"Mother Goose: The Musical" at Theatre West is the Storybook Theatre Company's latest stage offering for toddlers, an unpretentious effort that works as "kiddie" fare but falls short of being a fully realized play.
In the scant script by Hope Juber and director Lloyd Schwartz, nursery rhyme characters have disappeared from the pages of Mother Goose's storybook. Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, Humpty Dumpty and Jack set out to find them, not realizing that Spider--as in "Itsy-Bitsy" and "Little Miss Muffet"--has lured their friends away.
Audience participation is a big and popular part of the proceedings. There is no lack of eager response when children are asked to recite familiar rhymes or to take the stage and cuddle with Mother Goose, slide down the slide with Jack or sit on a tuffet beside Spider.
But the play has a pallid, loose feel. The unimaginative nursery room set (uncredited) doesn't change, although the action shifts from place to place. A lack of cohesiveness means an uneven, slow transition from audience interaction back to the plot line, and the competent but low-wattage cast maintains inconsistent control.
The audience noise level during the show's opening performance was impressive.
With children so young, a cast has to take special care not to have its energy eclipsed, something only Charles Dougherty's bouncy Jack and Leslie Caveny's tough guy Spider avoid here. The others are too low-key to match the enthusiasm and mercurial mood shifts of their tiny patrons.
Toni Deaver as Mary and Wayne Vetter as Humpty Dumpty need to sparkle and enjoy themselves. Judith Piquet, who is Mother Goose, has a lovely singing voice but isn't the central presence she should be.
The music, by Hope and Laurence Juber, consists of hummable tunes that, with more commitment from cast and director, could go far in holding audience attention. Cutting the 10-minute intermission and trimming a few minutes from the hourlong play would make the experience easier for the youngest (and their parents) to handle.
\o7 Performances continue at 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West through April 30 on Saturdays at 1 p.m. Tickets are $5. (213) 465-0070.