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A Slight but Entertaining Lesson on the Wright Brothers

August 03, 2000|LYNNE HEFFLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When a pair of fifth-graders stumble through their report about the Wright Brothers and their teacher suggests the class turn it into a play, out comes a rack of early 20th century-era costumes and painted set pieces for a tuneful history lesson, "American Heroes: The Musical Fable of the Wright Brothers," at the Secret Rose Theatre in North Hollywood.

Written and directed by Mark Towner, a former Ringling Bros. clown and Emmy-winning host of KABC-TV's "Kids View," and composed by children's recording artist Mark Beckwith, the show is slight but entertaining, based on the pair's sing-along audiocassette and performance script for schools called "Following a Dream."

Performed by a lively professional cast, with Adam Gentle and Joseph Hogan in the leads, and choreographed by Towner and Chrissy Brantley, the quick song-and-dance jaunt through Orville and Wilbur's early attempts at flight, and their first success at Kittyhawk, includes a feisty supportive sister (Ashley Bee), some skeptical townsfolk, an independent female reporter (Shari Becker) and a "never give up your dream" message.

Towner pretty much steals the show himself, however, as he pads out the 40-minute matinee with a comic "curtain raiser," playing straight man to his wisecracking puppet, Isaac. As audience members are seated, Isaac engages them in conversation and good-naturedly heckles latecomers; then Towner reads a fairy tale and deals with Isaac's laugh-provoking interruptions. It's such a polished, genuinely funny act, you can't help but wish it lasted longer.

BE THERE

"American Heroes: The Musical Fable of the Wright Brothers," Secret Rose Theatre, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. Saturdays, 3:30 p.m. Runs indefinitely. $10; $7, children; two or more children, $5 each. (818) 766-3691, Ext. 5.

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