Putting on a concert for children is like a juggling act. You have to keep artistry, humor, and visual pizzazz in the air all at once-and smile relentlessly while doing it. Craig Taubman, front man for the music troupe Craig ‘n Company, actually pulls off this trick in Disney’s new CD Rock ‘n Toontown, the recording of a concert held on March 10 for a crowd of more than 300 to celebrate Disneyland’s newest attraction, Toontown. (The companion show, featuring some songs off the album and a few of Taubman’s previous hits, debuted as a Disney Channel special on May 23.) As ringleader, Taubman never lets his energy droop throughout the set’s 40 minutes; he’s as animated as if he were, well, animated. He has to be, actually, since at times he’s competing for attention with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Donald Duck, who make vocal cameo appearances. With a clear Broadway-type tenor, he may be a trifle too smiley-faced for some, but at the very worst he comes across like Kenny Loggins’ clean-cut younger brother.
As for the 13 tunes themselves, it would have been easy to set a pile of cautionary tales to trendy rap tracks. Instead, Taubman wisely goes for variety. From the title song’s new jack swing to the Motown groove of ”Together,” Craig ‘n Company perform a Whitman’s Sampler of musical styles. The power-chord metal intro to ”Are We There Yet?” leads into a fun number about a long car ride. ”Excuse Me,” which enumerates a child’s reasons why he shouldn’t be grounded, gets a light supper-club jazz treatment. A stately string quartet underlines ”Get Up,” a plea to sleepy parents. While some of the songs could be more memorable, the majority do grow on you with repeated listenings, and the witty ”I’m Bored” stands a good chance of becoming a kids’ standard.
The tunes’ messages are kept simple and clear. Both ”Food for Thought” and ”Recycle Rex” will challenge children’s vocabularies while teaching lessons in healthy eating and ecology. Taubman knows that these lessons won’t stick if set to lame music, and thanks to the slick production, the songs make their points with authority.
As a bonus, adults will recognize the loping beat of the Coasters’ 1959 ”Along Came Jones” on ”Do Bullies Have Mommies?” and hear the cowboy strains of ”Ghost Riders in the Sky” during ”Younger Kid Stuff.” Echoes of boomer hits like these make the whole presentation a lot more tolerable for parents than, say, a Barney show. In addition, Taubman doesn’t patronize his audience by writing intentionally dumb songs. As much as adults, kid listeners deserve to get a lot of bang for their buck. The album may not offer as much bang as Toontown itself, but at least parents will have a few bucks left over.