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Good, Clean Fun : The cowboys are in and the villains are out in 7-year-old Storybook Theatre's latest production for children, 'Yippyayo!'

March 26, 1993|HEATHER W. MORGAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Heather W. Morgan is a regular contributor to Valley Life

Last year, Jean Levinson's daughter went to a Storybook Theatre production with her preschool. She was skeptical that her very shy 4-year-old, who also has some minor learning disabilities, would benefit from the experience.

"She really came out of her shell during the show," said Levinson, a Woodland Hills resident who now takes her daughter and 6-year-old son to many children's theater performances. They have seen Storybook Theatre's present show, "Yippyayo!" three times.

"We really wanted something that would grab the boys as well as the girls," said director, producer and actress Barbara Mallory Schwartz, who created Storybook Theatre seven years ago with her husband, Lloyd. "Cowboys are always in. They're just good clean fun. We get birthday groups that whoop and holler and receive cowboy hats as their party favors. They love it."

The play, written by Lloyd Schwartz, centers around the fictitious old-style Western town of Yippyayo, with a population of four: Belle Starr (Tracy Carter), Wild Bill Hiccup (Tim Noyes), Davy Crockett (James Reeder) and Calamity Jane (Barbara Mallory Schwartz).

Naturally, there's a villain, the evil Dirty Dan (Eugene Pack), who haunts the town with his dusty and unkempt ways, trying to destroy the cleanliness of Yippyayo. But in the end, the good guys, with the help of the young audience, win out. Dirty Dan cleans up his act without a single shot being fired.

There is lots of singing, dancing and all-out silliness as the audience is asked to participate almost as much as the actors.

"You know it's a good show when you find your children singing the tune of 'Yippyayo!' several days later," said Marge Chairchick of Brentwood, a Storybook Theatre patron for years. "At the end, when the cast asks for partners to the 'Yippyayo Square Dance,' there usually isn't enough room for all the kids that rush the stage.

"Some shows for kids get too eccentric, too far out," said Chairchick, who has a 7-year-old daughter and an infant son. "But Storybook always knows its audience."

"We've been around long enough now that our regular parents know they can trust us. Our plays are geared for 2- to 8-year-olds," said Barbara Mallory Schwartz, who has appeared on stage in "Heidi" and was Squeaky Fromme in the 1976 CBS-TV movie "Helter Skelter."

The hourlong show provides a 10-minute intermission for juice and cookies. And following the show, kids can obtain autographs from their favorite character.

The actress began her career with the Minneapolis Children's Theatre troupe, known for its exciting and innovative productions, she said. When she first moved to Studio City, there wasn't much in the way of children's entertainment, so she and her husband produced "Little Red Riding Hood" at Studio City Park. The troupe, which resides at Theatre West, has done more than 10 shows.

"Musical comedy is my thing, so this is perfect," said Carter, who plays Belle Starr and has performed in several Storybook productions. "What makes Barbara and Lloyd different is that they know how to capture that sense of joy and wonder on stage."

But it isn't until the curtain closes that a real sense of delight, and satisfaction, can be heard by young voices as they review their experience.

"You know, I didn't like Dirty Dan. He was yucky," Jessica said. "Well, at the end, he was OK because he finally took a bath and got clean!"


What: "Yippyayo!" at Storybook Theatre at Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Universal City.

Hours: 1 p.m. Saturdays, through May 22.

Price: $7 adults, $6 children.

Call: (818) 761-2203.

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