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THOUGHT-PROVOKING `BIRDS OF A FEATHER' IS WORTH FLOCKING TO

All right, Sundance! This is the best Children's Theatre presentation yet.

It has color, originality, singing, flying, great costuming and even a good moral.It's rare that it all comes together like "Birds of a Feather."

But in this original production, which is destined to go on the road from school to school, it does.

A flock of young birds - well, actually, just four, goes from a state of complete innocence and total trust to one of being virtually grounded by their fears - fears introduced by a ruthless coyote who actually isn't interested in making friends as much as in making dinner plans.

It's a captivating story that dovetails with itself very nicely.

Scott Nielson is Katetasha, the magpie convinced that he can fly higher and better than any other feathered friend. He's busily strutting his stuff in the first part. Nielson is also the coyote, one of those rare villians you actually like despite his evil and sordid intentions. "I kill myself," he quips shortly after Katetasha is felled with an arrow.

Nielson brings a real spirit of guilelessness to his villainy. After all, he's just dealing with "bird-brains" here, doing what comes naturally to him. He apologizes for nothing as he chews on Kentucky Fried Chicken "leftovers" during his visits with the birds.

Monica Barth is Sikatsi, the only bird wise enough to evade the coyote's traps and attempts to discourage the birds from enjoying their extraordinary talents. She helps her friends see the drawbacks of distrusting each other and giving in to fear.

Curt Doussett pinch hits as Tchir'o - replacing Raymond Robinson on opening day - and does a fine job.

Tchir'o and Kowata, played by Traci A. Brewster - who has a wonderful appeal - are convinced by the coyote to leave the sky and start worrying about each other. They gradually stop being the grandly-feathered, soaring birds they are and try to hide among the rocks to avoid taking risks.

It's a great device to show kids how sad it can be to downplay God-given talents or pretend to be something you are not just to be safe.

And best of all, the coyote spells out the real problem, "You made yourselves afraid so I didn't have to do a thing."

"You're so worried about what's different, you've forgotten what's the same," admonishes Sikatsi.

The set is colorful and simple, built to travel (the show will tour Utah schools this fall). Indian artistry dresses it up.

The costuming is clever - as usual at Sundance - with pocketed wings that provide a good place for actors' hands as they fly about the stage.

The music is fun, easy to pick up and hum.

And direction has obviously been well done throughout. The birds cock their heads and turn and "bang against the tree" so realistically as to help you forget they're really only human.

All of the actors deserve kudos. Every line can be heard. Vocals are no problem and some, like the coyote's "Low Down Predatory Blues," beg to be heard again.

Include this in the summer fare for young and preteen children. It opens the way for some meaningful discussion on why it's so important to value one's inner strengths.

Gold star, Sundance.