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THEATER REVIEW

Wanting to be an `Only Child'

South Coast Rep's first commissioned work for its Theatre for Young Audiences explores a what-if life sans siblings.

June 20, 2007|Lynne Heffley | Times Staff Writer

Tina wants her old life back. Before little brother and sister came along, when she was the center of attention. There must be a way ...

"The Only Child," South Coast Repertory's first commissioned work for its Theatre for Young Audiences, is a lively if a not-quite-ready-for-prime-time new musical that touches on many a child's fantasy: What would life be like without those pesky siblings?

After an introduction to the tale by Russian-flavored Mr. Ice Cream (a too heavily accented Nicholas Hormann), playwright Quincy Long and composer Dennis McCarthy place that scenario in an enjoyably off-kilter little house on top of an ice cream factory (on Donna Marquet's clever set, a giant ice cream box unfolds to reveal a living room).

There, elder sister Tina (Allison Case), yearning for only-child status, secretly persuades her younger siblings to run away from home. Lolly (Jennifer Chu) joins the circus, and Toby (Larry Bates) ends up in a prison for bad boys.

When Mother and Father (Jennifer Parsons and Tom Shelton) would rather find their missing offspring than celebrate the sudden downsizing of the family, Tina runs away too -- into the nether regions of the mysterious ice cream factory.

Her new surroundings are silent, dark and very, very cold, aided by lighting designer Christina L. Munich's vivid array of shivery shadows. Tina soon discovers why no one is allowed in this part of the factory and, in the nick of time, realizes how important family can be.

For good measure, Long stuffs the plot with other good-for-you messages about self-empowerment and being yourself.

Parsons and Shelton play multiple roles -- a prison guard, a circus clown, roustabouts -- allowing for some visual pop from costume designer Angela Balogh Calin. Meanwhile, Lolly's view of celebrity glamour bumps up against the reality of cleaning up after an elephant; Toby channels his own strengths through a "Power Boy" action figure.

The packed ingredients in this well-mounted production, however, while often entertaining, make for a lumpy mix. Despite able actors (adult professionals perform SCR's Theatre for Young Audiences shows) and director Stefan Novinski's nimble vibe, Long's plot pot needs more stirring; so does McCarthy's overstuffed blend of songs and sung dialogue.

"Life of a Roustabout" is the jaunty standout, and Case shades the wistful "Ice Cream Princess" with touching regret. But Bates has trouble staying on pitch in McCarthy's recurring, unmusical "Power Boy" solo.

Still, the score is mightily well-served by musical director Deborah Wicks La Puma's exceptional performance. Seated facing the stage, she's a one-woman band, matching the action with piano, cymbals, kazoo, harmonica, rain stick and assorted other instruments.

lynne.heffley@latimes.com

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`The Only Child'

Where: South Coast Repertory, Julianne Argyros Stage, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: 7 p.m. Friday; 2, 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 4:30 p.m. Sunday

Ends: Sunday

Price: $19 to $26

Contact: (714) 708-5555; www.scr.org

Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

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