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Theater Critic

In the audience or on the stage, theater mesmerizes even the littlest of kids.

I made the chorus for an "Annie Get Your Gun" play in seventh grade, but looking back I am pretty certain the only reason I tried out for my school’s musical was because I had a huge crush on one of the leads. (And no, my stage presence didn’t lead his feelings to match mine…)

Since then I have entered no talent contests and sung few karaoke songs. The stage just isn’t calling my name. I can’t sing and although athletic, I would never consider myself graceful enough to learn various jazz, tap and ballet routines and actually perform for anyone.

But I truly admire those who do. I admire the tenacity and dedication necessary to put on any performance, not to mention the confidence and resolve an actor must possess.

This past weekend, I took my three kids to see the Pied Piper Player’s "The Wizard of Oz" at Bayside Performing Arts Center in San Mateo. Armed with a large pack of Red Vines, water, bubblegum, some patience and a whole lot of trepidation, I brought my kids to the 2 p.m. Sunday performance. We got there with little time to spare following a long run in the park to tire them out.

We were attending the play to see two of our cousins, who acted several parts in the play. My apprehension had nothing to do with the performance; rather my fear that during Scene 3 the spotlight would make it’s way to a fidgety little boy in Row L who wasn’t capable of sitting through a two-hour live performance.

We entered the theater and found our seats. Due to varying head heights, the seating arrangement was less than perfect, with my three little ones all in a row with me at the end – not exactly in the middle where my stink eye and shushing abilities were optimal. The curtain was drawn and off we went, lured by the musical mood of orchestra and visually captivated by the colors of the set backdrops. The singing and live acting held my kids interest for farther longer than I had imagined it would.

I did not hear a peep out of any child until intermission, and the words I heard then were of worry that the play might be over.

The story of the "Wizard of Oz" is mesmerizing in and of itself. But my kids were hypnotized with the songs and choreographed dance routines. I found them moving their little bodies to the music, clapping after each scene and laughing when appropriate. They were so enthralled with the performance that I didn’t once need to bribe them with candy or gum or even utter a whisper about their behavior.

It wasn’t until the curtain call that my kids piped up, in frustration that the play had ended. They wanted more. Yes, after two hours in a dark theater, they wanted more. And now, two days later, my 4-year-old has been suggesting we go see the play again, and again, and again. In fact, we might be seeing The "Wizard of Oz" again next weekend.

I am not sure I would have taken the kids to see a musical if we weren’t going to support our family members but I am so happy we did. This opens the doors to a host of indoor entertainment options for us, while opening their little eyes to so many new ideas.

So I was happy to read in Patch this week that there will be more opportunities for our children to get involved in live theater. The San Carlos School District and the San Carlos Children’s Theater have announced they will partner to provide more opportunities for children, bringing drama as an elective to both its middle school campuses. (Central has had drama as an elective in the past). It also names Mustang Hall at Central the new home for the San Carlos Children’s Theater, where main stage productions will take place.

At a time when state budget cuts are axing many beneficial programs in our schools, it’s nice to see a partnership form that is a win-win for all. Theater promotes so many positives in children, from group mechanics to imagination, problem solving, self esteem, public speaking and more. And you don’t even have to be on stage to feel the positive messages.

My family and I will be there to support community theater. Now, if my kids take after me, they’ll be seated with me in the audience. But who knows, maybe a few more plays and they’ll blossom a desire and unleash their hidden talents. Or maybe a cute and talented member of the cast will encourage them to sing a few Do-Rae-Me’s.

* The next San Carlos Children’s Theater production, "The Dracula Kidds" will be playing through Nov. 18, Fridays & Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m.

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