Sorry, Wiggles. You've been displaced.
For years, the hottest ticket for the "I want it and I want it now" crowd — preschool children — has been live shows performed by the four Australian musicians known as the Wiggles. Many a parental eardrum split in the process.
Now, a new live tour aimed at the youngest of concertgoers is exploding across North America, including a sold-out show Wednesday in Cincinnati and a concert March 11 in Louisville. The Fresh Beat Band, a be- bopping quartet courtesy of Nickelodeon, has parents scrambling for tickets to sold-out engagements and the preschoolers who do get in going orbital. And shhh: Many moms and dads don't mind the music.
"It was like trying to get Springsteen tickets," said Jen Drexler, a Maplewood, N.J., mother of twins Charley and Max, 5. With no tickets available for New York shows on March 25, Drexler found herself checking resale marketplace StubHub, where orchestra seats were selling recently for $2,000. "Finally, I just had to stop the madness and give up," she said.
The 15-week tour is a live-action spinoff of the Nick Jr. series Fresh Beat Band, a type of Glee or High School Musical for itty-bitty eyeballs. Songs like Great Day and Just Like a Rockstar convey messages intended to teach lessons, and sillier numbers like Bananas simply entertain. (Sample lyric: "Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah. Let's go bananas!") The concerts involve synchronized dancing, giant video screens and blizzards of confetti.
Nickelodeon had modest expectations for ticket sales, said Paula Kaplan, West Coast general manager of the channel and executive vice president for talent. The show, comprising two 25- minute acts and aimed at children as young as 2, was booked into medium-size halls including the 1,200-seat Best Buy Theater in Times Square. Nickelodeon figured about 65 performances would suffice.
But near-instant sellouts for the tour, which began Feb. 2 in Anaheim, Calif., forced Nickelodeon to cram in more performances; there are now 95.
"It has been a frenzy that totally took us off guard," said Mark Shulman, vice president and general manager of AEG Live Northeast, a concert promoter.
The Wiggles, who have sold 7 million CDs and 23 million DVDs worldwide during the past two decades, still tour, and there are other popular draws in this corner of entertainment, including Disney on Ice and the circus. But recent tours built around Nickelodeon shows Dora the Explorer and Yo Gabba Gabba! have not generated anywhere near the heat of the Fresh Beat Band.
The Fresh Beat Band stands out, parents say, for various reasons, starting with the music, which is for parents and children to listen to together. The show and tour also feature everyday people (albeit perky ones who love to sing and dance) instead of kooky performers (the Wiggles) or costumed characters (Barney). Some younger parents see the Fresh Beat Band as a throwback to their own childhoods and Kids Inc., a 1980s-era syndicated series about children who form a band.
Fresh Beat Band started its run on Nickelodeon in 2009, with Scott Kraft and Nadine van der Velde (Miss Spider's Sunny Patch Friends) as executive producers. There have been a few bumps, notably the abrupt replacement of a popular cast member, Shayna Rose, who asked to be released from her contract to pursue other career opportunities, Nickelodeon said.
But the series is now on fire, ranking as one of television's top shows for preschoolers, with an average audience of more than 500,000 children ages 2 to 5, according to Nielsen data. An album, The Fresh Beat Band: Music From the Hit TV Show, was released Jan. 31 on iTunes and is selling briskly.
Its success comes as Nickelodeon is struggling in the ratings and bracing for a challenge from its archrival, the Walt Disney Co., which is introducing a stand-alone channel for preschool children called Disney Junior. Disney will introduce a tour tied to its own preschool hit, Jake and the Never Land Pirates, this summer that will stop at state fairs and Radio Disney events.
For now, though, it's all about the Fresh Beat Band. "It's a lot of money, but I knew it would be an experience that my little one would never forget," Sabrina Hughes Lochner, who spent $240 to take her daughter, Lauren, to a show in Cupertino, Calif., wrote on her blog. "Lauren just glowed, and I couldn't stop smiling."