Cradled at the feet of Studio Olympus--a.k.a. Universal City--stands an unassuming testament to theater in Los Angeles named Theatre West. Photos of shows dating back to late 1970s provide a hint of the caliber of performances that have been seen here, but something is different today. Something is...smaller. Namely, the audience.
This is a special day for Theatre West. Aside from the show whose title usually glares from the marquee in either defiance of or homage to those gods on the hill (Thicker Than Water, which closed on February 27), a production of a different sort is playing to a diminutive but enthusiastic crowd. Storybook Theatre, a group of artists who delight in delighting children of all ages, are front-and-center with their version of Rumpelstiltskin.
If memory serves me correctly, this is a story about how some vicious little gnome dupes a lovesick wannabe princess into giving up her firstborn child (for some evil purpose, no doubt) by spinning gold from straw so she can wed Prince Charming. The only way she can reverse the bargain and avoid giving up her succulent newborn to this dwarf is to guess his enigmatic moniker. Which she finally does, and we all live happily ever after--except for our recurring nightmares about child-eating dwarves living under our beds. (Mom!!!)
While the Rumpelstiltskin story might seem a bit inappropriate for younger audiences in this P.C. world of ours, the Storybook cast and company have done a wonderful job of toning down the violence while keeping the kids--and their parents--tuned-in. Toes tap, voices old and new chime in with song. Little arms wave with enthusiasm as they strive to gain the attention of a more loveable Rumpelstiltskin played by Storybook regular David Brandt, who primes the crowd for the story to come. It isn't long before the would-be princess (played by the gifted Molly Reynolds) and her mother (vivacious Jacque Lynn Colton) are delivering lessons in song scored by composer Michael Paul. I even admit tapping my toes on many occasions; e.g., during "The Name Game Song" as sung by Prince Charming (fun-loving Matthew Wiedle).
But it's not all fun and games. In addition to the obvious moral messages about trying to win love with gold, and all the problems that can lead to--my 42-year-old brother should see this show!--the kids get a glimpse into the inner workings of theater as they meet one of the most feared and horrific of its denizens: The Stage Manager (Leesa Freed). Rather than the obligatory firstborn common to the classic version of Rumpelstiltskin, the gnome in the Storybook Theatre version wants the stage manager as his ultimate prize! But Rump and the kids soon learn that, in theater, nothing happens without the stage manager--not even the big number that Rump has been promising us throughout the show.
Will the princess guess the greedy gnome's real name? Will the stage manager ever be set free? Will the show go on? Why not do your family a favor, and go find out for yourselves? Produced by Barbara Mallory Schwartz and co-directed with her husband, Lloyd J. Schwartz (author of the show's book and lyrics), Rumpelstiltskin plays every Saturday at 1:00 p.m. through June 17. By the way, Storybook Theatre can accommodate birthday parties and school field trips; call 818-761-2203 for reservations and more information.