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Big Stars, Little Theater


The Falcon Theatre in Burbank is a playhouse for little kids and big actors. Dedicated to bringing live family entertainment to the San Fernando Valley, the 99-seat theater develops productions for adults and brings some of Hollywood's best talent to the local stage.

"First-timers come in and look up for a screen," said theater founder Garry Marshall, better known for his TV and movie directing. "They don't realize that it is live. Part of our interest in children's theater is interactive. After every show, kids meet in the lobby and get autographs. They see it's not so scary--it's acting."

During weekends this summer, the theater presented "Funny Bones," a series of kids' matinees with entertainment ranging from music to mime. Opened in November 1997, the commercial theater has separate productions in the evenings geared toward adults.

"We're trying to have stars appear at the theater who you only see in movies or TV--you don't see them live," Marshall said.

While many actors do not have six months to work on Broadway, a six-week engagement at the Falcon is easier to schedule, he said. Many appear for one-night-only readings. Such well-known actors as Al Pacino and Annette Benning have performed there.

"Being in the theater improves your acting skills 100% because you have time to rehearse your craft," said Jack Klugman, who performed at the Falcon in "Death of a Salesman." "An intimate theater takes away the need to project, and when you don't have to project that much you feel more comfortable."

Marshall, an award-winning comedy writer, producer and director, said, "You can't make a living with 99 seats, but you hope some show that starts at the Falcon will go on to Broadway."

Marshall, who has lived in Toluca Lake for nearly 40 years, said he created the family theater so old friends and new talent could work together.

Marshall secured his foundation for family theater in the basement of his Bronx apartment where his mom, a dancing teacher, put on shows for kids and their parents. It also helped to have a dad who made industrial films.

In his first Hollywood job, Marshall, mentored by comedian Joey Bishop, wrote comedy for the "Jack Parr Show" in the late 1950s. Marshall later created and produced several shows for TV, such as "Happy Days," "Mork and Mindy" and "Laverne and Shirley." He also directed several movies, including "'Beaches," "Runaway Bride" and "Pretty Woman."

Even with all his expertise, Marshall has some formidable tasks.

"The biggest challenge that most intimate theaters have to face is informing the public that their show is up and running," said Lars Hansen, president of Theatre Guild Alliance, known as Theatre LA, a service organization for theaters. "And trying to market to the vast Southern California marketplace when resources are limited to the number of seats a theater has."

Said Marshall: "Theater is important because it's live. It is the only medium that technology doesn't own. Anything can happen."

Performances are held Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3:30. All tickets are $30. The fall schedule for kids' productions kicks off Sept. 16-17 at 1 p.m. with a new comedy version of "Rumpelstiltskin."


Falcon Theater, 4252 Drive, Burbank, (818) 955-8004. Box office (818) 955-8101.

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