With its truly giant "Giant," professional direction and design, and a lively hero, the musical "Jack and the Giant" is an appealing effort by the amateur, all-female Nine O'Clock Players at the Walter Lantz Magic Auditorium.
This group, a service of the Assistance League of Southern California, has been putting on fairy tale plays for children for 50 years; many of its actors are in the fiftysomething age range themselves. Quality has varied, but enthusiasm, a sense of fun and unself-conscious, credible performing skills go a long way under L.A. Ovation Award-winning director Nick de Gruccio, who has smoothly shaped the show with the company's strengths in mind.
An enjoyable Jack is a big plus. Doretta Lee has a bit of trouble with the high notes, but with her Buster Brown hair, gamin charm and agility, she's just right as the boy hero. Knowing she's 60 years old, applying the word "spry" might seem appropriate, but to do so would convey an ageist implication that doesn't do justice to Lee's remarkably youthful performance.
Written by Tim Kelly, with pleasant music and lyrics by Bill Francoeur, this "Jack" is slightly different than the usual telling: A ransom must be raised for Good Queen Violet (Jillian Mathews), kidnapped by the Giant (Jodi Gilbert), and the queen's subjects are being dunned for back taxes accordingly. Things don't look good--until Jack sells his cow (Joyce McGilvray), of course, acquiring those magic beans and climbing to the rescue of queen and kingdom.
The imaginatively conceived beanstalk ascent is one of the show's visual highlights.
The cast doesn't quite have assured comic rhythms down, although Judy Claverie as both a villager and as the Giant's busy housekeeper, has a notably deft comic touch. The musical numbers are nicely done for the most part, and there are a few standout moments: "Market Day," a dance of vendors in colorful, movable stalls; "There's Never Enough Food," sung by the voracious Giant's servants; and "Run, Jack, Run," a well-staged chase scene with musical commentary done in chorus.
On the down side: a prolonged first act and some ear-irritating over-miking, especially in Pam Schroer's too-loud, too Wicked Witch of the West performance as a troll henchman.
The Giant is an unusual sight. Gilbert, who does a fine job, is swathed in an enormous beard and walks on stilts, towering over the other actors. It's a nice effect, although Gilbert's head looks inordinately small over the padded torso and long, padded legs. A large hat or oversize hood might better serve the illusion.
Larry Sousa's storybook set design, Caitlin Guyan's lights and Carol Onofrio's costumes have professional polish; musical director Betty Vincent provides rollicking piano accompaniment.
* "Jack and the Giant," Walter Lantz Magic Auditorium, 1370 N. St. Andrews Place, Hollywood, Saturday and Sunday, 2 p.m. $8. (323) 469-1970. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.
Holiday Special: The 12th annual "Chanukah at Home Concert," stories, songs and lots of audience participation with children's music favorites Dan Crow, Uncle Ruthie Buell, J.P. Nightingale's Pam Wood and Fred Sokolow, will be held Sunday at Temple Beth Shir Sholom. The performers will be joined by Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels and cantor Steve Puzarne.
* "Chanukah at Home Concert," Temple Beth Shir Sholom, 1827 California Ave., Santa Monica, Sunday, 3 p.m. $10 per adult; $8 ages 3 to 12; ages 2 and under, free. (310) 453-3361.