CLOSE-UP

Minstrels for the young

PEETER KOPVILLEM September 5 1988
CLOSE-UP

Minstrels for the young

PEETER KOPVILLEM September 5 1988

Minstrels for the young

CLOSE-UP: SHARON, LOIS & BRAM

In one of the old buildings of the former Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital in Etobicoke, Ont., past a door with a sign reading “Behavior therapy,” another door opens onto a darkened staircase. The setting is grim, but the snippets of song that sound through the gloom are cheerful. Almost 10 years after the hospital closed, its sprawling grounds and buildings have become a favorite locale for film and TV production crews, and here Sharon, Lois & Bram are taping shows for the fifth season of their The Elephant Show series. But their popular children’s program is only one reason for the singers’ cheer. This fall, they will celebrate their 10th year in a career that has also produced eight albums—with North American sales of almost two million copies—and concerts that are sold out almost as soon as tickets become available.

The Elephant Show, produced by Toronto’s Cambium Film & Video Productions Ltd., is an eclectic mixture of songs and skits. During its four years on TV—in Canada it is shown nationally on CBC TV and in the United States on the Nickelodeon Cable Network—it has won such awards as the Parents’ Choice Gold Award Ages 4-8. The show is characterized by a youthful enthusiasm that belies the stars’ ages: Sharon Hampson, 45, Lois Lilienstein, 51, and Bram Morrison, 46. The three singer-musicians are backed up by multi-instrumentalist Eric Nagler, a roster of children, guest stars and, of course, the elephant—under whose skin sweats 32-year-old dancer Paula Gallivan (the costume comes complete with battery-powered fan).

Hampson and Morrison were seasoned veterans of the folk-club circuit and Lilienstein a nursery-school music teacher when they first joined forces in Toronto in 1978. Since their first record—Owe Elephant, Deux Elephants— the trio has not lost that natural exuberance that makes adults bob along with the songs as much as their children do. And that, said Morrison, is what the group has strived for. “Everything that we do is aimed at the family,” he said.

Much of the entertainment in The Elephant Show is a result of an unabashed sense of fun. One of last

year’s episodes featured an ice ballet with figure skater Toller Cranston and the elephant. Said Cranston: “They are professional. My involvement ran totally smoothly.” And the former world

champion added that children and parents often recognize him now because of his appearance.

As well, the trio’s material is not strictly educational. “Music need not be anything more than itself—beautiful music,” said Lilienstein. Still, they say that they are happy to educate if the subject is important. One upcoming Elephant Show episode is about the United Nations Children’s Fund, for which the singers will serve as Canadian ambassadors during its 1988-1989 fundraising campaign. Said Morrison: “We want you to know about UNICEF and why you should be out there helping.” Sharon, Lois and Bram will mark their anniversary this month with a new album entitled Happy Birthday. And on Oct. 23, they will embark on a six-month North American tour. They say that their schedule is tiring. But they add that the exhaustion is quickly overcome—by the pleasure of singing and by the adulation that they receive from enthusiastic audiences everywhere.

PEETER KOPVILLEM