- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 8, 2001

Imagine the Muppets with a Christian message, and you come up with something loosely resembling "Gnoo Zoo," a musical for children that is coming Tuesday to George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium.
"'Gnoo Zoo' puts the love of God in a language for children," says Mary Graham, president of Women of Faith, the interdenominational women's group based in Plano, Texas, that produces the touring stage show. "The moral of the story is that He is always there and always good, whatever you do."
The quirky characters played by grown-ups dressed in fluffy bodysuits include Big Billy, a plump and kind panda; Miss Marbles, a pink, fashion-conscious ostrich; Einstein, a brainy elephant who is a slave to chocolate; and a mean guy named Reptillion who prides himself on his nastiness.
The good guys, who live in the Land of Gnoo, or Gnoo Zoo, a bright and colorful place, are trying to find God in the guise of the White Tiger. They keep getting distracted, though, by the bad guy, who lures them off-track with such temptations as chocolate, which, of course, Einstein can't resist.
However, each time the motley crew dances or sings itself off the path, the White Tiger sends a messenger to help it get back on track.
"The message is that even if you get off the path, God is there," Ms. Graham says.
In fact, one character tells another, "God loves you, and there is nothing you can do about it."
The show is based on a children's book, "In Search of the Great White Tiger," written by singer and author Sheila Walsh, who plays the part in the musical of Miss Seebooplay. Miss Walsh describes the character as a "wacky, purple tour guide."
Miss Seebooplay guides two (human) children through the Land of Gnoo in search of Big Billy and the others after the children open a Christmas gift that is a tiny carousel featuring the characters of Gnoo Zoo. It magically lands them in Gnoo Zoo.
"That part is a bit like 'The Chronicles of Narnia,'" C.S. Lewis' 50-year-old fantasy tale, Miss Walsh says. "I decided to write about animals because children have a way of connecting with them."
Why, though, did Miss Walsh call the place where they live Gnoo Zoo?
"Oh, I don't know. I wanted something to rhyme with zoo," she answers.
Throughout the musical, the characters say or sing a "g" before words, creating a language of their own.
Miss Walsh says that although the story was published and the tour planned before the September 11 terrorist attacks, the message and plot have taken on a new meaning.
"Parents have been e-mailing me after September 11 and telling me their children are afraid," Miss Walsh says. "Such terrible evil happened [on September 11]. But people also helped each other, and we see tremendous goodness has come out of the tragedy. The fact that good will win in the end is part of the play's message."

WHAT: The "Gnoo Zoo" Live Christmas Tour
WHERE: George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium, 730 21st Street NW
WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday
TICKETS: $10 to $25
INFORMATION: 866/885-KIDS or www.childrenoffaith.com


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