GLENDALE ? Phil Wallace didn't look a lot like Martin Luther King Jr., but he sounded a lot like him.
Wallace powerfully portrayed the late Civil Rights leader in two 1-hour-long, one-man educational plays for more than 450 students at Glendale Adventist Academy and Elementary on Friday as part of the school's Black History Month program.
Wallace, who works for Mobile Education Productions, wrote and staged the play based on facts and dramatic presentation. He used only his booming baritone and flashy swing-style dancing mixed with some humor and drama to keep the students learning and entertained.
Alfredo Asuncion, 16-year-old junior, said his classmates were caught by surprise by Wallace's energetic portrayal.
"I thought it was really cool. You learn about famous people in books, but in a book you read it; you don't get the sense of it," Alfredo said. "But to see it acted out, with the emphasis on the words, it's more powerful that way. It helped us see why he had such a powerful effect on people."
Wallace said he wrote the play and rehearsed it for two weeks. He doesn't use cue cards or a microphone but usually performs four shows a day, five days a week, which helped him perfect it.
"He was inspiring to me," Wallace said about King. "If I wanted to sum him up with one word it's courage, and I want to use his courage to inspire me to convey that to the students."
The show starts with Wallace reciting, "We shall overcome some day, deep in my heart I do believe, we shall overcome someday."
He portrays King as a juvenile prankster, a skilled swing dancer and a lover of theology, philosophy and history. The fast-paced play also shows how King was influenced by his father, Gandhi, Langston Hughes and Rosa Parks. Wallace uses narrative to build tension using the famous "I have a dream" and "Mountaintop" speeches leading up to King's assassination.
"His dream still lives as long as you all grow up to live your dreams," Wallace said to close the play.
Brittani Harris, 17-year-old senior, said it was the best day of Black History Month at the academy.
"There were a lot of facts I didn't know," Brittani said. "I learned things about his life that I'd never heard before, even in history classes."
The singing and dancing was memorable, she said.
"It was a great way to connect with the audience," Brittani said.
Principal Glen Baker said Wallace portrayed Frederick Douglass for the academy students in 2005.
"He really brought to life the character and it had a profound impact on the kids," Baker said. "It's like having the real person here. Phil was so outstanding [as Douglass], the kids asked if they could have him back. It's a really great educational tool for the kids that they just eat up."
Baker said Black History Month gives the academy a chance to teach students about tolerance, diversity and equality.
"We always try to plan something special," Baker said. "I think the issues of human dignity and treating all people with respect are values central for young people to learn. Southern California has such a diverse population they need to learn the values of standing up for freedom and equality."
The lesson is especially appropriate because Adventist church leaders were part of the underground railroad, Baker said.