A light scent of still-fresh paint hung in the air when the Pages Lane Theater opened its doors earlier this week for the first time. The theater's official grand opening is tonight at 7:30 p.m. The crowd on Monday evening was largely relatives and friends.

Maybe it was the newness of the theater or the first time the cast had played before a real audience, but the preview performance of "Cheaper by the Dozen" lacked the spark that should come after the company settles in with a few more performances.It hasn't helped, I'm sure, that the opening was on-again, off-again at least twice, due to construction delays and bureaucratic red tape and that this run will be interrupted for three weeks by "Scrooge," before resuming in late December and early January.

The theater, I expect, will take on a more comfortable "lived in" feeling in the next few months.

But opening night - especially the "shakedown" cruise for a new theater - is sort of like breaking in a new pair of shoes or taking a car off the showroom floor for its first spin. Your toes might hurt a bit and even a hot-off-the-assembly- line car might have a few bugs to work out.

"Cheaper by the Dozen" was a good choice for Pages Lane's first outing. It's a pleasant, old-fashioned comedy about a big, close-knit family.

Patriarch of the Gilbreth clan is Frank Sr., played by Ralph G. Rodgers Jr.

There's an old adage in the theater world about avoiding, at all costs, sharing the stage with children or dogs.

Rodgers has thrown caution to the winds and does both. Nine of the Gilbreth children are on stage most of the time, along with Snowball, the family's scruffy "$5 dog," and an assortment of other characters.

Some of the children's roles are double-cast, and some cast members come from Rodgers' Salt Lake and Centerville acting schools. (The new theater and the schools are operated not only by Rodgers but also Margo Beecher, who directed the play, and Beverly Olsen.)

What we have in "Cheaper by the Dozen" is a professional/community theater hybrid. It's a combination that has worked very well around the area, most notably with the Hales and at Desert Star Playhouse, and it works nicely at the Pages Lane Theater, too.

Rodgers, of course, takes a commanding stance as the overbearing father, running his family with efficiency-expert precision. (The stern, whistle-tooting Captain von Trapp of "The Sound of Music" probably took lessons from Gilbreth.) But not all of the offspring are as enthused about Gilbreth's projects and theories as he is.

Anne, the eldest (played on opening night by Loralee Mitchell), is breaking new ground - even shocking her fuddy-duddy parents by wearing silk stockings and 1920s lingerie and constantly pushing at her father's limits on dating.

Mitchell was one of the standouts in the large cast, more than holding her own against Rodgers and other more seasoned members of the cast.

Danny Inkley was delightful as Bill, the younger brother who tags along on Anne's dates as a chaperone. He's a little rascal.

Other fine performances were given by Corene Heaps as Miss Brill (rhymes with Shrill); Colton Brown as the obnoxious Joe Scales, Ben Seelos as Larry, Anne's heartthrob, and Debbie Zeis as the family cook, Mrs. Fitzgerald. (She also dusts the furniture frequently - so she can have access to the chocolates she has squirreled around the parlor in various hiding places.)

What was missing, at least in the preview performance, was a sense of warmth between Mr. and Mrs. Gilbreth. They seemed cool and distant. While this does reflect an era when emotions were kept in check, you'd expect a couple with 12 children to demonstrate a greater depth of feeling.

The play was written by Christopher Sergel, based on the book by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, two of the Gilbreths' dozen children. David Reay and Rhonda Paige portray the older Frank and Ernestine, providing narrative prologues to the various scenes, all of which are flashbacks while the two siblings reminisce about growing up in their extraordinary New Jersey household.

Pages Lane is an arena-style theater with comfortable seating, wide aisles and lots of leg room. The large stage, decorated for "Cheaper by the Dozen" with antique furnishings, lends itself to flexible staging.

The only problem we had was in the very first scene, when Frank Jr. and Ernestine enter along the top of the aisle across the room and their voices just didn't carry that far. But acoustics are excellent for action set in the center of the house.

The Pages Lane Theater is already attracting interest, and there's a definite need for good, year-round theater in Davis County.

It should be a big success.