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Dora and Her Steam Shovel Are Missing! 

Begin the holiday season with classic children's theater (it's fun for big kids, too)

Immersing kids in the world of live theater has both immediate and long-lasting benefits. In the long term, this immersion will instill in them a deeper appreciation for the performing arts, one that often persists into their adulthoods -- and without that pipeline of new interest coming from the young 'uns, one could argue, artistic institutions like opera, ballet and musical theater might find themselves in jeopardy one of these days.

And in the short term, kids' theater is a way to keep the little rascals quiet and entertained for a couple of hours. This weekend, a triumvirate of shows for smaller audiences hits area venues.

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel should entertain kids and grown-ups. Based on a 1939 children's book by Virginia Lee Burton that has remained a kid-lit classic, Shovel is bound to trigger bedtime-story memories for most everyone. Remember the book with its red cover? Mike's anthropomorphic steam shovel named Mary Anne, and her cute face? In these economically topsy-turvy times, the story manages to resonate -- it concerns Mike's quest to find work. The production, from the New York-based company Theatreworks/USA, will be staged at the Florissant Civic Center Theater (Florissant Civic Center, Parker Road at Waterford Drive) on Sunday, November 23; Friday, November 28; and Saturday, November 29. All shows begin at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $5.25 each (with group rates available); call 314-921-5678.

Not quite as old -- but still widely considered a favorite in the children's-book department -- is the title Miss Nelson Is Missing!, which has also been turned into an award-winning piece of children's theater. This tale concerns the students of Room 207, who abuse the good graces of their elementary school teacher until she disappears one day, only to be replaced by the evil sub Viola Swamp. Both the book and the play (staged by the Omaha Theater Company) have been praised for interpreting Golden Rule-morals in a way that kids can absorb and understand. Miss Nelson Is Missing! plays at the COCA Family Theatre in University City (524 Trinity Avenue) at 7 p.m. Friday, November 21; and at 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. on both Saturday, November 22, and Sunday, November 23. Tickets cost $17 and can be purchased by calling MetroTix at 314-534-1111 or by visiting

If you'll only settle for the show that's most in tune with the with-it, right-now kids' cultural zeitgeist, then Dora the Explorer Live! Search for the City of Lost Toys is your thing. The smash-hit Nickelodeon cartoon receives a faithful live-show translation in this nationally touring production. All of Dora's friends make appearances, including Boots, Benny, Tico, Backpack and sneaky Swiper the Fox, and just like on TV, our inquisitive heroine speaks in both English and Spanish. Dora the Explorer Live! will play six shows at the Fox Theatre (527 North Grand Boulevard) this Friday through Sunday. Tickets cost $15-$40 and can also be purchased through MetroTix's phone number or Web site.

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