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CHILDREN'S THEATER REVIEW : Humor Is 'Beauty's' Best Feature : This Broadway on Tour production keeps tongue in cheek as it recounts the tale of a royal family bewitched by a grudge-bearing fairy.

January 29, 1994|CORINNE FLOCKEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

ORANGE — As any wide-awake young prince knows, to be truly gallant, you must encounter risk. Fire-breathing dragons could give you a nasty burn, and the local giant could smoosh you faster than you can say fee-fi-fo . . . well, you know.

It gets worse. You may find yourself (ewwww!) kissing a virtuous maiden to free her from a wicked fairy's spell.

Talk about sacrifice.

That's the way Prince Charming looks at it in Broadway on Tour's "Sleeping Beauty," a musical one-act adaptation with music by Norman Sacks and book and lyrics by Barbara Fried.

Presented by a cast of nine 8- to 15-year-old actors, this "Beauty" keeps tongue in cheek as it recounts the tale of a royal family bewitched by a grudge-bearing fairy. Rhesa Gloeckler directs this bite-sized musical, which continues through March 6 at the Broadway on Tour's theater in The City shopping center in Orange. The show is suitable for children ages 3 to 10.

Unlike the Disney film version, in which the prince is seen but briefly, this telling allows viewers to get to know him more intimately. The fairy demographics are altered, too: Instead of three fairy godmothers, Princess Beauty is aided by just one, and Prince Charming (or "P.C.," as his pals call him) has a fairy godfather all his own--a Rodney Dangerfield/Marlon Brando hybrid who provides many of the show's funniest moments.

Fried's script keeps within shouting distance of the familiar tale. The family of king, queen and baby Beauty are intact, and the foul-tempered fairy who was passed over as the child's godmother still wreaks her vengeance by casting a spell that, on the child's 16th birthday, sends the kingdom into a deep, presumably eternal sleep. As mentioned, the prince arrives on cue, plants a peck on the lady fair and breaks the spell.

Tolerably presented, "Sleeping Beauty" can usually hold young children's attention, and this production does that handily. Laurie Holden's straight-from-the-storybook costumes don't hurt either (the fairy godmother's gown is a confection of pink netting and glitter that any 5-year-old girl would covet).

But Fried's script also sneaks in some puckish humor for older children and adults, both in the dialogue and in lyrics spiked with wordplay and the occasional, truly awful pun.

*

Gloeckler has given the whole shebang a melodramatic gloss that's appealing as well. Front-row audience members (the first two rows in the house are reserved for children) are included in the action from time to time, and children and adults are encouraged to boo the bad guys, applaud the hero and shout advice to the characters whenever the mood strikes. At Saturday's performance, the mood struck often.

The cast, featuring children who have appeared in past B.O.T. shows or are enrolled in the company's theater-training program, carries the whole thing off rather well. The kids seem at ease in their roles, suggesting that each of them helped develop their characters, rather than being shoehorned into them by the director.

*

Fifteen-year-old Ryan Buttes, nattily turned out in gangster pin-stripes and a fedora, is a riot as the fairy godfather who must arrange a suitable adventure for his charge. Garret Baker, 11, and Stephanie Boyd, 14, complement each other as the prince desperate to be a hero and the bewitched princess conveniently in need of one; and Carlos Ascencio and Lisa Stier, both 11, make a comic sweet-and-sour match as the king and queen.

Thirteen-year-olds Daina Baker and Melissa Shaw have some prime moments as the Fairy Godmother and the Bad Fairy; imagine Barbie and Roseanne Arnold going head to head, and you have an idea of what to expect.

By the way, Beauty isn't the only one looking for a hero at this theater. According to a company spokeswoman, come June Broadway on Tour will lose the space at The City the troupe has occupied since last summer, and so far, board members have been unable to find a new permanent venue.

* "Sleeping Beauty" Broadway on Tour theater in The City shopping center, 20 City Boulevard East, Suite 138, Orange. Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. $5. Ends March 6. (714) 385-1555. Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes. Carlos Ascencio: King

Daina Baker: Fairy Godmother

Garret Baker: Prince Charming

Stephanie Boyd: Princess Beauty

Ryan Buttes: Fairy Godfather

Wendy Holden: Page

Melissa Shaw: Bad Fairy

Lisa Stier: Queen

Brandon Wildish: Page

Presented by Broadway on Tour. Book and lyrics by Barbara Fried. Music by Norman Sacks. Produced by Laurie Holden. Directed by Rhesa Gloeckler. Choreography: Kimber Jacobs. Set: Neil Caplin/Production House. Lighting: Laurie Holden and Dan Halkyard. Costumes: Laurie Holden.

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