This is the story of Alfred, a 13-year-old who lives in the ghetto and is appalled to receive a perfectly serviceable pair of fire-engine-red economy sneakers - "bobos," or unspeakably plebeian, in the street-urchin lexicon - for his birthday.
The red sneakers subject him to peer ridicule. Failing at efforts to earn enough to buy the high-priced brand himself, Alfie falls into the hands of dope dealers who offer him dazzling-white designer sneaks as a premium for joining up.
Meanwhile, Alfie's support network of family, friends and a sweet little girl who has set her cap for him tries to exert gentle persuasion to get him off the express track to oblivion. In the climactic scene, the good guys stand up to the gun-toting gang, which backs off but threatens further mayhem later. Alfie at least begins to think beyond the dubious cachet of stylish footwear, and the drug dealers' sneakers end up danging from the telephone wire.
There is not an instant of dead air in "Bobos" - it swirls with color, some quite extraordinary break-dancing and a musical score whose subtleties are above me but which makes this street opera burst with joy and melancholy and irresistible swing, as the case may be.
James McBride's ballads, or recitatives, if you will, are sweetly plaintive, particularly as performed by David Hughes (Alfred) and Mesha Millington (his heartthrob). Joilet Harris and Armsted Christian make an attractive team as a senior love interest, and the raffish dance group billed as the Autobots (James Wise, Nakia Dillard, Tony Vinto and E.O. Nolasco) spread cheer with boundless abandon.
Mark Somerfield's all-purpose set resembles something left over from ''Cats" but serves the mission admirably.
World premiere of a street opera by James McBride, music, and Ed Shockley, libretto, presented by the American Music Theater Festival. Directed by Bertin Rowser, musical direction by Steven Ford, choreography by Monica Johnson, set and lighting design by Mark Somerfield, costume design by Felix Cochran, orchestrations by James McBride, sound design by Jim Badrak and Jim Brousseau, production stage manager Renee Lutz.
Featuring: Tiffani Barbour, Keith Robert Bennett, Veronica Campbell, Armsted Christian, Robert Christophe, Nakia Dillard, Joilet Harris, David Hughes, Laura Jones, Jennifer Lam, Mesha Millington, Curtis Nance, E.O. Nolasco, Raimundo Santos, Tony Vinta, James Wise and Andrew Wright.
Playing at: Plays and Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey St., through April 11. Tickets: $17-$28 ($12 for AMTF members). Info: 567-0670.