Personable puppets among stage arrivals

A Little Like Magic Conceived and directed by Diane Lynn Dupuy. ``A Little Like Magic'' gleams and glows in a dazzling extravaganza of ``black light'' color and movement.

Dozens of puppets and props (manipulated under ultraviolet illumination) dance, careen, and soar their way across the Lyceum Theatre stage in the New York debut of Canada's much traveled, much honored Famous People Players.

Movement, music, and sound effects are the keys to the performance, which begins when a dashingly clad but otherwise invisible M. C. sashays forward to introduce the proceedings. A smiling Liberace, replete with candelabrum, takes the stage followed by a train of characters from the worlds of fur, fin, feathers, and show biz.

The star-studded puppet cast includes Elvis Presley, Kenny Rogers, Liza Minelli, Barbra Streisand, and George M. Cohan -- singing loud and clear from the amplified sound track while animated by the anonymous puppeteers.

The worlds of fairy-tale fantasy intermingle with film and stage musicals in an entertainment that's more than a little like magic. These Canadians are equally at home in jungle, outer space, or dinosaur graveyard (with xylophone effects). They soar with astronauts and Pegasus. They salute Miss Liberty. They also offer their own versions of such classics as ``The Sorcerer's Apprentice'' and ``The Swan'' (comic style).

A show-tune medley begins suitably with ``That's Entertainment,'' visits ``42nd Street'' with huge, tapping feet, celebrates ``A Little Night Music'' by sending in a clown, and pays respects to, among others, ``My Fair Lady,'' ``Oklahoma!,'' and the aforementioned ``George M.''

``A Little Like Magic'' was conceived and directed by Diane Lynn Dupuy, C.M. (Canada Medal) with indispensable visual art effects by Mary C. Thornton, Ms. Dupuy's mother. Ten of the 15 puppeteers onstage at the Lyceum are developmentally handicapped, thus demonstrating practically the company's dedication to the integration of such individuals as productive members of society. Proceeds from the Broadway engagement (through Dec. 7) will be used to help finance the founding of a Toronto doll and toy hospital which will offer employment to the handicapped in an integrated work and teaching environment.

Because of the show's appeal to young audiences ``A Little Like Magic'' performs as follows: Monday (8 p.m.), Wednesday (2 and 8), Friday (8), Saturday (2 and 8), Sunday (2 and 5). Alterations Play by Leigh Curran. Directed by Austin Pendleton.

Familiar tensions threaten to burst the ties that bind the family depicted in Leigh Curran's ``Alterations.'' Erica (Gretchen Cryer), the central figure of the new comedy drama at the WPA Theatre, is a hard working, hard pressed costume designer with a retort for every occasion and a compulsion to rearrange the furniture in her Greenwich Village apartment. Erica's most pressing problems involve the fragile state of her elderly mother, Biesel (Jane Hoffman), and the resistant attitude of her teen-age daughter, Phoebe (Cynthia Nixon).

Erica has planned a low-key surprise dinner to celebrate the arrival of a letter advising that Phoebe has been accepted at Harvard. Unbeknownst to her mother, Phoebe has been seeing a guru and is determined to join his suburban ashram. Unbeknownst to Biesel, Erica has forged the old lady's signature on an application for space at a retirement home. Such are the breakdowns in mother-daughter relationships.

Responding to an emergency call, Erica's estranged husband Peter (Wayne Tippit) arrives on the scene and strives manfully to introduce a modicum of unselfish consideration among the womenfolk.

After a final blowup, it seems that even religiously inclined Biesel and agnostic Erica may achieve a reconciliation.

Ms. Curran has created a theater piece whose humor helps ratify its authentic observation. Austin Pendleton's staging grasps the emotional crosscurrents, conflicts of wills, and deliberate misunderstandings that can so complicate family life.

Ms. Cryer gives an uncompromising performance as the abrasive and dominating Erica. Ms. Nixon is marvelously true to the well-armed self-confidence of a youngster defending her own new vision. Ms. Hoffman's sometimes childishly stubborn Biesel demonstrates the capacity of a fragile elder to manipulate even a hearing aid for her own purposes. As the well-disposed male mediator, Mr. Tippit loses his cool only under extreme stress. Pretty Mary Kane adds to the complications and comedy of ``Alterations'' in the role of a young actress who arrives for a costume fitting.

The WPA Theatre production has been well designed for the occasion by Edward T. Gianfrancesco (setting), Craig Evans (lighting), and Don Newcomb (costumes). ``Alterations'' runs through Nov. 16.

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