The wolf's initials are B.B. in Imagination Station's version of "The Three Little Pigs," and in this romp at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre, that stands for "Billy Bob," not "Big Bad."
Billy Bob has a story to tell that isn't quite the way the familiar tale is usually told. . . .
This new original play from the smart and comic Imagination Station company has rough edges--the pacing wears long, with a few too many plot twists that go over the heads of the youngest audience members--but with some polishing it would be another treat in the company's repertoire of fractured fairy tales.
Here, Billy Bob Wolf (Jake Eberle) shares what happens the day his peaceful forest home was disrupted by three greedy porkers planning to chop down trees and clear land for their "One Stop Slop Shop" and parking lot. ("Of all the forests in all the world, they had to come into mine," moans Wolf.)
The show's hilarious highlight comes when pig siblings Peter (Jon Reed), Paula (Jennifer Brandt) and Patsy (Shari Getz) won't listen to reason and the Wolf tries to reach his congressman, Quack E. Duck, by phone. He's stymied by the automated "Animal Assistance Audix" system: "If you have feathers, press 1; if you have a shell or exoskeleton, press 2; if you have opposable thumbs, press 3" and finally, "If you have no appendages or are dialing from a rotary phone, stay on the line. . . ."
When Wolf finds out that Congressman Duck has gone south for the winter, he makes nonviolent attempts to stop the development, but the pigs are undeterred by warning signs he posts: "Danger, Killer Bees," "UFO Traffic," "Tornado Alley," etc.
Desperate, Wolf disguises himself as building supply store owner Dolly Sheep, sending her off to Hawaii by making her think she's the big winner in the "Publisher's Shearinghouse Sheepstakes."
His aim is to minimize the piggy damage with environmentally sound building advice, but his disguise has an unexpected effect: Peter Pig falls in love with the Wolf in Dolly Sheep's clothing, and more complications ensue.
That's a lot of story to fit into an hour or so and it feels as if the ensemble was a little too ambitious. All the references are amusing--the Wolf's disguise inspires dialogue from Little Red Riding Hood, Dolly's clones show up (Brandt plays all the sheep roles), and Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf" is a delightful surprise musical joke. But timing wasn't tight enough, on opening weekend at least, to smoothly accommodate quite so much cleverness. Particularly when the cast also works in the "huffing and puffing" part of the story, Wolf's public hearing to stop the development and audience participation.
Even so, the show's a hoot; judicious trimming and a tighter pace would make it a more memorable one, especially for younger audience members.
* "The Three Little Pigs," Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. Saturdays, 10 a.m. and noon; Sundays, 11:30 a.m. Ends April 5. $5-$7. (310) 828-7519. Running time: 1 hour.
Taking Notes: Classical music and jazz are the basis for an unusual performance event for ages 2 1/2 and up, "Nathan & the Time Machine." The production of local children's piano school Piano Play features a cast of music students. Written by Sharon Shaheed and Phoebe Simpson, it will take audiences back in time, guided by J.S. Bach himself, with "appearances" by Chopin, Mozart, Liszt, Duke Ellington, Mary Lou Williams and Peggy Lee.
The show is a benefit for Piano Play's Music Enrichment program, providing music instruction for schools in low-income areas and music therapy for special-needs children. It is co-sponsored by L.A. Parent magazine, KKGO-FM (105.1) and KGIL-AM (1260/1650).
* "Nathan & the Time Machine," Cal State Northridge Performing Arts Center. Saturday, 7:30 p.m. $8-$12.50; VIP tickets, $25, and Sunday, 2 p.m. $4-$8; VIP tickets, $20. (213) 480-3232; (818) 677-2488.
Bus Stop: "Scholastic's the Magic School Bus--Live! Arnold's Favorite Field Trip," a touring stage show, rolls into Southern California April 4 through 6. Based on the popular educational PBS TV series, the musical spectacular features eccentric teacher Ms. Frizzle, her game band of students and her reptile sidekick, Liz the Lizard.
The adventure begins when Arnold accidentally activates the "shrinkerscope" and miniaturizes his class to Popsicle size--inside his pantry. Hazards they face as they attempt to escape include a giant banana cream pie.
The professionally staged show, which has been selling out across the country, "is about bridge construction and teamwork," said co-creator Barbara Simon, "and it has great special effects. The school bus is on hydraulics, and it dances across the stage; when the children supposedly shrink, the props are huge and there are lights and smoke and black light."
* "The Magic School Bus--Live!, Arnold's Favorite Field Trip," Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, April 4 at 2 and 7 p.m. $12-$17, (714) 854-4646; Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale, April 5, 2 and 5 p.m.; April 6, 10:30 and 7 p.m. $14-$22; under age 12, $10-$15. (800) 812-8997, reference code ITSKIDS.