“It’s nice to say HELLO! HELLO! HELLO! It’s nice to say HELLO! Hello and how are you?”
That’s a familiar greeting for many who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s watching the popular children’s program “The Magic Garden” on WPIX/11. Now celebrating the show’s 45th anniversary, the stars, Carole Demas and Paula Janis, are bringing it to the stage at the YMCA Boulton Center in Bay Shore on Sunday, Nov. 26.
“We get three generations in the audience. It’s quite astonishing,” says Janis, 77. “They care, they remember and they are all adorable.”
“The Magic Garden” has roots that go back to 1954, when Demas and Janis met as 14-year-olds at Midwood High School in Brooklyn.
“We had an affinity for each other,” says Demas, 77. “In chorus, Paula was an alto and I was a soprano. There was a lot of camaraderie between us.”
The duo attended New York University graduate school, where they got their degrees in early childhood education. They ended up co-teaching a double enrollment kindergarten at P.S. 7 in Brooklyn with 50 kids in the class.
When Demas, also a working actress, went on an audition to host a cartoon show at WPIX, she pitched the programmers an alternative show.
“I believed in us and thought it could be really special,” remembers Demas. “It inspired them. Once they met Paula and we played for them, they said, ‘You two have a chemistry that no one can match.’ ”
LIVELY LIVE SHOW
These days, Demas and Janis revive the series in staged events from time to time. They come out wearing colorful beaded vests and sit on the original mushrooms from the set singing “The Magic Garden Song,” “The Open Window Song” and, of course, “The Hello Song.”
“On the TV show we’d say, ‘Hello to Freddie, Jackie, Bobby and Suzie.’ Kids would be waiting to hear their name. We ask the crowd in the live show, ‘How many of you are still waiting?’ Hands go up all over the theater,” Janis says. “We tell them if they stay after the show and you tell us your name, we will sing you a snippet of ‘The Hello Song.’ ”
The Story Box is another popular segment that they re-create, reaching in the box (now a bag for convenience) to find wigs, props and masks that they use to tell a story.
To add more old-school flavor, Sherlock the Squirrel, operated and voiced by the show’s original puppeteer, Cary Antebi, pops up to cause some mischief and injects some laughs.
“Sherlock is slightly devilish and always involved with something goofy,” Janis says. “All he wants is to be rewarded with peanuts.”
After a performance of “See Ya,” the hourlong show is followed by a meet-and-greet session.
The pair established a long-lasting legacy that awarded them entry into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame.
“People wanted to believe our friendship is real and they are excited when they find out that it is,” Demas says. “Sixty-three years later and we are still the best of friends. As long as we are making people happy, we are going to keep doing it.”
CAROLE & PAULA of ‘THE MAGIC GARDEN’
WHEN | WHERE Noon and 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 26, at the YMCA Boulton Center, 37 West Main St., Bay Shore
INFO 631-969-1101, boultoncenter.org
ADMISSION $20 ($15 ages 12 and younger)
CHRISTMAS SPECIAL UNCOVERED
In 2013, there was a flood in the basement at WPIX, where old tapes and film were stored. Digital executive editor Rolando Pujol rescued a box marked “The Magic Garden.” Inside was a 1981 hourlong holiday special called “A Magic Garden Christmas.”
“We venture out of the Magic Garden looking for a Christmas tree,” Janis recalls. “We find a tree and Sherlock is up in it visiting his squirrel friends.”
Demas and Janis, who own the special, had it transferred, cleaned it up and edited. The program now runs annually before Christmas and will air this year at 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 23, on WPIX. — David J. Criblez