‘Gift Rap’ Is Wrapped in Giving


What would you ask for if you were offered the perfect gift? Three young people think they know, but instead they learn what giving is all about in the dynamic Richard Hellesen/Michael Silversher show “Gift Rap.”

The rockin’ and rappin’ children’s musical originated at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa and last year opened the Encino Playhouse’s season. Now it’s back to kick off the new Young People’s Theatre series at Burbank’s Victory Theatre.

It’s a worthy start, even in a less than ideal staging.

Part of it is the small theater space--it’s a tight fit for the show’s Epic Mall setting. Set designer Dwight Richard Odle’s giant gift-wrapped box that unfolds and expands to create various scene changes loses some of its magic in close quarters.


Also, both choreographer Nancy Benun and director Stephanie Angelini are tentative, overly conscious of the tight boundaries.

But playwright Hellesen and Disney composer Silversher have written a winner. And with a cast that’s mostly on the money, this bright mix of message and whimsy comes through.

Stand-out Sharon Thompson, with her full, melodic voice and assured stage presence reprises her role from the Encino production, playing the mysterious “Rapper” who guides the young people in their quest for the perfect gift. Liz Hewitt is another welcome Encino returnee, scoring high marks as greedy Vera, who’s avid to acquire her 42nd Boopsie doll.

The two male leads, David J. McGee and G.K. Holderer, are new to the show. Holderer, as bookworm Chuck, is personable and moves well, but struggles with the songs--the high notes elude him. Meanwhile, if McGee could add pizazz to his dancing, he’d be terrific. He reveals the poignancy in loner Dave; his expressive voice is surprisingly strong.

Overall, this “Gift” pleases.

“Gift Rap,” Victory Theatre, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank, Saturday-Sunday matinees, 1 p.m. Ends Sept. 29. $7. (818) 841-4404. Running time: 50 minutes.

Nibble, Nibble: A 12-foot-high refrigerator? An 8-foot-tall mop? Audiences might blink a few times when they see the Serendipity Theatre Company production, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” opening Sept. 13 at the Coronet Theatre.

Adapted from Laura Joffe Numeroff’s popular children’s book, this humorous two-character story about a boy and a mouse posed a special challenge for set designer Lyle Brooks.

“Everything is over-scale. You have to let your imagination go,” Brooks said. Since the boy will be played by a 6-foot-plus adult, and the mouse is a 4-foot, 7-inch teen-ager, Brooks must create--in addition to the refrigerator and mop--many oversized items, such as a giant drinking glass and straw, giant pencils and “a three-foot-tall can of Ajax cleanser.”

It’s not easy. “The larger you make something,” he said, “the less you can get away with. You can’t have a giant olive with a great big seam in it; it’s a matter of suspending disbelief for audiences.”

Another innovation, said executive director Jody Davidson, will be the mouse’s computerized headpiece, created by Long Beach-based animatronics designers Kim Hayes and Debbie Hayes. Davidson said that the intent is to make the characters “as much like the book’s illustrations as possible.”

Meanwhile, Numeroff is anxious, but “really excited” about her book’s stage debut: “I’m going to get a kick out of seeing the title on the marquee.” Will she see the play? “I’m going to be there every weekend,” she joked.