Still flying off the shelves at a mature -- but ever-svelte -- 47, Barbie hardly needs to hustle: her level of job security is one that we mere mortals can only envy. So why has she hit the road, embarking on a two-year, 80-city tour culminating, if all goes as planned, with a Radio City Music Hall extravaganza? The goal is not mere product placement, as cynics may snicker. It appears that, after a career path spanning some 90 occupations (Barbie's employer/marketer, Mattel, has kept her hopping), the plastic iconette has succumbed to the acting bug. Next thing you know, she'll want to direct.
But she's in capable hands, ''playing" the fairy Elina -- as she explains in a pre-curtain voiceover -- in ''Barbie Live! in Fairytopia" at the Wang Center, a live reenactment of an animated video that came out last year. Director Eric Schaeffer is a pro, with London and Broadway experience, and between Gregg Barnes's imaginative costumes and James Kronzer's lurid sets, many of which appear to be literally sugarcoated, the visual array offers sufficient theatrical dazzle.
As for the script, it never rises much above standard Saturday-morning cartoon fare, complete with predictable homiletics (we're each special in our own special way -- you know the drill). To keep parental attendants from dozing off, lyricists Susan Di Lallo and Robbie Roth do occasionally work some amusing couplets into their instantly forgettable anthems. And cleverly, for this self-select audience of pre-sold Barbie fans, they provide the kids with a couple of opportunities to ''interact": that is, to echo back scripted encouragement (remember the fading Tinkerbell?) as Barbie/Elina -- Erin Elizabeth Coors, who comes equipped with a strong pop voice in addition to the requisite physique -- battles a power-hungry evil fairy.
As the latter, named Laverna, Stacie Bono provides the single most compelling reason for nonaficionados to catch the show: she has so much fun with this cardboard cutout of a part that it almost acquires some dimension. At any rate, the generally insipid action perks up considerably whenever she appears. Yet here's a skilled performer working, for all intents and purposes, anonymously -- for none of the actors, supposed star included, is even listed in the program (I had to track down the company manager to identify the players). The space usually accorded to biographical notes is instead ceded to a lengthy exegesis on Barbie's rise to global domination, plus a couple of pages meant for keep-within-the-lines coloring.
It's clear that Barbie's first theatrical venture is more commercial than artistic in intent. But it's a sad commentary that a product should claim top billing (sole billing!), taking precedence over the people -- the professional, albeit non-Equity actors -- employed to bring the legend to life. The whole practice of circumventing the union to bolster box-office take is a question no doubt beyond Barbie's ken, but you can't help wondering whether, being the fair-minded, upstanding sort depicted here, she'd really care to see ''scab" appended to her lengthy resume.