spoke about her brainchild, its evolution since launching in 1996 and the impact she believes it has had on countless young fans.

Question: What were the particular joys and challenges of bringing this show to the stage?

Angela Santomero: I think it’s literally being true to what it is that we’ve created and our fan base. And of course, making sure that it’s written for families with the preschooler in mind. The music is a huge element of that. And also, bringing [the characters] to life and making sure they look like the characters that are animated. That’s probably the biggest challenge.

Q. What have kids told you about how they’re affected by your characters?

AS: What we’re finding is that kids have a favorite character, and that’s who they are. And they actually act it out while they watch the show, which is so much fun. So when I say it’s “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” for kids, that’s what I hope it is.

Q. Since you started “Super WHY!,” kids have become ever more attached to their screens. How do you overcome that?

AS: I think, really, there’s more competition out there, and so for me it’s screaming about why we’re different and the amount of research we do and that the kids love it…That’s what I find is very different from 1996, when we went out there with a show that looked different and felt different and you could feel right away. And now there are so many shows that get thrown at you.

Q. Have your own kids been involved with “Super WHY!” along the way?

AS: Oh, yeah. I think they want creator credits. And they’re older than our age demo [generally two to eight], but coming to the live show they were like godmothers. They were so proud.

Q. What’s the most touching story you’ve heard about how what you’ve created has affected a child?

AS: Oh, God. You’re going to try to make me cry. We get really great emails. For Super WHY!, we went into lower-income schools where the kids didn’t know the letters in their own names. We do these summer reading camps, and so we created a curriculum. For four weeks and three hours a day, the kids would come into an already established summer camp and then use our curriculum to jump into the stories and be one of our characters every day. And so that means that they’re practicing their skills every day for a week. Even after the first week we saw crazy differences in terms of what they’re able to do and letters they’re able to identify and words they’re able to sound out. And we get it with autism kids — moms who are telling us their kids want to participate in the show and are saying their first words to the show. It’s a big deal. So that’s it. I’m a research geek at heart. I really love knowing that we can move the needle with what we’re doing. It definitely makes you want to keep going and do more.

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