‘Super WHY!’ has the answer

By John Benson


For those parents with preschoolers in the house, you better know who lives in Storybrook Village.

Naturally this is the cast of hit PBS Kids show “Super WHY!,” which since 2007 has been inspiring 3- and 4-year-old kids to read like superheros. Don’t laugh, such a simple plot – insidiously combining entertainment with education – has proved inspirational to children and a godsend for moms and dads.

Written by show creator Angela Santomero (“Blues Clues” and “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood”), “Super WHY!” is invariably an example of a modern day kids’ show that, well, doesn’t pander to its audience.

In a nutshell, each episode finds superheroes such as leader Whyatt Beanstalk, Alpha Pig with “Alphabet Power,” Wonder Red with “Word Power,” Princess Presto with “Spelling Power” and their puppy pal Woofster literally jumping into a story – often a fairytale – and getting down to the root of the conflict.

“The idea that a superhero can have the power to read is already its own little twist,” said Santomero, calling from New York City. “There’s a lot of humor in going and confronting the Big Bad Wolf and finding out why he’s so big and bad. And a lot of the questions that we have about the stories are from kids themselves.

“So we use all the super powers to drive the story and get to that answer. I think that adventure, interactivity, the sense of humor and the sense of these characters is what makes ‘Super WHY!’ so special.”

Now comes word the popular show is going on the road with “Super WHY! Live,” which visits Northeast Ohio on Tuesday at the Akron Civic Theatre. The plot involves the characters traveling inside a book to find answers to the question “Who has the Greatest Super Power in the World?”

“It takes that interactive feel, almost like a ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ for kids,” Santomero said. “They come dressed as characters. It’s so much fun to have something that’s really specific to them, not just like a skip-and-wave show or a show that makes a lot of noise. It really does have a script that talks directly to these kids.”

Speaking of fun, the stage performance is written by Santomero and includes an original soundtrack by fun. guitarist-songwriter Jack Antonoff.

So why exactly did the Grammy Award-winning performer, who one would assume is kind of busy, contribute to a children’s show?

“He got involved while working with our producers on ‘Yo Gabba Gabba,’” Santomero said. “He has a niece who fell in love with ‘Super WHY!’ We already use songs in the television show that that kids want to sing. We’re very big on making sure they are songs we would like as well in the sense that we’re not dumbing anything down for preschoolers. We make the lyrics and the composition simple enough so they can sing along but it also has that sensibility so someone like a Jack would be interested in writing original music for it.”

Considering Antonoff’s participation in “Super WHY!,” what pop star is next on the list to contribute a tune? Perhaps a song by Bruno Mars about The Beanstalk Family or Rhianna singing about Alpha Pig.

“Can you call them?” Santomero quipped. “I’d love that.”

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