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Catering to Young Tastes : Glendale Centre prides itself on its children's productions--and on mutual respect with its audience.

June 04, 1993|HEATHER W. MORGAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Heather W. Morgan is a regular contributor to Valley Life

Felicity Hamilton helps her granddaughter with the finishing touches--buttoning the back of her pink satin dress, straightening her newly made tiara and applying just a hint of blush.

After all, it's a special day for grandmother and granddaughter. Hamilton, who lives in London, recently arrived for her annual visit with her only granddaughter, Chelsea Boyd of Sylmar. Hamilton is treating Chelsea to the theater for her granddaughter's 6th birthday.

Not just any play, mind you, but "Sleeping Beauty" at the Glendale Centre Theatre.

"It's one of my very favorite stories," Chelsea said. "My mom loves to read old fairy tales before I go to sleep every night."

The event is nothing new for Hamilton and Chelsea, however. For the past several years they have seen a production at the Glendale theater, usually a classic fairy tale, for Chelsea's birthday.

"It's a wonderful tradition. We both really look forward to it," Hamilton said. "I can count on seeing a first-rate, professional production. My granddaughter can count on a good time.

"And instilling an appreciation for theater begins at a young age."

Tim Dietlein, the theater's director since 1984 and director of "Sleeping Beauty," couldn't agree more.

"I think we really know and respect our audience. They trust us," he said. "Kids need to be exposed to the theater so they can acquire a taste for it. And we've been doing children's theater here since 1981, long before it became as popular as it is now."

Nathan and Ruth Hale, Dietlein's grandparents, first opened the doors of this family-operated theater in 1947. In 1965, it moved to its current location, a New Orleans-style building that accommodates 430 seats in the round.

Initially, the theater produced three children's musicals a year, mixing classic tales such as "Cinderella," "Pinocchio" and "Sleeping Beauty" with original works. But the traditional stories were so popular, Dietlein said, the theater revised the schedule to concentrate on one production annually. "Sleeping Beauty" plays through Nov. 20.

Dietlein admitted the theater takes some liberties with the original story. This version of "Sleeping Beauty," adapted by Robert Porter and Jack Perry, for instance, has a cast of 13, including five somewhat unusual fairies and a pretty outrageous dragon. There are about a dozen musical numbers.

"We punch it up, have a good time with it. There's some adult humor thrown in so the parents have fun with it as well," said Dietlein, who noted that the show is appropriate for children from 3 to 12. "But for the most part, I think we're successful because we keep it commercial. We don't get preachy or try to get too educational. That can be the downside of some children's theater."

"I knew when I read for this part, that it was for me," said David Kozen, the Mission Hills actor who plays the enchanted dragon, one of the many popular characters in the show. "The kids love it. There's something really grand about being a big, funny old talking animal that brings excitement to the stage.

"But you have to be good. Kids are the most honest audience there is. They'll throw Gummi Bears at you if you aren't good."

Even before the production begins, there is a sense that "Sleeping Beauty" is a hit. Children are allowed to whirl and twirl and act out their fantasies on the stage before the lights dim.

Some, who have seen the show before, talk about the beautiful fairies--Everglow, Moonbeam, Dewdrop and Sunbeam--and the "yucky" one, Fairy Meany, who nobody likes.

Not long into the performance, the good fairies make an announcement, calling the names of those who have birthdays to join them. The children gather onstage while the audience sings a collective "Happy Birthday," and they receive a gift certificate for a souvenir in the lobby after the show.

"It was even better than I thought it would be," said Chelsea, who picked a sparkling wand for her present. "It was really magical."

WHERE AND WHEN

What: "Sleeping Beauty."

Location: Glendale Centre Theatre, 324 N. Orange St.

Hours: 11 a.m. Saturdays through Nov. 20.

Price: $8 general, $6 children.

Call: (818) 244-8481. Reservations suggested.

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