At the Swedish Inn's Show Boat Dinner Theatre in Woodland Hills, Little Broadway Productions' lunchtime musical by Rob Bowers is an eye-pleasing--and lengthy--version of the classic "Beauty and the Beast."
Jerry Abbitt's simple set design features backdrops painted like watercolor story-book illustrations. Costumes by Marilyn Weitz and Sylvia De Flores are not sumptuous, but do have a plain charm--and Victoria Cockrell as Dark One is an imaginatively delicate evil spirit, clad in diaphanous wisps of gray. The Beast's toothy catlike mask was designed with care by Barbara Poznik.
The plot is chock-full of fairy-tale complexities: sibling rivalry, blatant parental favoritism, revenge, a goody-goody heroine, a hero with a furry face and fangs, and a happy ending that solves all, without benefit of psychoanalysis.
The cast does a respectable job with it all, though Lynda Jane Thalkray's high-velocity portrayal as a Dickensian widow named Truffles La Brouche, often leaves her out of breath.
Don Borroughs wears his feline mask well: He allows the Beast a hint of pathos and doesn't yield to exaggeration.
Foolish Papa La Fleur (Gregg Lawrence) makes no secret that he favors Beauty: He refers to his other offspring as the "piglets."
Beauty (Chrys Caraway) is rather self-consciously good. One thoughtless moment in Bowers script finds her startlingly callous: When her father assumes that Beauty wishes her mother was alive again, she tosses off "Oh, Father, don't be maudlin," then blithely sings a song.
She does sacrifice herself to the Beast's clutches in order to save her thankless family, and if she rather enjoys her martyrdom, well, who can blame her? Her brothers and sisters sing, "I'll love her forever, for saving my hide," as they urge her on her way.
At more than 90 minutes, plus an hour for lunch, this "Beauty" ends up being a long afternoon for young children, despite its pleasant trappings. Aside from a brightly sung self-congratulatory paean called the "Family La Fleur," Bowers' score is repetitious, and director Weitz could easily trim some stage business with Truffles and the La Fleurs.
Performances continue at 19817 Ventura Blvd. on Saturday and Sunday at noon. (818) 884-7461.