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Bob Baker Returns With Holiday Puppet Revue

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Veteran puppeteer Bob Baker shows he’s back holding the reins at the Bob Baker Marionette Theatre with “Make a Wish!,” an especially happy holiday puppet revue for ages 2 and up.

Santa Claus, Rudolph, twirling bells, spinning dreydls, dancing lights and silver robots delight the audience; fat-cheeked elves get kissing close and dreamily waltzing couples whirl by. The little wooden boy who lisps out “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” is a comic favorite, and when the bells turn into dancing ladies, eyes widen in surprise. “Oohs” and “ahs” greet the glittering finale.

The appeal in Baker’s shows has always been their old-fashioned coziness, beautifully crafted puppets and simple revue format. Those elements are here in generous measure, but there is something else: Whether by design or necessity, Baker offers a new clarity that hasn’t always been evident in the past. Although this isn’t new material--it’s similar to other holiday productions at the 28-year-old theater--the taped dialogue and songs are streamlined and the set and puppet changes are clean and quick, allowing the minimum time for attention to wander.

Baker’s youthful new company shows an occasional tentativeness but keeps things smooth and easy.

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(This is the first show Baker has produced--with partner Alton Wood--since his return in July of this year. Baker, who had sold the theater in 1988, regained ownership after financial troubles almost shut its doors.)

If you’ve driven by the theater at the corner of 1st Street and Glendale Boulevard, just outside downtown, and been put off by the undeniably depressed, graffiti-peppered surroundings, don’t be. The decorative clowns that trumpet a welcome outside the square white building won’t steer you wrong: inside is a living room-like space, carpeted in red, with silver stars on the walls and a sparkling chandelier overhead. Behind plush, gold-fringed curtains, the puppets await.

“Make a Wish!,” Bob Baker Marionette Theatre, 1345 W. 1st St., Sat., 10:30 a.m., 1:30 and 4:30 p.m.; Sun., 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. Also Dec. 23-Dec. 30, call for schedule. Indefinitely. $8. (213) 250-9995). Running time: 1 hour.

Act It Out: Where can kids get up on stage and break-dance, pretend to slam dunk with Michael Jordan or disarm a monster? At “Kidprov!,” the junior version of the long-running theater improv show “Los Angeles Theatersports,” both at Theatre/Theater in Hollywood.

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“It’s a spinoff,” said Ellen Idelson, “Los Angeles Theatersports” co-artistic director (with Dan O’Connor). “It gives kids a chance to interact with the players and have their ideas come to life on stage and it allows them to be spontaneous and creative.”

Unlike “Theatersports,” which uses no props or costumes and is set up as a competition with judging, “Kidprov!” “is more story-oriented,” Idelson said.

“We have a story wheel that a volunteer spins before each story, determining whether it will be a Western, a teen-age romance--that’s a favorite--science fiction, Aladdin’s adventure, a musical, or something scary.

“Then we ask volunteers to come up and dress the characters from a pile of props. Our narrators tell the story and freeze the action and ask the audience what happens next, or why did he say that, or what makes the character shy, afraid, or funny.

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“They’ll shout out answers that will surprise us,” she said--such as giving a monster bad breath or, during the Gulf War, choosing Saddam Hussein’s house as a setting, “but we fully embrace the suggestion and make it work,” she said.

Some of the theater games include “Tell Me What to Say,” where the audience fills in the players’ dialogue, “Pictures From My Vacation,” where volunteers pretend to be part of a slide show and “Chance of a Lifetime” where a volunteer gets to act out a cherished fantasy, such as flying a plane or even getting ears pierced.

One 5-year-old, Idelson said, threw the cast when he said he’d always wanted to “rope a house.” But they created a “whole Western scene and had the audience be the house,” Idelson said. “Afterward, the boy said, ‘I meant a horse, but this was just as fun.’ ”


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