"Big Tush, Little Tush," an Immediate Theatre presentation at the Groundling Theatre in West Hollywood, plays like a show that started with a "cute" family anecdote, has outgrown it but doesn't know it yet.
Written by elementary school teacher Jeff Lantos--based on a story he wrote with his wife, LeeAn--the action begins when a little girl named Molly (Elisabeth Moss) wishes that her "tushie" wasn't "so small." A bigger bottom would mean a better view at the movies and not having to ride in the shopping cart at the store.
"A real big tush can be a real big asset," Molly confides, thrusting hers out and smiling. This coy moment is bearable only because 10-year-old Moss, a stage veteran, is so sweetly natural.
Mom (Nancy Lane) bemoans her own broad beam and warns Molly that she wouldn't want to be fat. Lane is skilled, svelte and attractive, but wears exaggerated padding, a gratuitous sight gag.
In the plot, Molly's tiny "tushie" (why not just her overall small stature?) enables her to crawl into a cupboard for some errant avocados and thus save dinner with Dad's boss from disaster. We're not talking serious conflict here.
Now for the good news. Molly's fantasy adventure in the cupboard, where she receives musical advice on liking herself from some singing, dancing boxes of pasta, cookies and cereal, including the King of the Cupboard (Lee Magnuson in Quaker Oats attire), is a kick.
The large company contributes high-caliber professionalism--Lane was the original Bebe in "A Chorus Line" and other "Chorus" alums here include director-choreographer Murphy Cross, Ron Dennis and Lee Mathis. Comic highlights feature Robert Sampson as Dad's ogre-ish boss and Peggy Mannix's delightful burlesque as a tough-talking P.E. teacher.
Eugene Rubenzer's role as Dad begs to be expanded. His musical soliloquies add heart to the facile "I'm OK, you're OK" message.
Hummable, jazzy songs are provided by composer-lyricist Robyn Hutter, with additional lyrics and music by Lantos. (The taped soundtrack was orchestrated and performed by Thomas Griep.)
Without the insular, precious "tushie" jokes and title--and the company's bland set--there's a gem of a show here, filled with energy, imagination and musical sophistication.
* "Big Tush, Little Tush," Groundling Theatre, 7307 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, Sundays, 2 p.m., indefinitely. $7-$10; (213) 934-4747.