The Empress and Her New Clothes

Adults who find themselves dragging a kid to a children's theatre experience aren't often rewarded with mesmeric joy gracing those easily bored and distracted little faces. Aside from finding an inordinate number of remarkably sly and funny lines snuck into Lori Marshall and Joseph Leo Bwarie's engaging book and lyrics for older folks to appreciate as they zing over smaller heads, grownups will also soon realize that, for some blessed reason, pintsized spectators stay miraculously subdued this time around.

Directed with tongue in cheek by Bwarie and featuring an infectious score by Rachael Lawrence, this modern fairy tale offers more than standard children's fare, without even one frog turning into royalty with a well-placed kiss. It's instead more Princess Diaries meets Project Runway, as a lonely young Empress-aren't they all?-travels to a Parisian fashion school to compete in a student design contest. Selah Victor is appropriately woebegone in the title role, and Christine Lakin is wonderfully evil as a scheming Malibu Barbie competitor ready to sabotage the competition. Tom Hines could win over Ebenezer Scrooge as the Empress' stiff-lipped British chaperone and an American newscaster covering the event while he practices his announcer's voice to boost his career ("Hey kid," he asks an audience member, "does my hair say 'anchorman' to you?"). Brad DeLima is delightful and sweetly charismatic as the Empress' prospective beau, and this singer sure can tap-dance. But the true scene-stealers are that subtle comic genius Beth Kennedy as the school's fashionable headmistress; Phoebe, the tiny Chihuahua who seems incredibly at home in front of an audience; and the costume designs by Lou Carranza for these latter two multi-specied performers continuously paraded onstage in grand entrances reminiscent of Loretta Young's.

The coolest thing is how charmingly this musical introduces theatre as a viable alternative to Game Boy and Nickelodeon for a new generation of potential patrons as it delivers a message to future adults that, as Kennedy gently intones at the end, people "never win with greed." Would that some elder statesmen should happen to escort their grandkids to this production and accidentally learn that lesson themselves.

Presented by and at the Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank. Sat. 1 & 3 p.m., Sun. 1 p.m. Apr. 8-May 28. (818) 955-8101.