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Family | Arts Zone

Kids Believe in 'Wendy and Peter'

November 02, 2000|LYNNE HEFFLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's got a little flying, mild comedy, tuneful songs, colorful sets and costumes. But the Nine O'Clock Players' latest show, "The Adventures of Peter and Wendy" isn't the familiar Broadway musical spectacular. Modest though it may be, it's a nicely packaged, genuine entertainment with a quality look.

In the attractively rustic and comfy Walter Lantz Magic Auditorium, with its warm wooden interior--barn-like beams and exposed rafters, plush seating and carpeted aisles--the all-female company, directed and choreographed by Todd Nielsen, performs with assurance. The cast aims to please, and succeeds. Their singing voices are strong, and for the most part, they portray male roles with conviction in Carol Weiss' well-crafted original musical version of James M. Barrie's story.

Tall and striking Jodi Gilbert as the perpetually petulant Captain Hook, Sheila Swicker as his hapless foil, Smee, and Judy Claverie as Lost Boy Slightly are particularly fun.

Tricia Schaetzle makes a nicely athletic Peter Pan, although her confident boyish bravado is offset somewhat by makeup that enhances rather than de-emphasizes her feminine features. Still, when she asks the audience to help bring Tinkerbell back to life by joining in the chorus to the wistful song, "Believe" ("I believe, I believe in you"), the eager response, and the applause when Tinkerbell (a dancing light) flashes back to life, attest to how thoroughly caught up children are in the play.

And when Peter has vanquished Hook and said goodbye to all his friends, and stands alone at the wheel of Hook's ship, Schaetzle has the subtlety to make it an affecting bittersweet moment, her face reflecting Peter's sadness, then awareness that the next adventure awaits.

Christine Cooper's Wendy has a sweet warmth and so does Jeannette Johnson's Mrs. Darling. Johnson's tender rendition of "I Will Keep a Window Open in My Heart," as Mrs. Darling sings her children to sleep, is quite lovely. (Musical director Nick DeGregorio deftly plays live accompaniment on piano and keyboards.)

Set designer John David Paul has skillfully given the show the look of a pop-up book, with layered set pieces, and Carole Onofrio's unstinting costumes, with one major exception, are regulation Peter Pan--green tights and tatters for Peter, nightshirt, top hat and brolly for Michael, ruffly nightgown for Wendy, and Captain Hook in feathered tricorn, red frock coat, ruffles and bows.

The exception is Madame Crocodile. Played with great relish by Jan Cobler, this croc is tres chic in strappy gold high heels and an ensemble made of what appears to be green and gold lame--a nipped-waist jacket trimmed with long crocodile tail over sleek fitted trousers. Cobler's satiny chapeau is the croc's head, the toothy upper jaw extending over her glamorously made-up face.

The look suits her big moment in the spotlight, "I Wanna Cook Pirate," which begins as a torch song, then segues into a wacky pop number with a pair of gowned and masked "Crockettes" singing backup. As she croons about her culinary options to come, Mme. Croc slowly accessorizes her outfit with a lobster bib decorated with Hook's hook, a frilly little apron, a chef's hat, and carving utensils.

The Nine O'Clock Players, an auxiliary of Assistance League of Southern California since 1929, hasn't always been as tidily polished as the company has become over the last several years, even though the actors' depth of ability still varies, and the literature-based children's shows remain formulaic. But frankly amateurish efforts of the past seem to be just that.

With careful casting, with professionals to direct, design, write and compose the shows, and with the lovingly maintained theater itself, the company shows a genuine commitment to raising the bar.

"The Adventures of Peter and Wendy," Assistance League Playhouse, Walter Lantz Magic Auditorium, 1367 N. St. Andrews Place, Hollywood. Sundays, 2 p.m. through Nov. 19. Also this Saturday, 2 p.m. $8. (Ticket sales help fund weekday shows for schools and physically and mentally challenged children.) Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. (323) 469-1970.

Storybook Theater: Golden State Theatre has put on some winning shows with professional quality, but its song-and-dance production of Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book," is of the well-staged, school-play variety. It features a large cast of child and teenage actors at varying levels of experience, with more seasoned adults in a few key roles, such as Ed La Bay, who adds a flicker of humorous menace as wicked tiger Shere Khan ("It's lonely at the top. If only I can make my hunger stop," he sings).

The best number, choreographed by Janet Miller, is a lively "Jungle Jive," danced by Kyle Junginger as Young Mowgli (Justin Alonzo plays the teenage Mowgli) and Durand Ford as Baloo. At last weekend's show, Junginger, who has a confident stage presences but is in the show all too briefly, got an unintentional big laugh when his black wig flew off. He didn't miss a step, though.

The show was written and directed by Adriane Coros, who also wrote lyrics and music with Kate Barrett and Raun Yankovich.

"The Jungle Book," La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada. Friday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 2 p.m. $8. (562) 944-9801. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

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