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Busch Gardens Tampa – Bird Gardens: Critter Castaways (in Bird Theater

Rating: * * * 1/2
Live amphitheater show
Time: About 20 minutes
Short Take: A potpourri of pettable performers

The creators of this show seem to have borrowed heavily from Pets Ahoy over at SeaWorld and the kiddie show next door in Sesame Street Safari of Fun. The result is a harmless bit of fluff that should appeal to most, especially the littler ones in your party.

The backdrop is a fairly elaborate set depicting the wreck of the Amazon Queen, an old tug boat by the looks of her. Our singing hostess, Jane, lives here in harmony with a few shipwrecked friends and a passel of animals from around the world. Jane is one of those annoying, sugar-sweet types you see on early morning TV shows aimed at tots. She sings a saccharine song about "living in harmony" until you want to go up on stage and throttle her.

But to give Jane and her fellow cast members their due, this is not about musical theater. This is about the animals. They range from humble cats and dogs (all alumni of local rescue centers, apparently) to emus and kangaroos, and a variety of multicolored birds of all shapes and sizes. For good measure, there are cameos by a mouse, a skunk, and two pigs.

There is less "edutainment" in this show than there was in previous incarnations, although we do learn that the maribou stork can fly almost as high as an airplane and we get to see how a lesser anteater uses its long tongue to slurp jelly out of a tube. The joy and the fun of the show derives quite simply from our age-old fascination with animals of all types. Just watching them walk across the stage—which is all most of them do—qualifies as entertainment. Some of the dogs and cats do considerably more, performing some nifty tricks. And a beautifully plumed parrot flies around the auditorium, neatly zipping through a series of hoops. It's enough to make you forget that annoying song.

Note: This show seems to change more than most, but given the elaborate set I suspect the current edition will be around for a while. Although I have liked some versions better than others, it has always been worth seeing..

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