When New York's veteran youth theater company Theatreworks/USA is on, it's a treat. And this touring ensemble is on in its comic, fast-paced production of Jules Verne's "Around the World in 80 Days," which began a brief tour of Southland public venues last Sunday at the Norris Theatre in Rolling Hills Estates.
There's still time to catch it: The final two shows will be at Caltech's Beckman Auditorium on Saturday and at Pepperdine's Smothers Theatre the next weekend.
Clever staging, crisp timing and an engaging professional cast of adults bring the adventure to life as the complacent British gentleman Fogg (Peter Herrick) and the resourceful Passepartout (Kenneth Atkins) team up to win a bet by traversing the globe in record time by ship, train, hot-air balloon, camel, elephant and on foot.
Along the way, they're joined by an Indian princess (Giselle Jones) and various colorful characters (played by Fred Maliszewski and Brian McMullan), and their every move is dogged by Scotland Yard's finest (Peter J. Regan).
Written by Allan Knee, with incidental music by Jeffrey Lunden, this spare production makes the most of every condensed moment, as Fogg saves his fortune, expands his horizons and makes friends in unlikely places.
Rob Barron staged the show originally; Ken Wiesinger directs the touring version. Thomas Baker is credited with creating the droll animal puppets and the surprisingly effective simple set; costume designer Anne-Marie Wright gives the characters a 19th century look without cutting corners.
* "Around the World in 80 Days," Saturday, 2 p.m., Caltech's Beckman Auditorium, Michigan Avenue south of Del Mar Boulevard, Pasadena, $5-$9, (800) 423-8849, (818) 395-4652; March 1, 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., Pepperdine University's Smothers Theatre, Malibu, $14, (310) 456-4522. Running time: 1 hour.
"Bocon!," Lisa Loomer's unusual, atmospheric play for children about a boy who loses his voice and flees north after his parents are "disappeared" in his Central American village, has been given an effective revival by P.L.A.Y. (Performing for Los Angeles Youth), the Mark Taper Forum's youth theater company.
Directed by Timothy Douglas, with evocative music and percussion by Ed Barguiarena, the play conveys serious messages about immigration, repression and empowerment with surprising humor and a sense of wonder.
La Llorona, the crying woman of Latin American legend, guides the boy's quest to find his voice and freedom, which takes him from a mythological palace to a U.S. immigration hearing.
Douglas and the adult ensemble--Kevin Sifuentes as the boy and Latins Anonymous co-founder Armando Molina, Joe Camareno, Maricela Ochoa, Angela Moya and Michelle Lopez in multiple roles--keep the action flowing.
Wolfe Bowart's masks add vivid interest, as do Carol Guidry's choreography and Geoff Korf's lighting design. Candice Cain's costumes and Rachel Hauck's rocky set design complement the production.
* "Bocon!," Saturday, 11 a.m., Cal State Northridge's Performing Arts Center, 18111 Nordhoff; March 1, 3 p.m., San Miguel Parish, 2270 E. 108th St., Watts; March 8, 3:30 p.m., Agape Church, 1904 Centinela; March 16, 12:30 p.m., L.A. County Museum of Art, Bing Theatre; March 22, Los Angeles Central Public Library, 630 W. 5th St.; March 29, 3 p.m., Plaza de la Raza, 3540 N. Mission Road. Free except Bing Theatre, which is free with museum admission. (213) 972-7674. Running time: 50 minutes.
All youth theater is not alike. Often it's not the presentation but its age-appropriate material that separates it from adult theater. At times, however, it is simply "kiddie theater," birthday party-type entertainment for young children.
And that's what you'll find at the Roxy Theatre in its latest children's venture, "Winnie-the-Pooh," featuring an Equity cast of four adults and one youth.
As such, this blandly amiable musical based on A.A. Milne's tales is a diversion geared strictly to preschoolers and very young school-age children. Owl (Daniel Halkyard), Pooh (Jeff Asch), Kanga (Karen Angela), Eeyore (Gregg Lawrence) and young Evonne Sturm (Piglet and Roo) perform in costume against a painted backdrop, making popular forays into the audience.
Audience volunteers are called on, too--hugging Eeyore was the favorite interaction at the show's opening performance.
A welcome dash of spice is offered by director Halkyard's W.C. Fields-style turn as Owl and by the best of composer-lyricist Tim Nelson's songs, "Fiddle With the Middle of a Riddle."
* "Winnie-the-Pooh," Roxy Theatre, 9009 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, Saturdays-Sundays, 1 p.m., indefinitely. Birthdays accommodated; children's lunch menu available. $8-$10. (310) 550-8651; (213) 480-3232. Running time: 1 hour.