Shooting Blanks

Better Living.
Written by George F. Walker. Directed by Arland Russell. Starring Sunny Reale, Joel Kolker, Sandra Ives, M.J. Quinn, Sharon Kremenn, Meredith Mursuli, and Mark Swaner. Through January 24. Hollywood Boulevard Theatre, 1938 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood, 954-929-5400.

Stage Whispers
What has six nine-foot-tall puppets, one white rabbit, assorted little girls, an ugly Beast, and an injured athlete? If you guessed the 4th Annual National Children's Theatre Festival, you'd not only be right, you'd be onto one of the most promising programs opening this month. The festival, presented by the Actors' Playhouse Theatre For Young Audiences, runs through January 16 at the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables and features performances of a musical version of Beauty and the Beast. Mark A. Pence's adaptation, an update of the children's classic (with music and lyrics by collaborator Omar D. Brancato), took first prize in a national competition.

Pence is a writer, singer, actor and co-producer of Chicago's AlphaBet Soup Productions Children's Theatre Company. The show plays through January 16 as part of the festival, then reopens January 23 and runs every Saturday through February 20. Also on the bill this weekend are M.V.P., Frumi Cohen's new musical for young actors about a teen athlete who suffers a life-threatening injury, and an adaptation of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, with actors and giant puppets, presented by the Bits 'n' Pieces Puppet Theatre. Call the Miracle Theatre box office at 305-444-9293 for information.

Here's something for grown-up theatergoers: Want to get in for free? Winter Stages of the Sun, a new program sponsored by the Theatre League of South Florida, the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, and the Miami-Dade Cultural Affairs Council, features free and reduced-rate tickets at 21 South Florida stages through February 15. You can pick up a pass at one of the participating theaters, then present it at each theater for a discount. Individual theaters offer a variety of arrangements, but the pass either allows you two tickets for the price of one, subject to availability, or a $1 to $10 discount off admission price for designated shows.

According to George T. Neary, director of Cultural Tourism for the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, the program is "an opportunity to highlight theaters," with hopes of filling them with tourists and locals. Participating venues and theater companies in Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties include small programs such as Theatre With Your Coffee and Bridge Theatre as well as big guns Florida Stage, GableStage (the former Florida Shakespeare), and the Caldwell Theatre Company. For a full list of participants, call 305-682-9682.

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