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Theater Review:

‘Imagine’ a smart youth show

June 05, 2008|By Tom Titus

What’s the difference between boogers and broccoli? Kids don’t like broccoli.

If the youthful playgoers take away anything from “Imagine,” South Coast Repertory’s latest Theater for Young Audiences production, it probably will be that juvenile joke. It’s certainly retold enough during the show’s brief running time.

While there, however, kids will learn a valuable lesson in friendship — real and imaginary — from Doug Cooney’s entertaining, if occasionally inaccessible, story, amplified by director Stefan Novinski’s colorful presentation.

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“Imagine” focuses on a boy (James Michael Lambert) who discards his imaginary friend (Brett Ryback) only to find himself discarded — in a box of crayons. The faux friend, meanwhile, attaches himself to another kid (Dawn-Lyen Gardner) for a series of out-of-this-world adventures.

There are three other actresses who do double, triple and quadruple duty in a variety of supporting roles, the most impressive being Jamey Hood, at her best as an effervescent purple crayon. Meaghan Boeing and Diana Burbano complete the cast, primarily as a pair of predatory princesses.

Cooney delves into a youngster’s private world as he details the problems of introverted children and an imaginary friend who, at least for staging purposes, appears more real than either of them.

Ryback excels as the mythical T-Rex, delivering a three-dimensional, emotional performance, miffed at being sidelined by Lambert’s character but excited at the prospect at sharing new adventures with Gardner.

Of course, the two real kids, each in need of a living, breathing friend, are bound to connect.

Against a splendidly colorful series of backdrops by Donna Marquet and some eye-catching costumes by Angela Balogh Calin, the show sparkles visually even if some of its aspects lack clarity. The segment involving the “princesses,” for instance, could easily have been discarded for a tighter production.

Musical director and arranger Deborah Wicks La Puma, working with composer David O’s bouncy score, keeps the atmosphere light and airy, assisted nicely in that regard by Sara Wilbur’s choreography. The performers — Ryback and Hood in particular — bring an infectious comical presence.

SCR’s Theater for Young Audiences program is designed to pique youngsters’ imaginations, and “Imagine” will accomplish this goal with a flourish.

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