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'Peppa Pig’ makes a splash with live shows in South Florida

With apologies to The Beatles, America is experiencing another British Invasion, this time the target being children’s television networks rather than the radio airwaves. And “Peppa Pig,” the charming, laid-back animated series on Nick Jr. that follows the gently amusing, everyday adventures of Peppa and her family – Mummy Pig, Daddy Pig and little brother George – is leading the charge.

This weekend, for the first time in the United States, families can see “Peppa Pig” up-close and personal, as the program makes the transition from the small screen to the stage. The live interactive show, “Peppa Pig’s Big Splash,” snorts its way to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale on Friday, and to the Fillmore Miami Beach at Jackie Gleason Theater on Saturday.

Of course, not every children’s show gets made into a live production – so just what is it about the sweet, unassuming Peppa Pig that inspired such a leap of faith?

“Peppa started in the U.K., and they’ve done a handful of live incarnations over there, and as the popularity of the brand continued to rise here in the States, we decided to bring one of the productions from the U.K. and adapt it further,” says tour producer Jonathan Shank, senior management executive at Red Light Management. “I will say this about ‘Peppa’: There are some great shows that have come out of the BBC in the U.K., and keeping everything authentic to the original voices and the original brand and culture, I think was really important to its success globally.

“I don’t necessarily know whether the [U.S.] kids understand it all,” he continued, “but I think that they find it really cute and honest and something that is overall just a fun show.”

Shank, 40 – whose current clients also include Victoria Justice, Coco Jones, Megan & Liz and the Fresh Beat Band, and who previously managed such diverse artists as Eve, Paul Oakenfold and the Grateful Dead – says kids who love watching “Peppa Pig” on TV can expect more similarities than differences from the live show.

“It takes place in a familiar setting,” he says. “We have the schoolhouse and Peppa’s house and various scenery, and there are a lot of story lines that are related to all the Peppa themes throughout the TV show, like jumping in muddy puddles, and George and his dinosaur, and playing games that Peppa loves to play.”

The biggest difference, says Shank, is that in the live show, Peppa and her friends are life-size puppets, maneuvered by actors who stand behind them. And the auditioning process was brutally competitive.

“We had almost 2,000 actors audition for the positions, which came down to six or seven spots,” says Shank. “And having an amazing English accent was important, but snorting was a real prerequisite for the casting of the actors in the show, which they all do very profoundly [laughs].”

One of the “chosen few” from the auditioning pool was Evan Michael, who portrays Daddy Pig in the live production. 

“I am loving this opportunity,” says Michael, 32, who says he put his career in broadcast journalism on hold – he’s been a reporter and morning-news anchor for CBS and ABC – to be a part of this production. “It is quite a treat and a thrill to be playing this iconic character, and it’s a great preview of the dad that I want to be when I get to have a family myself. Because you can’t help but love Daddy Pig – how he communicates, and how he acts, and how he deals with the kids.”

And yes, how he snorts.

“I almost had to take a snorting class just to make sure I could impress the kids,” says Michael, “with not only how loud he can be, but Daddy Pig can hold that snort, all the way from looking audience-left to audience-right, so everybody gets to experience it.”

To Michael, the reason for the success of the “Peppa Pig” franchise is simple.

“It is so fun,” he says. “It’s an hour and 15 minutes that’s not only infectious for the audience, but for the performers as well. We are taken away by how nuts the kids go. And it’s for the whole show.”