They are upbeat, energetic and eager. The South Coast Repertory Young Conservatory Players, ranging in age from 10 to 17, are putting on a Christmas show and enjoying themselves hugely.
Their engaging presentation is Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen," adapted by director Diane Doyle and the cast, who make the most of an offbeat setting to tell the tale.
A brother and sister, homeless but not hopeless, are spending the night in a rundown abandoned hotel lobby. They are joined by 16 other children, equally poor but optimistic, who spend Christmas Eve with them while snow falls heavily outside.
To pass the time, the group decides to act out Andersen's story.
The evil Snow Queen (Lynelle Bundy, clad in a white bedspread) causes a sliver of Lucifer's shattered mirror to pierce young Kai (Robbie Sasine) in eye and heart, so that he forgets his love for his friend Gerde (Heather Redfern) and leaves his home.
The Snow Queen then takes Kai to her ice palace and Gerde sets out to find and rescue him.
The story is told using discarded bits and pieces lying around the old hotel. A wooden table is the riverbank, a small wagon is a rowboat, with a tennis racquet oar.
Christmas songs interrupt the action throughout, rather than seeming an integral part of the story, but the singing is pleasing, the voices light and sweet.
Dark-eyed Redfern takes her role as heroine seriously, expressively acting out Gerde's determined quest with a hint of poignancy true to Andersen's tale.
A few questions tug at the consciousness. We never know why all these children are alone, how they're able to stay in an empty building during a snowstorm without freezing, or why the electricity is still connected (the lights go out briefly as the storm gets worse). They have nothing to eat, but plenty of enthusiasm and ferocious Christmas spirit.
If these are all homeless street children, they've sprung to life from a fairy tale of their own.
Diane King is musical director. The effective set is adapted from an original design by Mark Donnelly; lighting design is by Steve Retsky.
Performances run through Sunday, with matinees at 1 and 3 p.m. on Saturday and at 3 and 5 p.m. on Sunday. (714) 957-4033.