Back then, little plays in the 10-20 minute time frame for 6-10 year-olds were usually not very exciting. It seemed that what was offered for schools and small time community theater groups came in two varieties:
1. Stories told by a Narrator with a handful of lead characters (who could share the one stand up microphone in the center of the stage) and a chorus of extras (who helped sing songs but did not say lines) OR 2. Stories that could be acted out by a very small cast in a small space without being aided by microphones and sound engineers.
The songs tended to be VERY short, unsophisticated and frankly uninteresting. Many of the songs had forgettable tunes written for children with limited ranges (and pianists with limited skills).
Elementary school teachers who wanted their students to have some sort of theatrical experience appreciated not having complicated productions. Many teachers did the same little play year after year as part of their curriculum. These chosen materials were deemed AGE-APPROPRIATE.
I remember doing some of these kinds of productions in my youth and hating them. The songs and lines were dumbed down so much it made us kids feel like we were still babies. But, does that mean that a show will automatically be more successful if it uses plots, lines and songs that were clearly written for adult actors?
Nowadays, most school and community children's theater directors go straight for the big name shows that are popular. But they are NOT always the best options for young casts. These shows tend to be pricey to mount, need lots of technical support, and have songs that usually call for actors who have wide, developed vocal ranges. (Not necessarily AGE-APPROPRIATE) Unless the groups have really talented kids, these shows can fall flat.
I have been to some really bad Children's Theater productions over the years. I felt terrible that the songs and technical support failed the kids so miserably. I came away wishing that the directors had chosen material that would suit the developing talents of their kids better and allow them to really shine.
There needs to be a balance between POPULAR and AGE APPROPRIATE.
(Can be done, but it takes good research to find those vehicles!)
I don't care how popular the show is or how talented the costumers and set designers are, if the songs and dancing and acting cannot be delivered well, you will just have a big flop. I always feel sorry for the poor audiences of grandparents that dutifully come and have to endure such awful performances!