A journey with universal appeal

Times Staff Writer

Toys come to life for a penguin kid in bunny jammies, and a familiar bedtime story is a springboard to flights of fancy that lead all the way to the Milky Way in "Goodnight, Opus," Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia's treat of a touring production that began its Southland stops last Sunday at the Norris Theatre in Rolling Hills Estates.

It goes on to the Carpenter Performing Arts Center this Sunday and Smothers Theatre on Jan. 25.

The show is adapted from the children's book by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist-illustrator Berkeley Breathed, starring his bulbous-nosed penguin creation, Opus, and assorted other eccentric characters. With its graceful puppetry, wacky humor and dreamlike, seemingly gravity-defying black-light imagery, it's a gentle delight for all ages, made especially for young children.

The adventure begins with Opus' bedtime, as his Grandma -- a larger-than-life-sized soft puppet -- is reading that kids' staple, Margaret Wise Brown's "Goodnight Moon" "for the 210th time." Opus, who's been playing with his toys -- a kissing cow; a red balloon; Biped, a dinosaur-like beast with "toes taffy blue" -- yearns to depart from the familiar text and have his own bedtime adventure: a flight to the Milky Way.

After Grandma dozes off, Opus, Biped (enormously come to life) and a timorous new friend, Balloon, head for the stars on a flying bicycle, encountering a very large tooth fairy, an airplane, and some "sailors of the Blue Mist Lagoon" who are fishing for the moon. They also make a comfort stop in Washington -- where President Lincoln leaves his marble memorial for a refreshing swim with Opus. Their sparkling Milky Way destination is filled with happy kissing cows.

It's wacky as all get out but never manic. Draped panels are smoothly and quietly shifted to change scenes. Skilled puppet manipulation makes each character a quirky individual. Because many of the puppets are on rods -- including different-size versions of the central characters, the moon, sailboats and an airplane with a 19-foot wingspan -- much of the action floats gently above the stage.

Composer Scott Macmillan's jazzy score enhances each sweet and silly moment. Directed by the show's designer and scriptwriter, Jim Morrow, the company members who work the magic are narrator Bill Carr, Sandra Klass, Graham Percy and Shane Monk.

Finally, when Opus is back snug in his bed, Grandma pursues her own magical "good night" adventure, and her dramatic mode of flight makes for an "ooh-ah" finale. An entertaining question-and-answer session wraps it up.


'Goodnight, Opus'

Where: Carpenter Performing Arts Center, Cal State Long Beach, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach.

When: Sunday at 2 p.m.

Price: $9-$12

Info: (562) 985-7000.

Running time: 55 minutes


Where: Smothers Theatre, Pepperdine University, 24255 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu.

When: Jan. 25 at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Price: $17.50.

Info: (310) 506-4522, (213) 365-3500.

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