A beauty of a children's production

Mounting a good children's show can be like shooting an arrow into the air. Half a dozen factors have to fall into place to make that arrow hit its mark. You need experience, timing and talent. Good equipment helps. With their most recent Saturday morning offering, "Beauty and the Beast," the Glendale Centre Theatre has a hit.

The morning starts with the birthday roll call. Amazingly, there always seem to be a few more birthday boys and girls than the number of names called. Yet every one of them is rewarded with a squishy neon light toy. Very smart. The toys become part of the magical background during the between-scene blackouts, shining through the darkness like colorful bouncing stars.

When the lights come up, there's the happy feeling that you're safe in the hands of an expert ensemble. Songs move, jokes work, and characters stay in character.

As beauteous Belle, Samantha Claire is sincere and charming. And as the misunderstood Beast, Patrick McMahon is confident and appealing, even at his grumpiest. But as belle and as beastly as they may be, being a real meanie is just more fun.

Belle isn't the type to stamp her foot and yell, "Gimme, gimme, gimme," which leaves her sisters Ruby (Tracy McBurnett, truly a blond bombshell) and Sapphire (the wonderfully watchable Tosca Minotto) free to snort in delight at their own cleverness.

As the insufferably self-satisfied Gerrard, proud possessor of the award for Most Chest Hair Harvested in One Season, Derek Mahn couldn't be better. He even achieves a certain sweet innocence as he tenderly poses the Big Question to Belle — "So blah blah blah, when are we going to get married?'

Director Erin Villaverde has developed a fine eye for subtle detail. Gerrard can't just sit and listen to the sad tale of Belle's father (older pro Mario DiGregorio) — he has to sit on his bent over servant, that toady LaPew, (played by Derek Houck with more than a passing resemblance to a younger Wallace Shawn).

Best of all, the gently developing love story isn't rushed. After all, there are more than a few moms and dads in the audience who like that mushy stuff. This production is rated M.D. for moms and dads who want to enjoy the show as much as they want their kids to.

Intermission at the Glendale Centre Theatre is another word for playtime. Antsy children are free to frolic on the circle of stage just like the bigger kids they call actors. And if, after you bring the little ones to a few more plays, the kids are the ones shushing you just before the play starts, you're definitely doing your job.

Choreography by Emily Coddington is simple, engaging and clever. Minor flaws are just that — minor—when it comes to the overall excellence of the production. The warm castle fireplace could probably use a tiny red light to show its as warm as the actors say it is. Since Belle is wearing a dress when she twists a magic ring and is whisked away to the Beast's castle, it's not clear how she picked up her cape. And the Beast's curse is never quite explained, but having seen the movie, it's not hard to guess at.

Writers Brenda and Tim Dietlein have learned a nifty trick or two about keeping audiences of all ages entertained and involved. Their script is fast, funny, professional, engagingly honest and sometimes magical. Best of all, they know the magic words at the heart of this fairy tale aren't "abracadabra!" but "I love you."

MARY BURKIN is a Burbank actress and playwright and Glendale lawyer.


What: "Beauty and the Beast — A Children's Musical based on the Classic Fairy Tale" by Brenda and Tim Dietlein

When: 11 a.m. every Saturday until Nov. 20

Where: The Glendale Centre Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale

Tickets: $13 for adults, $11.50 for children 12 and under, $20 VIP reserved seating. Discounts available for groups of 15 or more.

Contact: (818) 244-8481 or visit http://www.glendalecentretheatre.com

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