When children's theater is good, it is very very good, and when it is bad it is horrid. Fortunately for everyone, the Magic Carpet Band, which is part of the current Imagination Celebration at the Kennedy Center, is very very good, as well as funny, touching and a lot of fun.
Their show is based on Creative Writing (yecch) done by local kids in their classrooms under the direction of teachers who have taken a workshop with Magic Carpet director James Mairs, who has been doing this since 1973. On the printed page, the stuff looks pretty bland. "Oh b r e a k f a s t oh b r e a k f a s t breakfast thats the word for me," (Beth Portnoy, 9) begins one of the 45 vignettes selected for "Kids' Writes From the Nation's Capital."
"I would like to have a pet puppy," (Jimmy Eng, 7) starts another.
But Mairs (who also plays the piano) and his talented troupe of four transform the humble, and often misspelled, words into theater, adding characters, music and action. "Oh Breakfast" becomes a lively breakdancing number, and the desired puppy is part of a sequence that has one actor being towed by a large dog and another playing the part -- very convincingly -- of a large English springer spaniel named George.
Andrew Maraniss, 14, wrote a rap song for the president of the United States, with Secret Service agents instructed to breakdance while he raps: "I might raise taxes or maybe not but if I do, I'll take all you've got." It's quite a production number. Allison Elisabeth Clark, 9, wrote about a baby hippo whose mother abandoned him because she had too many other children -- so he was adopted by an eagle couple. Actor John Rousseau, whose face reminds you of a turtle, manages not only to look like a baby hippo (and a very cute one) but to grow wings and fly.
A special mention must be made of "My Hero," by Eric Risdon, age 12, whose ode praises Big Sisters, that much maligned, neglected and misunderstood minority group, who hardly ever get even a postcard, let alone a touching speech like this one for Sonya: "She would give her life for me and she would be my first best friend if she didn't have to go to college this summer." wrote Risdon. "I will miss her because I love her very much. And all her animals will miss her too. I will miss her the most." I get teary-eyed just typing the words. How can she bear to go off to college?
Mothers do not come off so well. "Mothers Mothers,/ Their all cluck, cluckers/ Be carefull/ No thats too dangerous/ thats all you hear, From them, /Why aren't theyYes Yesers?/ Why don't they take us fishing. Let us use the chain saw?" (Chad Garner, 12).
There are other sad moments; a best-friend grandfather who died, imagining parents leaving, being lonely. And irrefutable analysis: ". . . if you didn't have school you would'nt have an education, no education, no job, no job, no money, no money, no food, no food you die. So go to school!!" (Ben Winters, 7).
Each of the performers can dance, sing and play rock music, and can figure out things like how to turn two of them into a triceratops. Carlo Grossman is cute like a puppy; Steve Riffkin has the face of a distressed 6-year-old. Wynn White is the only woman and avoids even a hint of sappiness.