Originally published on March 26, 2018
Several child actors had come in and out of the cast during the three-season run for ADVENTURES WITH KANGA RODDY. The memories of the experience still remain sentimental for two of them in particular: Cori (Najarian) Laemmel and Allison (Miller) Langley.
Both of them have been in the performing arts from a very young age, and both were being represented by San Francisco-based agents when they received calls to audition for the show.
For Langley, she remembered being really nervous for it. Laemmel, on the other hand, was more so worried about the dance aspect of the audition.
“I was not a dancer, but I came up with some little dance to ‘Teenager in Love,’ and it was also the only song I knew how to play on the piano,” recalled Laemmel, who wound up performing her audition to a recording of her piano rendition of the song.
Laemmel and Langley were two of the five original kids selected for the cast. The pilot was shot in San Francisco, before relocating to the former KTEH Studio in San Jose when the show got picked up.
Being a part of a show shot in the San Francisco Bay Area made for some interesting commute stories. With Laemmel in Santa Cruz and Langley in Martinez, they would have to get up really early, to get to San Jose for their 7AM call time.
“My mom was a single mom,” said Laemmel. “She worked two jobs and commuted back and forth with the first two seasons.”
She later added how the heaters in the car never worked properly, and so her mom would warm up a sleeping bag by putting it in the dryer, before bundling her up for the road.
For Langley, her mom had just recovered from cancer at the time, but that didn’t stop her from driving both her and fellow cast mate, Tyler Johnson, to San Jose.
The cast and crew was very tight knit, as both Laemmel and Langley explained. Coming to work on KANGA RODDY was equivalent to having fun with a second family.
Langley recollected on how during lunch breaks, she and Laemmel would put on music.
“Somehow we knew how to work the sound system, and we would turn on music and would be playing on set,” she reflected. “We would be singing and dancing and some of the camera crew would be in the sound booth area, taking little pictures of us, as we were having so much fun.”
Laemmel expressed her fondness for having the show’s co-creator, George Chung, in her life.
“George, being the absolute amazing human being he is, gave my mom a job on set,” said Laemmel. “She ended up taking a leave of absence from her job, so that she could have a job and still get me to and from [set].
“[Chung] was our knight in shining armor for so many reasons. He took such great care of us. He really did become like a second dad to me.”
Laemmel and Langley were both particularly drawn to the recording aspect of working on KANGA RODDY.
“I think [studio time] is some of my favorite times because you’re able to work on your craft,” explained Langley. “There’s something about wearing those headphones and singing into the microphone, you hear yourself and it changes you and how you sing. For me, it changed me how I sing, and that’s powerful.”
It was mainly during recording sessions that they saw the voice actor of Kanga Roddy, Mickey Thomas. Langley had mentioned how he did all his lines live when the pilot was shot.
Beyond those encounters and a couple events done together, Thomas was otherwise rarely seen by the cast.
Laemmel and Langley shared many scenes with Pat Morita, who kept them in line and served as a mentor.
“He was awesome,” reflected Langley. “He was definitely a character. We had lots of fun when we would film in the bookstore.”
“It’s almost like Disney,” she later added. “It’s like when you walk into Disneyland and it’s like this whole persona that they’ve created; this energy, this feeling. That’s kind of like how it was being in the bookstore. It was a very intimate set, and having Pat there, he was always great with us; very loving and caring, mentoring us with our lines and instilling confidence in us.”
In the present day, Laemmel, who has been living in Nashville the past 12 years, is now the artistic director of a non-profit theater company called The Theater Bug. In collaboration with local non-profits and groups, she writes plays and musicals centered on particular issues that have relevancy to the kids performing in them.
For Langley, who still resides in Martinez, she was originally pursuing music before she decided otherwise. After taking a long hiatus away from music, she now uses both voice alchemy and Ayurveda as a way of healing and helping others.
Looking back on KANGA RODDY, the experience made for a positive impact for Laemmel and Langley, and they commend the show for the important messages it brought to its viewers.
“One of the things that I loved about KANGA RODDY that I apply personally now is that I never felt like we were treated differently because we were kids,” explained Laemmel. “We were definitely treated like professionals. It didn’t feel like the bar was lowered. It wasn’t like, ‘Well, it’s just kids, so it’s fine.’ They had expectations that we can do great things and I think because of that, we did do great things. I feel that people underestimate kids and their abilities, especially when it comes to storytelling and performing. They’re so honest in a way that I think is harder for adults to be sometimes. I loved that I never felt patronized or talked down to.”
“KANGA RODDY and the morals it taught… there are not many television shows that are doing that,” said Langley. “I think KANGA RODDY really stood out for the music, the messages, and the imagination: the magic carpet ride, going to the magic bookstore, ending up in this alternative reality place, and learning these lessons of kindness, respect, and compassion.”