At children’s theater, Alice needs MetroCard for journey

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Imagine if Alice in Wonderland had been just a bit urban.

Well, the dozens of kids who make up The Children’s Theatre Institute of the Black Spectrum Theatre did just that, and the result was a wonderful production of “Alice in Boogie Wonderland” presented earlier this month.

Their story starts not with a young English girl sitting by a river and bored out of her gourd, but a young African-American girl bored to distraction by her ballet class. As in the original, a strange white rabbit catches her attention, and as in the original, she follows it. But there the similarities end.

Instead of disappearing down a rabbit hole, this Alice has to get on the subway to continue her adventure. “I don’t have a MetroCard!” she wails at one point. Of course, the train she has to take is the “A” train; segue to Duke Ellington’s famous work and a nice tap-dance number.

The wonderland Alice arrives in is populated by kids dressed in gold lace pants who dance under the swirling shattered light of a mirror ball; a basketball team with its own quirky rules (everyone is No. 12); a hip-hop Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee; a group of dancing flowers, the littlest of whom grumped about, charmingly, like someone had pinched her pollen; a flock of birds who flip when they learn Alice likes scrambled eggs; and a slinky cat named Confucius.

Instead of the hookah-smoking caterpillar, Alice meets up with a jitterbug in a jazzy, sequined hat who engages her in a crowd-pleasing Lindy Hop.

“We’re all mad crazy here,” purrs Confucius just before Alice crashes a block party thrown by the FUBU/Phat Pharm-wearing Mad Hatter and March Hare, featuring music by a couple of bombulous African drummers.

At last, Alice encounters the Red Queen, a most imperiously wonderful diva. (One of the things the Children’s Institute simply must do is print programs so the players can be given due credit for their performances!) As in the original, this Queen threatens to summarily execute everyone, including the girl group that’s doing its best to sing “Stop In the Name of Love.” But no one sings worse than this Queen, with her thunderous voice, preposterous white eyeshadow and beauty-pageant-queen tiara.

“You’re an overgrown bagpipe!” Alice yells at her. Only the supplications of the Queen’s consort, played by a gentleman in a wonderfully ridiculous Imperial margarine crown who’s half as tall as his wife, keeps Alice’s head attached to her body. But by this time, Alice has regained her self-confidence and doesn’t care.

The play, in other words, is inspired, and the awesome thing about Alice in Boogie Wonderland is that it was written by the children themselves.

Alice is played by three actresses, a little one, a slightly bigger one, and a big one, and her bouts of growing and shrinking are aided by sips from a bottle of Snapple and nibbles from what seems like an enchanted Hershey bar.

The choreography results in what could only be called a joyous controlled frenzy, the lighting and sound are perfect and the costumes, from the cat’s slinky leotard touched with gold glitter at the collar, cuffs and tail, to the birds’ colorful feathers to the flowers’ lovely pastel petals, are delightful.

At play’s end, to the happy screams of their families in the audience, all the kids received a certificate and a golden medal, and some received scholarships to the Institute. They well deserved it.

This is the eighth year of Black Spectrum’s summer theater for children. The Children’s Theatre Institute is in session for eight months, from Oct. 20, 2001 to May 5, 2002, and is for kids 6 to 12 years old. Classes in acting, singing and dancing are held on Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Call (718) 723-1800 if you’re interested in enrolling your talented little person.

Later in the season the Institute will be visited by Suzanne

Douglas from “The Parenthood,” Geffrey Owens, who played Elvin on “The Cosby Show,” Selena Darris, a Rockette, and Rod Clemmonds, the record producer.

Continued success to all!

Reach Qguide writer Arlene McKanic by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 139.

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