The German town of Hamelin has changed a lot since English poet Robert Browning immortalized it in his classic, "The Pied Piper of Hamelin."
The pesky mice that infested the hamlet have been transformed into gang members and city officials now try to pay the infamous piper with an IOU.
This weekend, members of the Redondo Beach Parks and Recreation drama camp program will bring their updated version of the story to life in "The Pied Piper," an adaptation that borrows themes from today's headlines to address social ills and provide thoughtful lessons for audiences of all ages.
Each summer, drama camp members ages 6 to 16 perform children's theater classics such as "The Hobbit," "Charlotte's Webb" and recently, "Joseph and His Technicolor Dreamcoat." But this season, camp Director Pamela Zorotovich-Ament was inspired by the morning news to "do something socially relevant."
She moved Browning's poem to 1992 and placed it in the imaginary town of Smallville, Calif., a community overrun by gangs that harass high school students into dropping out.
Trouble in Smallville really begins when City Council members hire a piper to rid the town of the lawless vermin but fail to reveal that they can pay for the service only with an IOU.
When the piper discovers the cover-up, he steals the town's children, taking them to outer space in a magic bus. In a final twist on the original story, one crippled youngster who is left behind organizes a voter registration drive guaranteed to sweep the cheating City Council incumbents out of office.
The moral of the story?
"Pay the piper," said Adam Nienberg, 14, one of the show's pipers. "Or it'll catch up to you--kind of like karma."
The show also addresses drugs, gangs, corruption and honesty, and voter responsibility among other themes, Zorotovich-Ament said.
A five-year veteran of the camp, Nienberg said the themes in this play helped sharpen more than his acting technique.
"I learned about how the world is today," he said.
Although the five-week drama camp is always fun and filled with lessons in acting, song, dance, improvisation, costume and set design, Nienberg said he appreciated the timeliness of "The Pied Piper."
"I like this more" than traditional productions, he said. "It has to do with me and my world and what I can do to help."
Parents also like the message-filled production, Zorotovich-Ament said. "There's a lot going on in the world right now that can be addressed, and what better way for kids to learn" than through the performances?
In addition to "The Pied Piper," the 62 young drama students will show off their song and dance skills this weekend by performing numbers from hit Broadway shows such as "Annie," "Bye Bye Birdie," and "A Chorus Line."
Camp members also designed the show's sets, makeup and costumes and run the production from the first cue to the fall of the final curtain.
"We try to teach them responsibility for everything," Zorotovich-Ament said. "Not just theater."
What: "The Pied Piper."
When: 8 p.m. today; 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Perry Park Community Hall, 2301 Grant Ave., Redondo Beach.
Admission: Tickets are $2.50.
Information: Call (310) 318-0610, Ext. 2348.