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Even an imaginary friend needs a buddy

June 05, 2008|Liesl Bradner

Imagine flying to the moon in a paper airplane. Or an alligator made of origami. If you can envision a world where everything is made out of crayons and paper, then you're on your way to the make-believe world of the aptly titled musical "Imagine."

The story takes place at the end of summer when an imaginary boy named T-Rex (given the moniker by a dinosaur-obsessed real boy) finds himself left behind when his "real" friend goes back to school. In fact, discarded imaginary friends fill the playground, and T-Rex -- who at first is unaware of his pretend status -- goes on a quest to find a new friend.

"Everyone's had an imaginary friend," notes director Stefan Novinski. "They are a bridge to adolescence and help you learn how to be a friend, which is really what the story is about."

The musical -- with words and lyrics by playwright Doug Cooney -- begins and ends on a playground, but the heart of the story is a gigantic box of crayons center stage, which transports the characters from Africa and Antarctica to the Amazon and the moon.

"Doug doesn't put physical limits on anything," says Novinski, referring to a lively sequence in which a sandbox turns into a boat and the Amazon River magically appears, then T-Rex and his friends jump out of the boat into a playground which transforms into the jungles of Africa.

"He has this imagination that takes you to all these wonderful, amazing places," Novinski says of Cooney, adding that he was drawn to the production because of the lyricist-composer team of Cooney and David O.

Cooney has written a series of books including "The Beloved Dearly" and "I Know Who Likes You," and co-authored the children's books "Nobody's Perfect" and "Leading Ladies" with Oscar winner Marlee Matlin.

Cooney and David O have successfully collaborated on two other musicals, "The Legend of Alex" and "The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip," and were happy with the outcome. All three men at the helm are dads of young children and have backgrounds entrenched in children's entertainment.

David O, an award-winning composer (his most recent work "A Map of Los Angeles" was commissioned by the Los Angeles Master Chorale), is known to many local children as "The Professor" for his performances in "SummerSounds at the Hollywood Bowl," a summer family program of the L.A. Philharmonic. Both Cooney and David O are active instructors for "Voices Within," the educational outreach program of the L.A. Master Chorale, and Novinski recently directed "Toy Story: The Musical," another tale of friendship and loyalty.

When writing a play for children, Cooney says he consciously shapes the lyrics and the dialogue so they are accepted on a kid's level. But he also keeps the whole family in mind because kids don't come by themselves. "Everybody has to be entertained," he says.

Just try not to chuckle during the rock 'n' roll number "Laugh Out Loud" with the taunting lyrics: "You better not get close to me or milk might come out of my nose."

Imagine that!

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-- Liesl.Bradner@latimes.com

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'IMAGINE'

WHERE: South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

WHEN: 11 a.m., 2 and 4:30 p.m. Sat.; 2 and 4:30 p.m. Sun.; 7 p.m. June 13; 2, 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. June 14; 2 and 4:30 p.m. June 15

PRICE: $15 to $27

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

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