Picture, A scene from Israel's Puppet Theatre's "The Wizard of Oz"

Along with the 6- and 7-year-olds and their elders, I was shouting for Gerda, our taffy-haired heroine, to wake up quickly before she froze to death under the icy spell of "The Snow Queen."

It was 10:30 in the morning -- hardly a bewitching hour for adults -- but Israel's Puppet Theatre, on its first trip to the United States, already was working its magic yesterday at the Warner Theatre. The life-sized puppets and the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale were charming youngsters and adults alike.

They followed Gerda's quest for her friend, Kai, who had been transformed into a ice child by one cold kiss from the Snow Queen and spirited away to her glittering ice palace. Kai's heart has been turned into an ice cube which can be melted only by the touch of a warm tear. It's a lovely tale.

From the kids' reaction, it could have been a cops-and-robbers chase on television. They clapped in rhythm with the friendly raven's wing as Gerda and Gorgo, the reindeer who comes to her aid, raced through perils of dark forests and wolf packs.

Israel's Puppet Theatre will be at Warner Theatre through Saturday. For its Washington visit, the company has two productions -- "The Wizard of Oz" and "The Snow Queen" -- scheduled at different times. Today "Wizard" will be performed at 10 a.m., to be followed by two shows on Thursday at 10 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. On Friday, it's "Wizard" in the morning and "Snow Queen" in the evening. On Saturday, there will be four shows: "Snow Queen" at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., and "Wizard" at 4 and 7:30 p.m.

What distinguishes the Israeli troupe from other puppet companies is the imagination and professionalism of its members. The attraction is good theater, not just the novelty of talking puppet heads. The special effects are quite stunning: the falling snow the frozen beauty of the ice palace, the dark forest with its menacing shadows, the dancing flowers. The six puppeteers, all of whom have a slight accent that could have been nurtured in either Brooklyn or Israel, can mimic the cackle of an old gypsy fortuneteller or the menacing hiss of a not-too-jolly snowman.

And there are the marvelous, lifesized puppets of Eric Smith, who also designed the costumes and sets. From papier-mache, wood and cloth, he has created such magical characters as the cold-hearted Snow Queen in her shimmering white gown, the red-haired little boy who is transformed into a white-haired ice child, and Gordo, the charming reindeer with the mascara-ringed eyes.

The puppets bring the fairy tale to life on the Warner stage. In the end, you'll be chanting, as I did with hundreds of youngsters, the magic words to break the evil spell of the Snow Queen: "Golden Sun, hear my command/Send down your rays on this frozen land."