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WITH THE KIDS | STAGE REVIEW

Andersen fable teaches love

January 30, 2003|Lynne Heffley | Times Staff Writer

"The Fir Tree," Hans Christian Andersen's poignant fable of discontent and wistful regret, is rare Christmas fare compared to jollier children's shows, but weeks after the holidays, a modest, warmhearted staging of the tale is still going strong at North Hollywood's Secret Rose Theatre.

In this musical retelling by James Engelhardt, a young forest fir's dissatisfaction with its lot -- if only it were taller, if only it could see the world -- is echoed in the grumbling of a little boy named Eric (played by 12-year-old Amanda Martin).

Like the Fir Tree, Eric sighs for what he imagines will bring him happiness -- if only he were big enough to reach the best raspberry bushes, if only he had a popgun -- and misses pleasures of the present.

In the end, it is a sadder-but-wiser Fir Tree that, with its last spark of life, helps Eric understand that true happiness lies in giving and love.

Delicate little Martin holds her own among the likable grown-up theater pros in this Fire Rose Productions show, led by Steven Connor as narrator Hans and the Fir Tree. Amy Prothro, the most vibrantly musical cast member, is Eric's mother, the Wind, the Birch Tree and another mouse puppeteer.

Singing strengths vary, and the low-budget set's drab colors are a disappointment, but the moral of the tale goes down easy, thanks to David Avcollie's crisp direction, Carol Weiss' expressive lyrics and lively folk- and piano-in-the-parlor music, and scene-stealing cuddly puppets.

*

'The Fir Tree'

Where: Secret Rose Theatre, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood

When: Saturdays, 11 a.m.; Sundays, 3 and 6 p.m.; ends Feb. 16

Running time: 70 minutes

Cost: Children, $5; adults, $10

Info: (818) 623-4291

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