It’s hard to believe, but Hi5 has been around since 1999 and this incredible phenomenon in kids’ entertainment is still going strong. The Hi5 House of Dreams tour will hit Malaysia from Dec 10 to 13 and it’s going to be a big one as it will also be the last tour for Stevie Nicholson, who has been with the group since 2007. Ahead of their show, we talk to Tanika Anderson, Mary Lascaris, Ainsley Melham, Stevie and Dayen Zheng about the upcoming tour and what they think makes Hi5 so popular.
First of all, welcome back to Malaysia. Can you tell us the story behind the current tour? What can kids expect to see?
Dayen Zheng: Our show is called 'Hi5 House of Dreams' and this time it’s a narrative format. We take the kids on a journey and it’s a story that we tell. The previous shows that we brought to Malaysia were concert style but this time we tell more of a story.
Mary Lascaris: It’s a big sleepover party so we’re asking all the kids to wear their pyjamas and bring their teddies. And it’s all going to be like a big sleepover and we’ll have a bit of fun with our dreams. So it should be fun!
It’s not your first time in Malaysia. What did you guys get up to here in the past?Stevie Nicholson: We actually film our TV show here so we’re based for a few months of the year here at times... so we feel like locals somewhat. We love exploring. We obviously love the food here. It’s nice coming back. It feels like a second home.
Why do you think Hi5 appeals to so many different cultures?
ML: I think that singing and dancing is a universal language, so it doesn’t matter where we are in the world. And that’s what’s so special about Hi5: there’s so much music and colour and dancing, it doesn’t matter where you’re from. Kids can get involved and they can always have a good time.
DZ: And each cast member has come from a different background. So I’m Korean and Ainsley’s half Lebanese and Italian. [Turns to Tanika] Half Singaporean.... Scottish [everyone laughs]. So I think each child can relate to each cast member because we are all so different and have such different qualities and personalities. We can relate to a child.
SN: And also the educational component of the show; we work so hard not only to entertain but to educate as well. And I think what Hi5 has done well since it started and continues to be really strong at is making learning a fun experience, using the songs and the writing and the television show, and that’s a really fun way to present a stage show. It’s a really nice environment.
The shows are so high energy. How do you think the singing and dancing help to educate kids?
ML: Well I think kids learn when they’re having fun. You can teach so many things through a game, through a song. And it’s just so evident when you can see the kids learning right before your eyes. Through the TV show, it gives us the space to really grab a concept and then use five areas of learning: body moves, puzzles, music, shapes and word play. And so you take those five elements of the child’s education and you make it into something amazing. Something as simple as a bunny or family, and we use that whole week to explore that whole concept, and they just think they’re having a great time.
Ainsley Melham: And singing and dancing is something that’s really incredible because it teaches coordination, it teaches a child self awareness in terms of their body, it teaches them to have a voice, to communicate, language, emotional expression...
ML: ...to take direction...
AM: Absolutely. Without even being aware of it, you’re learning all that when you participate. And it’s a social thing as well, when you get a bunch of kids together and they’re singing and dancing, all of a sudden you find these social interactions that possibly you wouldn’t find maybe just sitting down, playing or talking in a classroom. It’s really wonderful to watch.
ML: There are a few moments on stage where we might have a partner work, where Stevie will grab my hand and we’ll do a spin. And it’s just beautiful to see, sometimes kids in the audience don’t know each other but they grab each other’s hand and start spinning around because we’re doing it! And it’s just so beautiful to watch that!
Tanika Anderson: It does teach the idea of love. The song ‘Love’ is so simple – like Jules was saying the idea of family – and it teaches them that. It’s such a basic concept. Being able to share that around with everyone and seeing the audience connect with each other and be kind to one another. It’s really nice.
ML: And I think the parents get a lot out of it too. It’s probably one of the only concerts ever where they can come to the show and dance with their children and be loud and interactive and have that family time. It really is a family show. Even the TV show, sitting in the lounge room, all that language is promoting so much interaction between the parent and the child.
What’s been your best moment so far while working with Hi5?
DZ: The children!
SN: We do a lot of work with some pretty special charities like World Vision and the Starlight Foundation in Australia, so we’re fortunate that we get the opportunity to be at the coalface of what life is all about. When you see the strength of these children who are going through some serious stuff, it’s probably been the most moving part of the job. You know, if you’re in Myanmar with World Vision and you’re standing in the middle of what poverty actually means, and all you can really do there is bring a smile to these kids’ faces but that’s all they need to help them get through that day. And it’s been probably the most special time that we’ve shared as a group – well, for me. But every day is filled with amazing moments like...
DZ: Each other! Like, we always have so much fun. We spend so much time on the road that we become family. We spend more time with each other than we do with our own families at home.
ML: [When we're doing] our shows in countries where English isn’t the most dominant language, it’s really great when you can hear the interaction and see them singing and dancing. Some of the time they probably don’t know what they’re singing about but hearing that language and hearing how much they’re learning right before your eyes is so beautiful. I constantly am so drawn to the kids that I forget my lines most of the time! [laughs] Because I’m just like, ‘Ooh that was my line! But that kid’s talking to me!’ It’s just that the kids will always surprise us and make us love the job every day. It’s such a great job.
But there are going to be some changes soon?
SN: Yeah, I’m leaving the group at the end of this year. I guess that’s what makes these shows coming up in Malaysia pretty special, because it’s a really nice opportunity to be able to say thank you to the fans. I’ve been touring to Malaysia for many years with Hi5 and the support and the fan base we have here is really, really passionate; really, really special. We were chatting about this the other day, how there have been moments when we’ve been on stage and the fans here loved it so much that at the end of the show, they just stormed the stage. Literally, like, 3,000 kids just whoosh and you just see, like, stacks on the cast members!
TA: Dayen. Obviously.
SN: Yeah it only takes one and a half kids to tackle Dayen.
DZ: I’m the same height as them.
So what about for the rest of you – and I guess for yourself too Stevie, in the time you’ve been with the group there have been changes – do you guys find it difficult to deal with that? You were saying it’s like a family...
ML: I guess it just brings new energy to the group and livens it up and we feed off that. When you first come into the group, it’s like ‘wow’ as you experience everything for the first time and it’s really infectious. But we’re going to miss Stevie; he’s definitely the most playful one on stage. But we’re excited to see what the new guy brings!
So what’s next for Hi5? You’ve got a new cast member, what else is on the horizon?
TA: More travelling, more touring, more filming, more of everything.
AM: I don’t think he will have much of a breather. I think once we finish our December tour we’ll be back on the road and possibly into a new TV series. I’m sure it’ll be a whirlwind for him.
TA: But he’ll get a chance to come on board and see how things are done before he steps up. Stevie will get the chance to spend time with him and...
DZ: Pass the baton on!
TA: Yeah. Before I joined – I’m the most recent cast member – I had the chance to tour with the group as an understudy for like nine months, a massive amount of time. I really knew the cast dynamics and they knew me before stepping into the role. And I think that is really important because Hi5 is all about the bond that we have. If we can get up on that stage and know we have each other’s backs, you know it’s going to be a good show.