Dora Sightings Captivate 'Diego' Crowd

(By Carol Rosegg)
By John Maynard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 30, 2007

Diego might be the lead in a new live-action stage production of his Nick Jr. cartoon, but hundreds of tykes -- hopped up on Skittles and Capri Sun juice -- knew who the real star was at the Warner Theatre.

His little cousin Dora.

Dora the Explorer made just two cameo appearances Wednesday night in the touring show "Go, Diego, Go Live! The Great Jaguar Rescue." The wide-eyed backpacker's appearance, though, drove the sugar-buzzed crowd to foot-stomping bliss.

Diego, a boy animal rescuer, is a certified TV star among the preschool set. The cartoon "Go, Diego, Go," which airs daily on cable network Nick Jr. (what Nickelodeon is called in the morning), is a top-rated show among 2-to-5-year-olds.

Yet the poor guy is still living in the shadow of his younger, more popular relative.

Dora, played here by actress Melanie Mendez, appeared early in the second act of the 90-minute show. Adoring echoes of "Do-ra!" could be heard throughout the concert hall.

After a five-minute appearance in which she sang a duet with Diego about animal noises, she left telling the audience that she's off for "another adventure." The pint-sized fans gasped in disappointment as she bounced offstage, although -- whew! -- she did pop up in the finale.

Throughout, though, there was love and shrieking for Diego, portrayed by an energetic Richie Portela, who seemingly never stopped moving.

The plot, naturally, isn't complicated: Diego is on a mission to help Baby Jaguar get his growl back after it was stolen by the Bobo Brothers, a pair of mischievous spider monkeys. Without Baby Jaguar's growl, he cannot officially begin the Animal Carnivale, which is supposedly one heck of a party.

The staging was semi-elaborate, as puppeteers, camouflaged in full-body green jumpsuits, controlled the movements of the animal puppets with large poles. Some of these animals included macaws, sloths, monkeys and a towering, visually striking giraffe and elephant.

Like the television show, the production was all about audience participation. Often, the actors incorporated "I can't hear you!" or "Louder!" or "One more time!" to pump up the near-capacity crowd (and probably pump them up to buy the new "Diego" CD, which was released this week, and other Diego products being hawked).

The kiddie reviews were glowing, if brief. "I liked it when the animals almost fell and Diego rescues them," said Ethan Byles, 4, of Northwest Washington, clutching a jaguar mask handed out by ushers.

Five-year-old Ryan Coffelt from Winchester, Va., standing next to his saucer-eyed 3-year-old brother Logan, said his favorite part was when Diego "swings on the vine."

Fairfax's Amber Fry, who is "5 and three-quarters," said she liked, "well, everything."

Her father, Fred, chimed in: "She told me she liked it better than 'Cats.' "

But perhaps most telling were the words of one little girl, who said as she exited the theater: "I saw Dora!"

Go, Diego, Go Live! The Great Jaguar Rescue continues tonight at 7 at the Warner Theatre, with performances Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m. and 2 and 5 p.m.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company