March 7, 2008

He’s a Star on Stage and Screen

By Debbi Wilgoren


Instead of the usual G-rated movie, Saturday's matinee at the Avalon Theatre will feature a musician from Brooklyn and his animated creation: a cone-headed fellow named Gustafer Yellowgold who immigrated to Earth (Minnesota, specifically) from the fiery surface of the sun.

Gustafer's story is told through a combination of live and screen performances by his creator, 38-year-old Morgan Taylor, who sings, plays guitar and talks while animated illustrations are projected behind him. The images will fill a 41-foot-wide screen at the historic Avalon in Northwest Washington. The theater has offered Saturday matinees since its restoration by a neighborhood nonprofit group in 2003.

The illustrations are simple, featuring far less action than most cartoons or Disney movies. They evolved from drawings Taylor originally intended for a children's book. The songs convey Gustafer's appreciation for Earth's beauty, especially its pine cones, and showcase his friends: a flightless pterodactyl, an eel and a dragon. Song lyrics appear at the bottom of the screen, karaoke style.

"It was meant to replicate leafing through the book," says Taylor, a professional musician and lifelong doodler.

Parenting groups weary of the visual and audio intensity of many of today's entertainment choices praise Taylor's whimsical approach. Reviewers have compared his music to such baby boomer favorites as the Beatles and James Taylor. This week, New York Magazine named Morgan Taylor the best children's entertainer in the Big Apple. The mix of catchy tunes and offbeat stories has endeared Taylor, and Gustafer, to teenagers as well; the show has opened for such bands as Wilco and the Polyphonic Spree.

Taylor says he first drew Gustafer in the late 1990s to illustrate the "new releases" board at a record store where he worked in Dayton, Ohio. In 2004, he made Gustafer the center of his attempted book. "I knew that the main character was the yellow guy," Taylor says. "But I didn't know what his story was. . . . Where is the guy from? What does he do?"

The answers, Taylor says, were in the song "I'm From the Sun," one of several ditties he had penned over the years, between writing more traditional tunes for his rock band. Other playful songs were resurrected to tell the stories of Gustafer's pals. "I had all these little tidbits floating around in my head," Taylor says. "Like puzzle pieces waiting to be attached."

Eventually, Taylor shelved the book in favor of a CD-DVD package that was released in late 2006. A second CD-DVD followed late last year.


Here is an introduction to the main characters from Gustafer Yellowgold's world:

Gustafer Yellowgold: An Earth-loving immigrant from the sun, he is 10 years old in Earth years, according to creator Morgan Taylor, but slightly older in sun years. (Taylor isn't sure exactly how many sun years equal an Earth year, but he says Gustafer was old enough to leave home and settle in a remote part of Minnesota.) Gustafer has a passion for jumping on cakes and smashing pies.

Forrest Applecrumbie: This flightless pterodactyl is Gustafer's best friend. He is eccentric and fashion-obsessed. (He loves tuxedos.) He lives in a cave not far from Gustafer's house and is always available when Gustafer wants to talk.

Slim: A bright purple eel, Slim is forever indebted to Gustafer: The Sunpod that carried Gustafer to Earth landed in a lake where Slim was swimming and inadvertently crushed a predator about to eat Slim. Gustafer adopted Slim as his house pet. Slim sleeps in tube socks and is Gustafer's constant companion.

Asparagus: This dragon is another pet Gustafer rescued; he was found abandoned in a barn. Asparagus lives in Gustafer's fireplace.