Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
The show, which opened last weekend at Children's Theatre Company, is nothing short of a love-fest, giving its young (and old) audience members a joyful hour-long entertainment with a life affirming message, in a production that taps the immense imaginations of director Shá Cage who, by the evidence here, has never forgotten a thing about what it's like to be a kid, and her creative team.
Bob Marley's Three Little Birds is based on the children's book of the same name by Cedella Marley, published in 2006. Ms. Marley is the daughter of legendary Jamaican musician Bob Marley, whose career, spanning the 1960s and 1970s, played an enormous role in making reggae music and the Rastafari spiritual path known around the world. Marley succumbed to cancer in 1981, a young 36 years old, but his legacy is for the ages. As keeper of her father's flame, Cedella Marley has written other books about him; she runs Tuff Gong, the company that leases his music; she established a fashion line (designing the jogging suits worn by runner Usain Bolt and his Jamaican teammates when he won Olympic gold in 2012); and she heads up the family's philanthropic foundations.
After a hearty welcome from the thee titular feathered friends, Three Little Birds zooms in on young Ziggy (Ziggy Marley is the name of Cedella's younger brother and a famed reggae musician in his own right), an 11-year-old boy in a bright green track suit and bedecked with a crown of auburn dreadlocks. Ziggy is a child who lives in fear: fear of bugs, fear of spiders, fear of hurricanes, and fear of the demon Duppy who draws his power from stolen braids of hair and especially covets Ziggy's luscious dreads. Ziggy's mother Cedella (this is ever the family affair) travels over the mountains from their country village to sell her prized jerk chicken to tourists at the ocean beach resorts, but Ziggy is afraid to travel with her. Instead, he sits at home glued to the television, tracking the weather forecasts closely for reports of approaching hurricanes.
His best friend Nansi tries her best to bring Ziggy out of his seclusion through tricks, teasing, and even a kiss. Ever Ziggy's booster, when he explains to her that he is too timid to make that journey, she retorts, "You're not timid, you're just weird." With the protection of the three little birds, led by wise Doctor Bird, Nansi finally succeeds, and she and Ziggy embark out on a journey to the ocean. Of course, what journey is worth its salt without getting a bit lost, encountering frightening creatures, or a demon trying to snatch your dreadlocks from your head? But Nansi is resourceful, Doctor Bird is watchful, and Ziggy, to his own surprise, finds it within himself to be brave. We knew it all along.
The story is a charming standard tale of a child learning to overcome their fears, enmeshed in a specific and enormously appealing cultural milieu that makes the show constantly upbeat, visually engaging, and a treat for the ears, using songs from Bob Marley's catalog to punctuate character traits, advance the narrative, and provide sheer entertainment. Esteemed jazz, soul, and gospel musical director Sanford Moore finds himself equally at home conducting the five musicians who breath joyful life into a sampling of Marley's hits, especially "One Love," "Jamming," "Is This Love?" and the title song, which ends with the audience joining in the refrain "Don't worry/about a thing/cause every little thing is gonna be alight."
Cage keeps the six actorsall but Ellis M. Dossavi Alipoeh as Ziggy serving as an ensemble in addition to their titled charactersin motion, using the entire large stage like a tropical island playground, with ramps, platforms, and hanging vines designed by Lawrence E. Moten III. When that movement breaks out into dance, as often it does, Alanna Morris-Van Tassel's energetic and undulating choreography kicks in. Trevor Bowen's boundless imagination uses the most unlikely combinations of fabrics, colors and styles to create delightfully playful costumes. Woo Chen Koo does a great job of using the lighting design to stir up Ziggy's anxieties about hurricanes, with variations in the brightness and color of the large sun hanging in the sky almost making it a character in the story.
An effervescent cast brings all of this music, celebration, and affirmation to life. Alipoeh has performed in key roles at Stages Theatre Company. He is terrific here as Ziggy, completely charming and delivering in the song, dance, and acting departments. KateMarie Andrews is adorable as Nansi, unable to suppress her predilection for trickery or her crush on Ziggy. Nathan Barlow is just a feather shy of too much schtick as Doctor Bird, turning the character into a powerful presence that is fun, cynical, and staunchly supportive all in one.
Timotha Lanae and Lynnea Monique Doublette are Doctor Bird's two accomplices in flight, with Doublette also playing Ziggy's mother Cedella. Every child deserves a mother as joyful and life-affirming as Doublette. As the demon Duppy, Kory LaQuess Pullam is terrific at making the would-be terror into a fangless, comical presence that allows the story to unfold without worrying about scaring the small fry.
About that story. While it is unerringly upbeat and delivers a positiveand for many of us, welcomemessage, the bookwriting is Three Little Birds's weakest link. The text is not particularly witty, and the narrative is simplistic. At an hour run time, it feels like the story could be told in lesseven better, replace some of the exposition with more song and dance. On the other hand, the spoken dialogue is mainly in a lilting Jamaican accent that dialect coach Evamaril Johnson has helped to deliver with an authentic ring.
With an abundance of riches to see, hear and feel in Bob Marley's Three Little Birds, the meager plotline is really not a significant gap. It will entertain children (Children's Theater recommends it for ages five and up) and adults alike, with adults getting a bonus from nostalgic feelings for Marley's contagious melodies, and children honing in on the fanciful characters and environment. Either way, it is a winner.
Bob Marley's Three Little Birds runs through March 1, 2020, at Children's Theatre Company, Minneapolis Institute of Art, 2400 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis MN. Tickets are $46.00 - $81.00. Ten percent discount for the purchase of six or more tickets; $10.00 discount for children up to age 17, full time college students, seniors (age 62 and up) and military adults. Rush Tickets: Starting two hours prior to each performance, unsold seats will go on sale to for $20, $15.00 for children, students and seniors (age 62+) at the CTC Ticket Office, in person only. For tickets and information, call 612-874-0400 or visit childrenstheatre.org. Best enjoyed by all ages.
Music and Lyrics: Bob Marley; Adapted for the stage by: Michael J. Bobbitt, based on a story by Cedella Marley; Director: Shá Cage; Music Director: Sanford Moore; Choreographer: Alanna Morris-Van Tassel; Arrangements, Orchestrations, and Additional Music and Lyrics: John L. Cornelius II; Scenic Design: Lawrence E. Moten III; Costume Design: Trevor Bowen; Lighting Design: Woo Chen Khoo; Sound Design: Sten Severson; Dialect Coach: Evamaril Johnson; Music Consultant: Charles Petrus; Dramaturg: Miriam Weisfeld; Intimacy Choreographer: James Grace; Associate Scenic Designer: Daniel Allen; Stage Manager: Stacy McIntosh; Assistant Stage Manager: Salma Y. Seale & Nate Stanger; Assistant Choreographer: SheVunda Brown; Assistant Lighting Designer: Alex Clark; Assistant Sound Designer: Katherine Horowitz; Stage Manager Intern: Diane Olexa.
Cast: Ellis M. Dossavi Alipoeh (Ziggy), KateMarie Andrews (Nansi/ensemble), Nathan Barlow (Doctor Bird/ensemble), Lynnea Monique Doublette (Cedella/Montego/ensemble), Timotha Lanae Tacoomah/ ensemble), Kory LaQuess Pullam (Duppy/ensemble).