‘Carnival’ Fun and Energetic


“Lili,” a Leslie Caron vehicle from 1953, was one of the first films to later be turned into a Broadway musical, Bob Merrill and Michael Stewart’s “Carnival” from 1961. In both versions, the story--about a young woman who believes puppets are real and joins a troupe of traveling performers--is as fluffy and ephemeral as spun sugar.

The musical’s book and score are done in pastel colors, with Disneyesque birds twittering in the distance. It’s just the sort of fare for a youth-theater production like this, where actors’ ages range from 8 to 22: There is enough PG-rated raunch for the older performers and some butterfly-brained dialogue that even the youngest can handle.

At the La Habra Depot Theatre, Jack Millis has directed a staging with energy and has imbued his company with a sense of fun. With a show like this, that’s the name of the game.


Melinda Koen is delightful as Lili, charming and believable, and with a light soprano that sparkles in all her numbers. John Blaylock is a good match as the puppeteer Paul, who dreamed of a career as a dancer until an accident left him limping and bitter. Blaylock has a solid baritone and a sense of humor just underneath the edgy surface of his characterization--a shading that lends depth.

Lili falls head over heels over Marco the Magnificent, but his pushy assistant, the Incomparable Rosalie, is intent on making Marco her own. Sean Singer and Amanda Loomer have a lot of fun in these roles: Singer is lecherous, Loomer is bawdy, and both sing well.

As Schlegel the carnival boss, Stephen Reifenstein gets almost exasperated enough at times but never makes the character as shopworn and sleazy as he really should be. At the performance reviewed, understudy Dave Morris replaced Joel R. South as Paul’s good friend Jacquot. Morris was notably confident and at ease, particularly during his solo production number, “Grand Imperial Cirque de Paris.”

Carlene Woerner’s musical direction and Melanie Jacobson’s choreography were lively enough to keep the energy high. Still, the best moments were those with Koen and Blaylock, separately or together.

* “Carnival,” La Habra Depot Theatre, 311 S. Euclid St.. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Ends May 3. $8-$10. (562) 694-4264 or (562) 905-9708. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.



Melinda Koen: Lili

John Blaylock: Paul

Sean Singer: Marco the Magnificent

Amanda Loomer: The Incomparable Rosalie

Dave Morris: Jacquot

Stephen Reifenstein: Schlegel

A La Habra Depot Theatre youth production of a musical by Bob Merrill and Michael Stewart, directed by Jack Millis. Produced by Chris Montgomery and Suzanne Seidler. Musical direction: Carlene Woerner. Choreography: Melanie Jacobson. Scenic design: Linda Garen Smith. Costume design: Kathy Busby and Cyndi Hukel. Lighting design: Jeff Warner. Stage manager: Todd Kulczyk.