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by Judy Antell


   Most children’s programming comes from magical lands far, far away, but a new show, Johnny and the Sprites, is created in the more prosaic neighborhood of Astoria.  But it has its own imaginative allure; the sprites are a magical trio from an enchanted grotto.

   The star of the show is John Tartaglia, who also created it and serves as the executive producer.  A Tony Award nominee for his starring role in Avenue Q, Tartaglia is a Sesame Street veteran and a self-professed “Disney geek” who explains that creating a half-hour show that will air on Playhouse Disney, starting this month, is a dream come true.  Tartaglia admits to being the kind of aficionado who knows every attraction at Disney World and who watches all the old Disney animated movies.

   Johnny and the Sprites started out as a short accompanying other shows.  This month, it debuts as a 30-minute series on the Disney Channel.  The show introduces musical theater to preschoolers from the finest sources:  the theme song is by Stephen Schwartz (of Pippin, Godspell, and Wicked fame), and show regulars include Broadway stars Natalie Venetia Belcon and Sutton Foster. 

   Tartaglia, who grew up in New Jersey, remembers being captivated by his first Broadway show, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and is now combining his passion for musical theater and puppetry in his new show.

   Sprites mixes live actors with puppets; the sprites, who hail from Grotto’s Grove, include Basil, an ‘Earth Sprite’; Ginger, an ‘Air Sprite’; and Lily, a ‘Water Sprite’.

   Tartaglia, who grew up reading Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, bemoans the loss of fantasy in children’s television.  So many shows are based on real life, he believes, that today’s kids have “few places to get away.”

   Johnny and the Sprites is more whimsical than Sesame Street, and more connected to nature.  There is a subtle message about accepting people’s differences, and getting along.  Each Sprite has a distinct personality; there are also talking animals, and characters The Fuzzies, and Seymour the Schmole.  The entire world is created at Kaufman Astoria Studios; keeping the show local gives its creator convenient access to Broadway talent.

    In the show, Johnny 'lives' in the country house he inherited from a great, great, great, great uncle.  The house has a backyard tunnel leading to the magical Grotto’s Grove.  But, in fact, the entire world is created at Kaufman Astoria Studios; keeping the show local gives its creator convenient access to Broadway talent.

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