Preschool superstars

Karen Dybis
Special to The Detroit News

When the four members of Nickelodeon's "The Fresh Beat Band" were cast, the actors made each other a promise — they agreed to put as much time and talent into the children's program as they would into a Broadway show or Shakespeare play.

That energy has been rewarded numerous times over the four years the show has been on the air and through the multiple tours that have already passed through Detroit, said Thomas Hobson, who stars as Shout on the live-action preschool music series.

"The show's creators wanted something for their kids to watch — that's been the inspiration for 'The Fresh Beat Band' since its inception. It's all about family," said Hobson, who will be at the Fox Theatre on Saturday to perform in the band's nationwide concert tour, "The Fresh Beat Band Greatest Hits Live."

The Nickelodeon show features Hobson as Shout, Jon Beavers as Twist, Tara Perry as Marina and Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer as Kiki. In each episode, preschoolers sing and dance along as they help The Fresh Beat Band solve everyday challenges.

That kid-central view is what gets Hobson through the endless rehearsals, high-energy shows and long travel schedules that could push him to exhaustion (the show is on tour from November through Feb. 15, making 40-plus stops along the way).

Whenever he needs inspiration, Hobson said he finds a way to feel revitalized. At the gym, that means listening to Prince, Jesse J and Mr Probz ("Waves" is on heavy rotation, he says). Sometimes, it was looking out into the crowd and seeing kids dancing along with the performance.

"We sleep so well at night because we expel so much energy," Hobson said. "We'll go on stage sometimes and they will warn us to pace ourselves because we have two shows that day. But you forget because the audience gets so excited. You want to match their energy. It's a fun challenge."

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Hobson began his acting career at the age of six, appearing in films, television shows, stage productions and commercials. After graduating high school, Thomas attended Yale University where he received his bachelor of arts in Theatre. While there, he performed with Shades, one of Yale's most popular a capella groups.

"A capella was fantastic training — I had never sung that much in my whole life," he said. "There's no other singing in my family; I'm the anomaly. Yale was my first time learning how to blend and how to harmonize with people. I learned that I could sing every day."

Hobson says "The Fresh Beat Band" and its rigorous schedule has kept his singing, acting and gymnastics skills sharp.

"We had a circus episode once where the producers told me I'd be training with Cirque du Soleil for a silk routine. That was on Monday. By Friday, I was 25 feet off of the ground, doing a full ribbon routine," he laughed. "That's when I knew this would prepare me for everything. I feel like I'm practicing what I preach because I'm telling kids they can do anything they put their minds to."

The kids sometimes teach him a thing or two as well.

"(During a recent performance), I got a reminder of why we do what we do. There was a little adorable kid there from the Make a Wish Foundation, and his wish was to dance on stage with us. We got him up there during 'Just Like a Rock Star,' and he was one," Hobson said.

"At the end, I saw him there in the wings, still having a great time. I went over and got him and he danced to our last song as well. Living on a bus is hard. Being away from family is hard. But at that moment, I knew why I do it and that I could find all of the energy I needed."

Karen Dybis is a Metro Detroit freelance writer.

The Fresh Beat Band

4:30 p.m. Saturday

Fox Theatre

2211 Woodward, Detroit

Tickets $35-$59

(800) 745-3000