- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 9, 2002

''Pearl," a children's musical commissioned by the Kennedy Center, combines choreography a la Britney Spears, Michael Jackson tunes and a modernized version of the Grimm Brothers' "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."
Debbie Allen wrote, choreographed and directs the piece, so one expects plenty of "Fame"-like dancing. Some of it is very good, such as graceful Vivian Nixon's flowing, delicate moves.
Vivian, Miss Allen's daughter, plays Pearl (Snow White in the original story), who constantly is chastised by her stepmother, the Queen, portrayed by none other than Miss Allen. Charm, or Danny Tidwell, another promising young dancer, loves Pearl.
Other dance highlights include the Sentury Sircus performance, which is where we first encounter the Dwowns (the dwarfs). The back of the stage is lined by a trampoline on which dozens of young dancers vault, jump and spring in a steady stream it's almost visual overload.
Costumes by Timm Burrow are tight and colorful and very cute when it comes to the Dwowns, miniclowns who probably are about 6 or 7 years old.
The dance performances during the forest scene, when Pearl gets lost while looking for the Dwowns, also are delightful. The trees dancers on stilts and Medusa-like upper bodies come alive, threatening to engulf tiny Pearl.
The show's strengths are the choreography and dancing, while the singing and acting lag. A listener has difficulty telling whether all the singing is done live or whether some of the actors might be lip-syncing to the music, composed and/or arranged by Diane Louie, James Ingram and Miss Allen.
Also, Miss Allen's microphone wasn't turned up enough, so one could hardly hear her; some of the others, especially the Dwowns' shrill voices, were a challenge to many an eardrum.
Matt Dickens, cast as Pearl's father and the story's narrator, also was too loud and sometimes out of tune.
Although Miss Allen's acting is convincing and over the top as the Queen, many of the youngsters are a bit tentative in their deliveries.
The stage is mostly bare, except for a prop or two, which seems appropriate because it allows for the close to 40-member cast, 35 of whom are young local dancers, to perform all at once.
Miss Allen has updated the Snow White story in sometimes witty ways.
She asks a computer, Virtual Shirley instead of the original story's mirror if she is indeed the most beautiful woman in the land. Phyleia Rashad, Miss Allen's niece, portrays a character that sits inside a pink box, supposedly a computer.
The updating, however, also includes language that doesn't seem appropriate in a family performance.
Including more than 30 young local dancers makes this production feel much like a school performance. It has its glitches, sound and otherwise. If you can stand the occasional eardrum buster, silly story and uneven singing, however, this musical could be for you.
It's a 75-minute family performance, full of cute children, some promising young dancers and a self-effacing Miss Allen.

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