Yet another thing you might not know about Hale Centre Theatre in Gilbert is that they present a Children's Theatre series -- shows especially for little squirts, with whom, in case you haven't checked lately, the east Valley is simply overrun. Naturally, because we care, Curtains is thrilled to tip you off to ways you can entertain and wear down the small children in your life.
The plays are for young audiences, but experienced adult actors play adult characters, so you can rely on the solid production values you'll generally find in a Hale show. The current Children's Theatre offering, The Princess & the Pea, has been running for about a month, and it continues into June, because these shows are presented just once a week, at a Saturday morning matinee. It's kind of a nifty system that leaves both the venue and the performers available for more complex, time-consuming projects during the rest of the week.
I'm a little surprised the theater wasn't more packed -- it could be the series hasn't built much word of mouth yet, or perhaps our discerning, princess-obsessed audiences aren't ready to let Hans Christian Andersen's heartwarming tale of a sleepy young woman and a dried legume into their hearts, because it hasn't been Disneyfied into cultural saturation. (Technically, Andersen didn't make up this story, or several of his other tales, and he was the first to admit it, but he got them written down in his inimitably droll style and popularized for succeeding generations.)
One of the nice, homey things about Hale that's even cooler with a young audience is that the performers come out to the lobby in costume to say hello, sign autographs, and pose for photos when they play's over. Everyone is popular, but as Tabitha, the Queen's cat, Ashley Letizia was definitely a favorite, and her performance was quite good, too, incorporating an adorable costume by Pam Osborn, the physical control of a dancer, and the cute grouchiness of, well, a cat.
I enjoyed the other performances, too, including Tyler Pounds' portrayal of young Prince Valient (that's how Michelle Vera, who adapted the story for the stage, apparently spells it). Pounds plays naive and good-hearted in an earnest, believable fashion. Even if that's not a stretch for the baby-faced MCC student, he rounded out the character and won the audience over.
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In his quest for a bride, Valient and his squire, Donald Dunce (Kevin Whitaker, goofy and charming) meet several princesses with whom the prince doesn't quite click. These actresses do quite a bit of doubling, and they ably adjusted more than just their wigs and dresses to play multiple characters.
I'm not nuts about Vera's script -- I'd prefer something that grown-ups can enjoy a bit more, as well -- but it does make some positive statements about romantic compatibility, incorporates just enough slapstick, gives the kids in the audience opportunities to participate, and stretches what is really a very short story into two brief acts that nearly make sense.
The Princess & the Pea continues through Saturday, June 26, at Hale Centre Theatre, 50 West Page Avenue in downtown Gilbert. Tickets are $10 and $12; order here or call 480-497-1181. Girls in the audience are encouraged to dress up all princessy, but when I attended I saw a diverse mix of wardrobe choices, from super-cute sundresses to the smallest, most fully outfitted Cinderella I've ever seen, and everyone looked comfortable. Kind of like a night in Old Town Scottsdale, if everyone there were 5 years old (instead of just acting like it).