WILLIAMSPORT — Northcentral Pennsylvania will be home to countless smiles and warm hearts to begin the new year, thanks to some new “neighbors.”
“Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood Live: Neighbor Day,” based on the Emmy Award-winning and top-rated “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” animated television series that airs daily on PBS Kids, will begin its national tour with an appearance at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 16, at Williamsport’s Community Arts Center.
Daniel Tiger, along with family and friends such as O the Owl, Miss Elaina, Katerina Kittycat and Prince Wednesday, will take the audience on an interactive adventure to the Neighborhood of Make Believe. Along the way, they will share stories of friendship, exhibit kindness to others and celebrate fresh experiences.
The live show features new songs and fan favorites from the TV series, including “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” made famous by children’s television pioneer Fred Rogers, the creator and host of the iconic “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
That series inspired the creation of “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” Four-year-old Daniel Tiger is the son of Daniel Striped Tiger from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
Since its inception in 2016, “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood Live” tour has generated more than $12.8 million in ticket sales throughout North America. Following the Williamsport performance, the latest tour will visit 50-plus cities through May.
Below, Schyler Rice, who portrays Katerina Kittycat, discusses her background and what the Williamsport-area audience can expect on Jan. 16.
After growing up in northern California, you earned your bachelor’s degree in musical theater from the University of Miami in 2015. What inspired you to seek a career in the performing arts?
My whole life, I gravitated toward music. I’ve always loved singing. I played the little redhead in my kindergarten musical, and I think that’s what started the bug for me. As I got older, my mom commuted with me to Redding, the closest city to our town, and I started to do ballet. I got into opera, as well. It seemed like the natural thing to do, so I applied and auditioned for different musical theater programs. And Miami just worked out. I never expected to go to Florida to study musical theater, but it just sort of happened.
Was the first tour of “Daniel Tiger Live” your first job after college? What led you to return for the latest tour?
The first tour was my first gig after college. About two weeks after I moved to New York, I got Daniel Tiger. Once I got it, I realized that being part of a family show, something for kids, was up my alley. I loved it so much! I actually did the tour twice, so obviously I really enjoyed it. Then I moved back to New York. I did a gig as a theme park performer where I got to be a princess, and then I decided to move back home. I was booking a lot of children’s theater and realized how much I loved working with kids. A preschool position fell into place, and I ended up teaching preschool for about a year and a half. I was planning to get into performing again in some sort of capacity, and I decided it was time to come back for another run.
What makes “Daniel Tiger Live” so special for you?
The fact that we get the opportunity to spread Fred Rogers’ message of love to kids. I love being able to play a 4-year-old kittycat who loves to dance. It’s a great character. She is sort of like a kid version of me. I’ve always loved ballet. I’ve always loved kitties. You have all these diverse characters loving each other and spreading that message of kindness. And getting to meet kids throughout the U.S. is awesome. One of my favorite parts about the show is the meet and greets when we get to interact with different kids. It’s just so gratifying because when you perform for adults, you can’t really tell what they’re thinking. When you’re performing for kids, it’s right there on their faces and in their eyes.
How does the fact that many in the audience already know the characters impact your performance on stage?
There are certain parts of Katerina that I try to make sure that I stay true to. But we also get to play around with the characters and make it a little different, so the audience has something that’s a little fresh. I definitely carry with me the fact that it’s Fred Rogers’ characters. Katerina’s mom is Henrietta Pussycat. The grandparents in the audience know that character from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Now, the kids know Katerina from “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” So it’s something that all generations are somewhat familiar with in the audience. One of my favorite parts of the show is one of the last songs, “It’s You I Like.” You can hear the audience – the grandparents, the parents and the kids – singing along, and it’s just the sweetest thing.
You mentioned the show’s theme of love and kindness toward others. Do you think sharing those values on stage to a multi-generation audience can help combat the hateful political discourse prevalent in today’s society?
I hope so. This particular tour is about Neighbor Day. It all starts with Daniel giving his teacher a sunflower, and the other little kids start wanting to do small acts of kindness. I would like to think that it would put things in perspective for the parents. And the kids being exposed to that message at a young age, I would hope it would grow with them. In the future, it could help people be more peaceful.
How challenging is it to put on your cat costume, and how long does it take?
It does take quite a while to put on all the makeup. That part is fun for me because I love doing stage makeup. The costume is a little bit challenging. The costume is very, very hot. During the second tour, Mom Tiger and I would go to this enormous fan during intermission. We ended up calling it the “gratitude fan” because we would lie next to it and be so thankful for cool air!
I really enjoy my tail. It’s very fluffy. The feet are big. You have to keep it all together because the kids don’t think of it as a costume. They think of it as part of you. Altogether, to get the makeup on and the costume on, it takes about an hour.
For ticket information on “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood Live: Neighbor Day” at the Community Arts Center, visit www.caclive.com or call the box office at 570-326-2424.