Giant mushrooms will sing and a giant caterpillar will ask, “Who are you?”
A couple of children will be lured through their closet into a fantasy world where they’ll encounter a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and the spoof-rockers, New Kids on the Rock.
No, just a few of the goings-on in two musicals being staged for children this weekend and next in the South Bay. The venerable tale “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” holds forth at Los Angeles Harbor College in Wilmington, while a new play, “Twelve Dancing Princesses (With the New Kids on the Rock),” is being put on by the Redondo Beach Recreation and Parks Department at Perry Park Playhouse.
Although both shows will transport youngsters into a world of imagination, adults can come along for the trip. “We bill the show for children of all ages,” said Larry Heimgartner, who heads the Harbor Theater Arts Department and has been putting on his adaptation of “Alice” annually for four years.
And timing being what it is, the shows are like early holiday presents. “We get a lot of grandparents with grandchildren. They use it as a holiday treat, a gift of theater,” Heimgartner said.
Paul Collette, director and co-author of “Princesses,” said Redondo’s children’s shows fill the 200-seat playhouse, drawing elementary school children as well as friends and families of the performers. “We try to create a little magic and sparkle,” he said.
After so many seasons, “Alice"--a spectacle with a cast of 70-plus large, colorful puppet characters--has become a tradition at Harbor, Heimgartner said.
High school students, children and local adults, as well as student actors at the college, turn out for the annual casting call. Some repeat their roles every year.
And the show draws family audiences of 300 to Harbor’s Mainstage Theatre. “We get a lot of birthday parties and scout troops,” Heimgartner said. “The audiences have a lot of fun with it.”
“Alice” was initially produced with the idea of repeating it every year with the same sets and costumes, but not always with the same scenes or music. The reggae lion and unicorn, for example, were added last year.
And though the show is rooted in the familiar characters and story of the 1865 Lewis Carroll classic, the music ranges from chorus numbers and ballads to reggae, rap and 1950s rock ‘n’ roll.
Heimgartner likens the show, in which every scene has its own set pieces, to “a great passage of floats” with Alice as the centerpiece. The caterpillar perched on the toadstool is a 12-foot puppet whose every leg moves, and the Cheshire Cat with the wide grin and gleaming eyes is a nine-foot marionette that descends from the top of the stage.
At the end of the show, performers leave through the auditorium and form a circle outside the theater. Everyone has a chance to meet them.
“The children think we’re real characters,” said Robert Kaufman, who has played the white rabbit in every production. “They try to pull off our noses.”
“Alice” is a story nearly everyone knows, but the goings-on in “Princesses” will be strange indeed.
Although based on a traditional fairy tale about a king who tries to discover where his daughters go dancing each night, the story has been transplanted to the world of today’s children. Not only do a Ninja Turtle and the New Kids on the Rock make appearances, but one of the princesses is played as a Valley Girl.
When it came to staging “Princesses” for Redondo Beach, Collette and co-author Robert Wright found the original story “pretty moldy around the edges,” Wright said. So with colleague Gary Fritzen, they decided to modernize it with contemporary music and a fantasy world called Metaphasia.
A brother and sister, unhappy about having to move and leave their friends, enter Metaphasia through their bedroom closet. There they encounter a king and queen, a nasty princess who resents them, and the princess’ sisters, who come in such guises as a cowgirl, a Dutch girl, Cleopatra and a Japanese princess in a kimono.
Collette, who has done two other original children’s shows with Wright for Redondo Beach, said “Princesses” is intended to give youngsters a trip into imagination. “The world of make-believe is important to kids, who grow up too fast today,” Collette said. “They need to hold onto it longer, and a show with some magic lets them keep it.”
Some of the junior high youngsters in the 22-member cast said it was a challenge to learn the dialogue, songs and dances in the complex show. And with rehearsals nearing an end this Thursday, they were both jittery and confident.
Said Katelin Roberts: “We’re all nervous, but on opening night, we’ll be good.”
“Alice” will be staged tonight at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; also Dec. 6 and 7 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 8, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for children, students and seniors. Harbor College is at 1111 Figueroa Place, Wilmington. Information: 518-1000, Extension 356.
“Princesses” plays tonight and Saturday at 7 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m.; also Dec. 7 and 8, 7 p.m.; Dec. 9, 2 p.m. Admission is $4, $3 for seniors and children under 12. Perry Park Playhouse is at 2301 Grant Ave., Redondo Beach. Information: 318-0610.