Sarah Robbins '17 Assistant Features Editor
Smith College theater kicked off the season with the one-act children’s opera the “The Araboolies of Liberty Street,” performed on Saturday, Jan. 13 in Sweeney Concert Hall. Though the work began as a book written by Sam Swote in 1989, composer Ronald Perera soon turned the piece of children’s literature into a relatable, humorous opera.
In the fictional setting of Liberty Street, General Pinch and his wife are evil, tyrannical neighbors keeping watch over the neighborhood. They threaten any child they consider “a weirdo” and ban children from playing outside. When the Araboolies, an unusual new family, move in, the strict conventions set by the General begin to unravel. Soon, the drab neighborhood is set aflame with sparkles and dangling ribbons. The opera presents themes of diversity and acceptance in a child-friendly way with silly songs and an upbeat tempo.
The show opened to a packed audience in Sweeney Hall, full of squirming children sitting on parents’ laps or wandering into the aisles. Little rustlings were heard throughout the auditorium as kids nudged and whispered to each other. Music director Jonathon Hirsch introduced the opera’s opening. “It has a universal message, to accept difference in each other,” Kirsch said. “You’ll have some humor, some beauty, and some meticulously made music.”
As the show began, the stage was empty except for the façade of a plain, brown painted house, and a piano and drumset in the corner. Two musicians accompanied the actors, often employing sound effects like bird calls or bell-like chiming. Most of the actors wore goofy, colorful outfits aimed to keep a child’s attention, which elicited laughter from the audience. One woman wore a white, bowl-cut wig, rainbow suspenders over a purple shirt and neon socks. Another wore a pink dress and an enormous, blue polka-dotted bow on her head.
Children from the Smith College campus school were also involved, running onstage halfway through the show, dressed in brightly colored shirts and pants. They sang with the actors and made the play into an interactive experience, waving at the audience and laughing.
“I thought it was an important message to teach to children,” Olivia Blais ’15 said. “To accept everyone…even if they’re really weird.”
Tricia Kopko ’15 played the leader of the Araboolies. “We originally performed for the children’s choir’s school, so it was a different experience than in the huge, Sweeney concert hall,” she said. “We practiced for three to five hours five days a week for two weeks.”
The play included such zany songs as “Tractor Beam,” “BoolaNoolaBall,” and “Weirdos,” which used simple, repetitive language to get across a message of tolerance to younger viewers. The opera lasted just an hour, ending with the resoundingly positive line “We’re welcome here,” pinning down the play’s key idea of acceptance and inclusion.