As often happens in fairy tales, a moment of moral indiscretion leads to the kind of trouble that's frequently solved by curses, potions, or magic spells, which then have their own tendencies to go awry. Here these fanciful elements exist in an original tale by Denise Devin, who co-directs with Zombie Joe. Unfortunately her script stumbles over a shift in focus and relies heavily on cutesiness in story, song, and character, plus excessive mugging from the actors.
Granted, the target audience for The Princess and the Frog is mostly still wearing onesies and Pampers and is not especially discerning. Still, the focus of the play need not wander so aimlessly. We start with forgetful, mean Queen Lureen (Alison Cardoso), who has forbidden strangers to come to her land because a decade earlier her heart was broken by a man who broke a promise to her. So when Prince Chris (Caleb Land) and his assistant, Bob (Alastair Surprise), ignore the warning signs about strangers as they pass by, Lureen magically turns Chris into a frog and Bob into a mouse. Only a kiss will break the spell.
When frog-Chris and mouse-Bob meet Princess Jennifer (Susie Cremin) and her maid, Cathy (Jana Wimer), the girls agree to kiss them in return for a favor. Naturally they break their promise and scamper away. This should all tie back to Queen Lureen, who must have a revelation about broken promises, face the fears that have kept her isolated and alone, and deliver—or receive—the obligatory moral message. Instead, the focus shifts to Lureen's sister, Queen Maureen (Devin, on the afternoon reviewed) and her daughter, Princess Jennifer. Poor, forgetful Lureen, whose story this is, becomes practically forgotten. What's not forgotten are the audience of youngsters, who jumped at every chance to participate in the show—and there are many—and who didn't care about the script's flaws. Their enjoyment certainly equals a primary success for the show. With some rewrites and a toning down of the overly aggressive foolishness, other successes are possible, as well.
"The Princess and the Frog," presented by the Limecat Family Theatre at ZJU Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Sat. 1 & 3 p.m. July 24-Sept. 4. $6-8. (818) 202-4120.