Marketing-mad behemoths like Nickelodeon don't often pass up a chance to sell tons of merchandise, but the kids' cable network got caught flat-footed with Rugrats. Only two seasons of the cartoon were commissioned, ending in 1993.
But the reruns of those episodes never left the air, and they proved so popular -- and the accompanying demand for Rugrats dolls, toys, lunch boxes, activity books, etc., etc., ad nauseam became so insistent -- that new episodes debuted in 1996. Rugrats paraphernalia is now an omnipresent cash cow for Viacom International, which owns Nickelodeon.
Rugrats -- A Live Adventure is the most recent moneymaking effort. A lively audience-participation musical that should delight kids and parents, the production features the same talents that made the TV show a success. Key among them is Mark Mothersbaugh, who wrote the music for the show, which ranges from rap to rock to reggae to gospel. Mothersbaugh, you might remember, was the driving force behind Devo, the new wave outfit best known for the single "Whip It."
The quirky intelligence that made that band successful is also evident in Rugrats. The TV and stage show center on the adventures of four toddlers who must forever tangle with Angelica, a despotic four-year-old who takes pleasure in playing mind games with the diaper set.
The young ones -- the ever-frightened Chuckie, twins Phil and Lil, and Tommy Pickles, the voice of reason -- can't talk with their parents, but when they're alone they can communicate amongst themselves (albeit somewhat ineptly: "Over my dead potty!" a defiant Tommy says in one episode).
In the stage show, Tommy creates a "People-ator" that brings toys alive in order to distract a worried Chuckie. Angelica steals the invention, though, and complications ensue. One guesses that things work out in the end. There are two 40-minute acts and a 20-minute intermission.
At $26, tickets ain't cheap, and you should probably plan on having to negotiate through a bazaar of similarly high-priced souvenirs. But the Aerial Theater is one of the more intimate venues on this tour (it's basketball arenas in most other cities), so there shouldn't be a bad seat in the house.
Rugrats -- A Live Adventure opens Tuesday, August 25, at 7 p.m. at the Aerial Theater, 520 Texas. Performances continue through September 6, with shows at 7 p.m. TuesdaysThursdays; 4 and 7:30 p.m. Fridays; 12:30, 4 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and 1 and 4:30 p.m. Sundays. Children 12 months or older require tickets, available at the box office (230-1600) or TicketMaster outlets (629-3700).