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STAGE REVIEW

On the prowl for a growl in 'Go, Diego, Go Live!'

Baby Jaguar goes in search of his voice with his buddy Diego Baby Jaguar goes in search of his voice with his buddy Diego (carol rosegg)

The rain forest depicted in "Go, Diego, Go Live! The Great Jaguar Rescue" at the Opera House is a colorful, cheerful place. Sloths loll on tree branches, tree frogs peep out picturesquely among the greenery, and every critter is adorably big-eyed. So are the live-action protagonists of this lively and upbeat musical revue based on Nickelodeon's massively successful preschool show "Go, Diego, Go."

The plot is just enough for very little ones to understand. Baby Jaguar, Diego's boon companion, has had his growl stolen by the Bobo Brothers, a pair of mischievous howler monkeys. Somehow they've stuck it in a jar, and it's up to Diego, an intrepid child naturalist, along with his sister Alicia and cousin Dora, to restore Baby Jaguar's rightful voice. Only then can the Animal Carnivale begin.

The values espoused -- everyone's special, happiness is good, and you can do anything if you try -- are delivered with a light touch and good humor. And as entertainment geared for tots, Joel Someillan and George Noriega's tunes are bright and simple: a little salsa, a little hip-hop, a touch of surf rock. Richie Portella's Diego, Kirsten Day's Alicia, and Melanie Mendez's Dora are energetic and genuine -- no small feat given that they're representing animated characters.

The puppets are equally winning. These were created by Martin P. Robinson, best known for the gigantic carnivorous "Audrey II" plant in "Little Shop of Horrors." There's no malevolence in this menagerie of cuddly jungle beasts, which are activated using a variety of techniques including hand puppetry and stick manipulation (the sloths have camouflaged puppeteers operating long poles). The scale seems just about right for the enormous Opera House stage, with enough action to keep the attention of the youngest viewers.

Adult theatergoers may be surprised to hear that the director is Gip Hoppe, best known for brilliantly satirical comedies including "Jackie: An American Life" (based on Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis). But Hoppe also directed the stage revue of "Dora the Explorer," and he clearly has a talent for a genial perkiness that's smart and sweet, not cloying or overbearing. That's no small triumph in the realm of big-business family entertainment.

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