Performing Arts



(Soundbite of humming)

SIEGEL: I'm Robert Siegel.

Unidentified Group: Red leather, yellow leather, red leather, yellow leather, red leather, yellow leather.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Unidentified Group: Ligo(ph), ligo, goli(ph), goli, ligo, ligo, goli, goli.

BLOCK: At Imagination Stage, a children's theater in suburban Washington, D.C., eight actors warm up their voices and their bodies.

Unidentified Man #1: (Unintelligible) you shoulders, tromp(ph) around.

BLOCK: They're in final rehearsals for the world premiere of a musical, "The Araboolies of Liberty Street." Who are the Arabooolies? Well, they're a handful. You might call them an uptight homeowners associations' worst nightmare.

(Soundbite of play ""The Araboolies of Liberty Street")

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Get out weirdo. Say I'm weirdo. No weirdo. No weirdo.

BLOCK: More on them in a minute. When I visit the theater, it's the first day the actors have seen the set - four plywood houses, one is plain, the three others are Technicolor explosion of spots and stripes and flowers. This is an acrobatic musical and the actors in sneakers and yoga pants run off and start exploring the sets.

Unidentified Woman #1: You go there.

Unidentified Woman #2: Nope.

Unidentified Woman #1: No. Okay.

BLOCK: They scamper up drainpipes, do backflips out of the windows.

Unidentified Woman #3: I should be able, like, if I'm on Brian, I should be able to do, like, I should be able to do like a ankle hang off of him.

BLOCK: They stretched into splits from one-second-story window to another. Ouch. And they clamber up to the roofs, a dizzying 13 feet off the ground.

Unidentified Woman #4: Like I could climb to here. I don't feel like it's not necessarily safest thing to do.

(Soundbite of actors practicing)

BLOCK: I can't watch. That comes from the play's writer Sam Swope, who's cringing in fear in his seat.

Mr. SAM SWOPE (Writer, "The Araboolies of Liberty Street"): My palms are wet. Oh, oh, oh, oh.

BLOCK: Just looking at them.

Mr. SWOPE: I think we're going to have to come up with a requiem.

BLOCK: The musical is an adaptation of Sam Swope's first children's book. "The Araboolies of Liberty Street" came out in 1989. It's a widely illustrated picture book about a neighborhood that's ruled over by the tyrannical General Pinch and his wife.

Mr. SWOPE: General and Mrs. Pinch smiled nasty smiles and stood proudly at their windows keeping a sharp lookout for fresh trouble - tulips growing, robins building nests, that kind of thing. And whenever the Pinches saw anything they didn't like, the general would howl out his bullhorn. I'll call in the army, he'd howler.

BLOCK: Then, one day, the Araboolies moved in next door. Their skin changes colors, they glow in the dark, they paint their home with red and white zigzags and sleep outside, they're loud and they have pets.

Mr. SWOPE: They had anteaters and porcupines, elephants, walruses and sloths. They even had a wok, a few popaloks and a wild barumpass. Mrs. Pinch sucked in both cheeks, disgusting, she hissed. I'll call in the army, boomed the general.

BLOCK: The Araboolies tell their own story in Araboolian.

Unidentified Woman #5: Monster-ponder dime, are a free Arboolies. Boink, boink, boink. The flirts Arboolie fas merry, merry, merry pig. The fecond Arboolie, fas tedium. And the third, fas merry, merry, merry widow.

BLOCK: That language was one of the things Sam Swope had to create. To turn a book that takes seven minutes to read into a 75-minute musical.

(Soundbite of a musical "The Araboolies of Liberty Street")

Unidentified Group: (Singing) This is the street called that's known as Liberty. Farewell freedom. Say goodbye. The Pinch has ruled here with rigidity. It's so boring. We could die.

Mr. SWOPE: All we've done really is to kind of inflate the book and expand it like Macy's Day balloon on Thanksgiving. And just huge, huge, huge.

(Soundbite of a musical "The Araboolies of Liberty Street")

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Grown-ups like it high security. But it isn't any fun.

BLOCK: Those lyrics by Sam Swope, the music by Kim Sherman. Swope's book has run in to a bit of trouble before. It's been slammed as anti-military since the villains are the general and his wife. It's been banned in some schools and Sam Swope remembers a troubling phone call.

Mr. SWOPE: This very distraught second-grade teacher in New Jersey called me up shortly after we invaded Iraq a few years ago saying that she had adapted the book for a play and her children had learned their lines and done the songs and the, I think, it was the superintendent cancelled the production because he thought that the book was anti-military and pro-Arab because the name of the book is Araboolies. But the book was written before the first Gulf War, and it was never a thought in my mind. It was just a name that I came up with.

BLOCK: Swope sees his book as an anti-fascist parable. For the villainous Pinches, the Araboolies are the enemy. Gia Mora plays Mrs. Pinch.

Ms. GIA MORA (Actress): She says they're neckies(ph) and drifters. They're artists and fools. They're rebels and dreamers who don't follow rules. They are ducks and misfits and gathers about. They're anyone different.

(Soundbite of a musical "The Araboolies of Liberty Street")

Ms. MORA: (As Mrs. Pinch) (Singing) Trouble in the air. I felt it brewing everywhere. I smelt it. A weirdo. She was prancing about with her eyes popping out. Can there be any doubt. She's a weirdo.

Mr. SWOPE: Children have so little power in life that they envy power, and they imitate powerful characters.

BLOCK: Again, writer Sam Swope.

Mr. SWOPE: I think that's why it's so easy to get children when I'm reading the book to them to shout along with the general. I'll call in the army. I'll call in the army. And they shouted with great vigor as if they are the general. But on the other hand, because children have - are so controlled and restrained, they love mayhem and anarchy and the chance to live without rules because they live with rules so much of the time.

Unidentified Man #2: Two. Three. Four.

(Soundbite of musical "The Araboolies of Liberty Street")

Unidentified Woman #6: (Singing) I wear a polka dot toupee.

Unidentified Woman #7: (Signing) Ricky-ticky timbo.

Unidentified Woman #6: (Singing) I'll grow a beard and paint it gray.

Unidentified Woman #7: (Unintelligible)

Mr. SWOPE: They're so afraid of being singled out and made fun of and seen different. And everyone, I think, young or old, does feel like they have weirdo tendencies within them that they don't want anybody to find out. And so to want to be a weirdo becomes the climax of the play. When the children decide, yes, I want to be a weirdo. It's a happy moment.

BLOCK: I challenge you, just try to get this song out of your head.

(Soundbite of a musical "The Araboolies of Liberty Street")

Unidentified Man #3: (Singing) I wanna be a weirdo. They're I said it. I don't regret it. Yes, a weirdo. Really want to be a weirdo.

BLOCK: Felicia Curry plays one of the weirdoes. She's a young Araboolie.

Ms. FELICIA CURRY (Actor): The beauty of this story is if - it's another way to say people that are unique and people that are different are equally special as anybody else.

BLOCK: Do you find when you leave here and, you know, walking outside, going to the subway, are you - do you carry some of that Araboolie spirit with you in any way? Are you starting to walk a little bit different or take a little pride in your eccentricities?

Ms. CURRY: I think so. Just watching the interaction between the Pinches and the Araboolies and how much she is, like, why are so different, has just made me appreciate that, you know, I don't look like everybody else. I don't sound like everybody else. I don't - I'm not as tall as everybody else, you know. So - and I'm just learning to appreciate those things.

And, yeah, when I go to the subway sometimes, I look around and like, yeah, I'm pretty special. And I just hope that the kids that come and watch this leave with that same feeling. You know, maybe your skin is not going to turn purple tomorrow, I don't want them to leave with that. But I want them to know, you know, I'm special and I'm different and I'm unique and that's a good thing.

BLOCK: "The Araboolies of Liberty Street" has its world premiere tomorrow night at Imagination Stage in Bethesda, Maryland. You can see photos of the actors in character and you can read a little from Sam Swope's book at

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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