“The Princess & the Frog” charms kids and adults at Theatre West’s Storybook Theatre

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jackiehouchin110BY JACKIE HOUCHIN

It takes a lot of imagination, excitement and action to keep young kids entertained for more than an hour these days, and the Storybook Theatre at Theatre West has achieved that in “The Princess and the Frog,” their happy new musical-play for children.

Co-written by Lloyd J. Schwartz and Hope Juber (music/lyrics by Hope and Lawrence Juber), the story, the songs and dances, and the fanciful, larger-than-life characters, charm the kids from the moment the lights dim.

(An interesting family sidebar — Lloyd and Hope’s father is Sherwood Schwartz, creator of “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Brady Bunch.” Lawrence Juber, Hope’s husband, is a renowned musician, best known for his work with Paul McCartney and Wings).

First to enter is the sparkly, bubbly Fairy Hyacinth (played by Mary Garripoli), who quickly enlists several children in the audience to hold on to cans of vegetables “until the Prince asks for them…whenever that may be.”  This grabs their attention and prepares them for more interaction with the actors later.

Parents quickly see (and appreciate) from the words of Hyacinth’s first song – “Nothing’s more important than DOIN’ good” – that there are lessons to be learned in “The Princess and the Frog.”  (But what good fairy tale doesn’t have a moral or two?)  When we first meet The Prince, we know what ONE lesson will be!

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Jenn Wiles and Paul Denniston in "The Princess and The Frog," presented by Storybook Theatre at Theatre West. Credit: Matthew Hoffman.

The cute and definitely charming Paul Denniston arrives on stage carrying two hand-held mirrors which he uses flamboyantly to primp and preen his handsome self while singing, “Nothing’s more important than LOOKIN’ good.”

Of course we know what happens. Good-natured Hyacinth turns him into a Frog – warts and all – until he can learn to “be handsome on the inside” too.  His lively song “Croak Croak, Ribbit Ribbit” has the children gleefully hopping and singing along with him.

The Princess (pretty and perky Jennifer Wiles) has a few things to learn too.  She’s spoiled and bored…and she breaks promises. But her father, the King (Anthony Gruppuso) loves her and helps her do what’s right, including – kissing a frog!   (And don’t worry the cans of veggies play into the story at the end.)

The actors are obviously experienced in working with children, and almost without exception persuade them to come up on stage and take part in the story (although the shy ones are never pressured to participate).  For parents and grandparents, seeing their offspring “perform” is nearly as entertaining as watching the play!

Simple sets hint at a forest and the castle’s interior without overpowering the characters or the children, and the music is upbeat and catchy.  A short intermission with supplied cookies and punch allows the little ones a chance to get rid of the wiggles and use the “facilities.”

The theatre states “Birthday parties are cheerfully accommodated,” and indeed they are. The Special Child is introduced, the Birthday Song is sung, and then after programs are autographed by the actor/characters, the partygoers go back inside for a Birthday lunch and cake on stage. (Contact the theatre for information and pricing.)

“The Princess and the Frog” plays Saturdays at 1:00 pm through February 27, 2010.

Theatre West is located at 3333 Cahuenga Blvd, West, in Los Angeles (just across the 101 from Universal City, near Studio City). There is FREE parking in the large lot across directly Cahuenga.

Admission is $10 for children, $12 for adults.  For reservations, call (818) 761-2203 or visit www.theatrewest.org

About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.