Early Adapters

A TYA radio play-turned-musical opens this weekend at the Kennedy Center, with accessibility and community at the forefront.

By Alexandra Pierson for AMERICAN THEATRE

When, during the COVID-19 lockdown, Tim J. Lord was commissioned by the Kennedy Center to write a radio play for young audiences based on the theme of “uncommon heroes,” he drew inspiration from his Midwestern roots and teenage memories of the Great Flood of 1993. The resulting play, Through the Sunken Lands, was a modern-day epistolary tale set in the aftermath of a devastating flood that has decimated a small town on the banks of the Mississippi and left Artemis, a teenaged wheelchair user with cerebral palsy, stranded in the local library. She survives—and fights off the plans of a team of developers to erase the town’s history—with the help of a talking heron, a bighead carp, and her Aunt Maggie across the water. 

Now, Lord’s radio play has taken on three dimensions and added songs. An in-person musical version, with a score by Avi Amon and direction by Cara Phipps, plays at the Kennedy Center March 2-17.

The creative team partnered with DPD Casting to recruit actors who are wheelchair users to perform (Meredith Aleigha Wells) and understudy (Molly Nilsen) the role of Artemis, and set designer Andrew Cohen has created a set that the actors can move through freely. Thus, in both form and content, Through the Sunken Lands models the path for a new normal where everyone’s access needs are minded and met. American Theatre spoke with the playwright, composer, and director over Zoom last fall, while the musical was still in development.

Playwright Tim J. Lord

ALEXANDRA PIERSON: Where did these characters and this story come from?

TIM J. LORD: It was originally commissioned by the Kennedy Center’s Theater for Young Audiences. Their pivot during Covid was to commission writers to do these short radio plays for young audiences. I don’t remember what the exact prompt was, but it was basically uncommon heroes or superheroes you haven’t seen before.

I’m originally from the Midwest. I’m from St. Louis originally and grew up along the Mississippi River. A lot of my plays are set in the Midwest, so I just sort of figured I should run with that—why fight it now? Artemis is a character who’s been coming into my brain in a lot of different ways recently. I had this image of this young girl who’s a wheelchair user and goes on some kind of journey, so I thought this seemed like a good time to explore that.

It began with her and this idea of a flood. I experienced the 1993 flooding of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers when I was a teenager and that sort of stuck in my imagination. As soon as I knew I was writing a play for young audiences, I was like, there has to be a talking animal, because I don’t get to do that all the time and it’s a lot of fun to play with. I’ve had this thing for herons in the last five years, because they’re just really cool birds. So Nicodemus as a great blue heron was sort of an obvious way to go.

Meredith Aleigha Wells as Artemis and Carl L. Williams as Nicodemus in ‘Through the Sunken Lands’ at the Kennedy Center. (Photo by Teresa Wood)

After its initial incarnation, how did you adapt it into a musical for the stage?

LORD: This all began with the radio play, obviously, but then I came back and pitched it to the Kennedy Center and said, “I really love the world that I’ve created here and these characters, and I feel like there’s more to explore. I have an idea for how we can take it from just purely an audio experience into live action…and maybe it’s a musical.” And basically, they said, “Yeah, that sounds great. Do you have any composers in mind?” I thought about it, and I was like, “There’s this guy Avi Amon who’s amazing.” We’ve worked together a few times on individual songs here and there. So I reached out to Avi and he said that he was game.

Avi and Cara, what made you say yes to this project?

AVI AMON: Honestly, just because of the relationship Tim and I had from the 52nd Street Project, it was an easy yes. We have, thankfully, a very smooth collaborative shorthand. It could have been a really bad show and I probably would have said yes, but thankfully, it’s not. I think there’s an immense amount of trust in the way that Tim writes and in the space that he leaves open for other people to kind of do their thing. It’s never just a blank check to go off and do you, but there is space for you to do you, and most likely, it’s gonna be in the ballpark. 

CARA PHIPPS: Frankly, when I got the email about it, I thought it was a joke. I thought it was spam. I opened it up and I was getting ready to toss it, and then I looked and I saw the Kennedy Center, and I was like, wait a minute. Then I saw Tim’s name and I texted him immediately. Similar to Avi, I was like, “Is this for real?” He’s like, “This is for real.”

Tim and I met back in the beginning of 2018 when he was a Jerome Fellow at the Playwrights’ Center. When we were both in the Twin Cities, we’d go out for beers, and I’d lament about my life in the theatre, like, “I’m just gonna quit and get a corporate job.” And Tim would be like, “Nope, you’re not allowed to, at least not until we get to work together.” Now it’s all come to fruition, here we are, and I’m grateful to be a part of this process. 

Can you tell me about your songwriting process?

LORD: We had a few meetings over Zoom, but I think all of our songwriting has really been in person. For the first song or two, I wrote some lyrics and sent them to Avi and he came back with a few musical sketches. But our most productive songwriting has been in person and that for me has been a really inspiring and exciting way to work. 

AMON: Every writer says that there’s nothing like being in a room together. You can’t fake that kind of synchronicity and collaborative energy. During these moments when we can be together, stuff blossoms in ways that I could never have imagined. You don’t get a breakthrough on your own in your apartment. You get a breakthrough when you’re in a room wrestling with something, while you’ve taken your shoes off and are walking around and the other person is doing something else. And you’re like, “Wait, that’s it!”

Sarah Anne Sillers as Maggie and Carl L. Williams as Nicodemus in ‘Through the Sunken Lands’ at the Kennedy Center. (Photo by Teresa Wood)

How would you describe the musical’s sound?

AMON: The sound is rooted in Americana. We’re trying to draw inspiration from direct sources as opposed to musical theatre references of those sources. So I’m listening to a lot of American roots music here, a lot of rock music, and a lot of pop as well. One thing that I know is that there’s going to be guitar.

The radio play deals with some heavy political topics: climate change, bureaucracy, gentrification. How do you make those themes accessible for young audiences?

LORD: All of my plays are really political, and actually, the plays that I write for young audiences are probably the most political. I met Avi working at the 52nd Street Project in New York City. We first worked together writing these short plays that kids would act in with an adult partner, and each of them had to have a song in them. Avi can also affirm what I learned from the kids’ own writing. When they would write their plays, you wouldn’t know they were written by 9- and 10-year-olds. They were just awesome plays that could be written by anybody of any age. I’ve learned from doing a lot of these that as long as you’ve got a good story and it moves, you can write something incredibly political and the kids will go with it, run with it, and just have a blast with it.

AMON: It’s what they’re thinking about from a very emotional place, because this stuff affects them. Maybe they don’t have 30 years of science class yet, but they know that the world that they’re entering into and becoming young adults in is not the one that their parents grew up in. And that can feel kind of ungrounding, right? If you can see that the main adults in your life are questioning things going on, of course that influences how you engage with the world. So creating a space where they can see that reflected onstage, and also creating language for them to articulate some of the things that perhaps they are not able to, I think is incredibly powerful.

PHIPPS: This is my first time doing TYA, and I’m really pumped about it, because I think that audience is a very truth-telling audience. They will call you on stuff, they will hold you accountable, and I’m here for it. I think as artists it’s really important for us to be held accountable for what we’re presenting, but then also to speak to this audience as they’re growing up in this time. We’re here to be in conversation with them and offer them language to put to the things that they’re feeling, or wanting, or giving them the chance to see something and say, “I need to go home and talk about this.”

Did you always envision the character of Artemis to be a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy?

LORD: She was envisioned as being a character with a disability from the beginning. Something I talk about with my own experience of disability is that, in some ways, we are the most ready for a post-apocalyptic world because we have to live with adaptation every day of our lives. It is something that we’ve always had to deal with. 

In her situation, she’s stuck in the library, there’s no electricity, there’s no refrigerator or pantry to get food from. She’s got to learn. She’s got to make sure she has fish, and somewhere to keep the fish. The thing that I learned as I really delved into her world is the fact that she is on her own and there is no outside judgment means she can actually shape the world into the way she wants it to be. The world of the library that she’s in is very much her world.

It’s not the kind of story that we tend to see. Typically speaking, the disability stories that get told on our stages, if they get told at all, are about, “Oh, the poor disabled person,” or how they have to overcome their disability. She’s not trying to overcome anything. This is never changing for her. This is what her reality will be for her entire life. So it’s this idea that disability actually becomes an advantage. We tend to think of disability as a disadvantage, or as making a person lesser. For so many people I know from the disability community, it’s not that way at all. I’ve had conversations with several friends about, if they could not be disabled, would they choose that? And usually, the answer is kind of, like, if there were a way that they could retain the experience of having been disabled, then sure, because the world is sometimes easier that way. For my particular disability, I would never want to not have that experience—to just give that up.

That was very much on my mind when I was thinking about this world. There’s something about her and her experiences thus far that actually allow her to thrive in this world. Obviously, there’s difficulty, there are challenges, but ultimately, because she’s a strong human being, she’s able to thrive through it.

Meredith Aleigha Wells as Artemis in ‘Through the Sunken Lands’ at the Kennedy Center. (Photo by Teresa Wood)

Are you auditioning disabled actors for the role?

PHIPPS: We are working with this fantastic company called DPD Casting. Our casting call is on their social media. We are specifically looking for actors who use wheelchairs. That’s something that’s been very important to us from the beginning with Tim’s story and this character. It is incredibly important to the storytelling, and also in terms of giving actors work. Those people are out there, and we’re in the midst of casting them.

We’re very mindful in terms of how we’re creating the world and making sure that the design of the set and everything is as it should be for allowing this actor to move through the set. Everyone’s going to be able to move through this set easily. We’re also very invested in actively working with that person’s needs and having it be a true collaboration.

LORD: It was a thing that I insisted on from the beginning, definitely, even with the radio play. Even though it was never going to be seen, we still cast a wheelchair user. Jesse Yates, who played Artemis in the radio play, has CP and is a wheelchair user. What I love is that, not only is the Kennedy Center relatively accessible as a building, because it was built in the later era, but they’ve also talked a lot about having their accessibility coordinators on staff. They’re not just casting one Artemis, they’re casting an understudy for her who will also be a wheelchair user. They’re actually creating two jobs for actors with disabilities in this particular production.

How did your experience of the Covid-19 pandemic influence the radio play?

LORD: The original idea of this Artemis character going on some kind of mythic quest existed before the pandemic, but certainly the fact that I was writing this at the end of 2020, far away from everyone else, influenced the writing of it. Even though I wasn’t intentionally trying to write some sort of pandemic quarantine play, the present world is always seeping into whatever I’m writing at the time.I think it was about feeling alone and wanting to reach out and have human connection. The story is very much about what happens when we become disconnected from the world around us, and what are the things we have to do to find our way back and reconnect?

We’re not post-Covid, but as we move into this post-quarantine world, the world is not the same, the world is not going back to what it was. A lot of our world has been torn apart and we’re not going to be able to put it back together the way it was. That’s one of the things we really started to discover in that workshop back in June. This journey that Artemis goes on is important and is ultimately about her discovering a new sense of self, a new sense of strength within herself, but also that the world is not going back to what it was. 

The radio play ends and basically everything is back to normal, but that’s not how the stage version ends. Not that it’s gonna end tragically—we’re still going for a full-on happy ending here. But now that the characters have gone through this and the world has been completely upended, the world that follows after they have solved this one problem is a changed world, and they are going to continue to have to find their way through.

Meredith Aleigha Wells as Artemis and Sarah Anne Sillers as Maggie in ‘Through the Sunken Lands’ at the Kennedy Center. (Photo by Teresa Wood)

Is there anything you would want a young audience member to take away from this story?

LORD: I’m not a technophobe, I’m not anti-technology, but I feel like so many of the challenges and questions that face us about who we are as a society can be answered by stepping away from technology and looking to the world around us. How many times is there a problem that we’re trying to solve with all of the various tools at our fingertips, but we really just need to have a personal conversation with people?

I also just want people to have the conversation around disability. So many times in my lifetime, I’ve encountered kids and they’ve seen my hand, and they’re like, “Oh my God, what’s wrong with you?” They’re very curious and their parents are shushing them. I think, no, let’s have the conversation. Let’s talk about it. Because generally speaking, when I have these encounters, I talk to the kid, I show them my hand, and I talk them through all of the crazy things about it. “Oh, it does this and this, and it doesn’t do that. And it kind of looks like a foot.” They love it. And then they move on. They accept it and they realize that’s part of reality.

I think people within the disability community often feel like they don’t get to have a voice because people refuse to talk to them about their experiences. If we could just have the conversation, if we could just address the issue, then people could learn to live with it. They’d learn to make that part of their world and part of their reality as well.

Alexandra Pierson (she/her) is the associate editor of American Theatre.

The Fled Collective PRESENTS Step Kids: A Developmental Workshop

NEW YORK CITY, October 3, 2023 — The Fled Collective will present its second developmental workshop of its 2023 Season this month. Step Kids is written by Tyrone L Robinson with additional music by Postell Pringle and directed by Raz Golden. Tickets are available for performances on October 26th, 27th and 28th at 7:00 PM at The Flea Theater. The performance on October 27 is Black Theater Night followed by a talk-back with the cast and creative team.

Tickets are $15 and will be available through Eventbrite.

ABOUT: Step Kids is a one act hip hop musical that tells the story of a group of college
students auditioning for the elite and competitive step dance team, The All Stars. Competition is tough and no mis-step goes unnoticed by “The Voice of God” (Erin Cherry). After much scrutiny and questioning, our heroine, Yessica (Kamiah Vickers) shares her love of Step. In her explanation, she goes into the history of Step Dancing in America and its African Roots, leading her to find her own voice.

The audience gets a beautifully recounted history lesson on the history of Step in America along with a High energy show full of music and dance. In an effort to bring step to communities across NYC, this past spring, The Fled Collective hosted a Step workshop at Kings Elementary School in Brownsville, NY, where scholars ages 5-10 were given firsthand the opportunity to learn the vocabulary of basic Step routines ahead of their graduating recital, Stepping Up! The goal of this workshop was to teach the students about the history of Step and the significant role it played throughout Black History and how it evolved into the artform it is today. Following a brief presentation of the history of Step (which you can view HERE), the students were taught some basic stepping phrases and ultimately the workshop will end with the students having learned a short routine.

Book, Music & Lyrics by Tyrone L. Robinson
Additional Music & Lyrics by Postell Pringle
Choreography by James Alonzo White

STRONG INSIDE, Adapted by Tyrone L Robinson, at the Nashville Children’s Theatre

Sept 7 – Sept 26, 2023

Presented by Vanderbilt University
Adapted by Tyrone L. Robinson
From the book by Andrew Maraniss
Directed by Tamiko Robinson Steele and Ernie Nolan

About the production

The inspirational true story of an athlete turned civil rights trailblazer. When king of the boards” Perry Wallace is recruited and accepted to Vanderbilt, his future not only changes, the country’s changes as well. Wallace makes history as the first African American to play college basketball in the deeply segregated Southeastern Conference. But how do you do something you love while surrounded by hate? This powerful world premiere based on the New York Times bestseller is a portrait of fortitude, portraying how Wallace met unthinkable challenges head on.

NCT has created a guide to support families, students, and educators in fostering meaningful conversations about equity and diversity.  We hope these disucssion tips will help you and your children explore the production’s themes with empathy and curiousity and that our shared resources connect you with additional support and context.

This production is made possible by support from Vanderbilt University and other generous donors.

Show Length

70 Minutes – No Intermission

Recommended Ages

9 & up

Get Tickets

View Dates & TImes

Bring your class

Connect with our Field Trip Concierge about bringing your class to NCT.


Theatre is for everyone.

ALL shows at NCT are Sensory Friendly. Learn more about our accessibility options.

Other Things to Know

NCT puts together tips for families and schools to help prepare their children for their experiences. Because the script is still in development, ratings may be adjusted. NCT Education Staff will develop and update these tips on our website throughout the rehearsal process. In the meantime, please see above for more information about current content and what to expect as the script stands at present – knowing that this is subject to change.

Review: ARTHUR & FRIENDS MAKE A MUSICAL is Fantastic Fun at FIRST STAGEHold on to your socks – World Premier of “Arthur & Friends” Really Rocks!


For an upbeat, kid-friendly show with heaps of heart, make a beeline for the world premier of Arthur & Friends Make a Musical at Milwaukee’s First Stage. When Mr. Ratburn’s class at Lakewood Elementary is asked to write and perform a show for all of Elwood City, the kids are super stoked. Except for Arthur, who’s struggling with what to contribute to the show. None of his ideas feel quite exciting enough. What’s an 8-year-old aardvark to do?

This First Stage musical is directed by Khalia Davis and features book and lyrics by John Maclay with music and lyrics by Brett Ryback, who also is the show’s musical director. Shoutout to Brett from a fellow Catholic Memorial High School alum. Brett was a senior when I was a freshman, and I fondly recall his sensational spin as Harold Hill in our production of The Music Man. How fun now to witness this charming, funny show of his firsthand at First Stage.

I had the pleasure of catching the Lakewood Cast, which features Sanaiah Hibbler as Arthur. Hibbler is a sophomore at Oak Creek High School and Arthur marks her fourth mainstage production at First Stage. She’s terrific and shines in moments both fast-paced and full of heart.

Supporting Hibbler is an entire cast of young performers that really brings it. This musical does a great job of giving everyone their own big, splashy musical number. It creates a veritable ensemble cast that, I imagine, would appeal to loads of young actors. Arthur gives each performer an opportunity to show loads of personality. Here’s who we get to enjoy in the Lakewood cast:

Fifth grader Layla Katers puts mighty spunk into her First Stage debut as Arthur’s little sister, D.W. Her obsession with aliens is a cute secondary story.

Niamh Mayne from PPMS sparkles as Muffy the fashionista, bringing flashy fun to “Dress for Success.”

Charlie Cornell, an eighth grader at St. Mary’s Visitation, stepped in from the other young performers cast as Brain. He’s perfectly poised and articulate, particularly during a wordy number where we’re nudged to “find a better word.” “Very is often overused,” Brain sings. This writer thoroughly enjoyed the playful reminder.

The musical theater fan in me found a standout favorite in Lucia Santana as Francine. Santana hails from Wisconsin Lutheran High School and brings genuine humor and originality to the 2022 version of Francine: an activist who believes that even when things are good, they can always be better. Her showstopper tells the story of Agent 355, a real-life female spy in the revolutionary war. Choreography by Khalia Davis impresses and amuses as the song dips into a Hamilton parody-a nod that had me laughing and loving it.

Alex Radke, a sophomore at Cedarburg High School, plays Arthur’s best friend Buster. He commands the stage during “Ulysses Napoleon Baggypants” alongside Baggypants himself, the hilarious Zach Thomas Woods.

Woods is one of three adult performers in the show, and Baggypants is a highlight of the Arthur. I also enjoyed Woods’ delivery of the winking line, “Are we solving problems through song?!”

SaraLynn Evenson as Arthur’s mother does indeed solve problems through song. She warmly reminds Arthur that he is “undeniable” and that it’s impossible to be boring when you’re the only one like you.

Rounding out the adult cast is the fizzy James Carrington as Mr. Ratburn. Carrington is a joy, delighting with laughs and big grins at every turn. All he has to do is enter the scene and voila! Smiles and giggles galore.

Arthur & Friends comes together with scenic design by Arnold Bueso, who has created a world lifted from the pages of Marc Brown’s books. Costume Designer Jason Orlenko nailed the looks for each character. We are invited to imagine Arthur as an aardvark, rather than the look being literal, and isn’t that perfect for children’s theater? A chance to tap into the power of imagination, as well as acknowledge the power there is in just being our authentic selves. Everyone is the star of their own story. Arthur & Friends is a marvelous reminder of that for kids and grown-ups alike.

Arthur & Friends Make a Musical is playing at First Stage through November 6, 2022. The show is approximately 75 minutes long, plus a brief intermission. It is recommended for families with children aged 5+. Find information and tickets at firstage.org.

Review by Kelsey Lawler for Broadway World.

Owen & Mzee, Directed by Tyrone Robinson, Debuts in NYC

Owen & Mzee The Musical is a inspiring true story of two great friends, a baby hippo named Owen and a 130-yr-old giant tortoise named Mzee. When Owen was stranded after a tsunami, villagers in Kenya worked tirelessly to rescue him. Then, to everyone’s amazement, the orphan hippo and the elderly tortoise adopted each other, and they became inseparable, swimming, eating, and playing together. Adorable photos e-mailed from friend to friend quickly made them worldwide celebrities. Here is a joyous reminder that in times of trouble, friendship is stronger than the differences that too often pull us apart.

Directed by Tyrone L. Robinson.


Appropriate for all ages.
Everyone must have a ticket regardless of age!

Running Time

60 minutes, with no intermission


339 West 47th Street
Between 8th and 9th Avenue
New York NY, 10036

Get your ticket today for 11/14 or 11/21 !

BWW Review: A WIND IN THE DOOR at the Kennedy Center

The Kennedy Center’s world premiere adaptation of the young adult fantasy classic brings the novel’s unique blend of sci-fi and whimsical poetry to life.

The Kennedy Center’s Performances for Young Audiences season is back, and it kicked off with a world premiere adaptation of the young adult fantasy classic A Wind in the Door. This wildly imaginative tale by Madeleine L’Engle is best known as the sequel to her Newbery Medal-winning novel A Wrinkle in Time, which has sparked multiple stage and film adaptations.

A Wind in the Door might have been slightly overshadowed by the acclaim of its literary predecessor, but it tells a story that’s innovative and thrilling in its own right. The Kennedy Center’s adaptation by Jacqueline Goldfinger and directed by Nicole A. Watson brings the novel’s unique blend of sci-fi and whimsical poetry to life in a whirlwind performance.

From its very beginning, A Wind in the Door strikes a delicate balance between the peppy silliness of a kid-friendly adventure and the solemnity of a transcendent journey across the galaxy. It’s dizzying in just the right way as the audience is thrown into the supernatural world of Meg and Charles Wallace‘s attic, where magical beings suddenly appear and an imaginary sub-cellular structure called the farandolae contains the secret to the universe’s salvation.

BWW Review: A WIND IN THE DOOR at the Kennedy Center
Tyasia Velines as Progo and Alicia Grace as Meg go on a journey together in the Kennedy Center’s A Wind in the Door. Photo by Teresa Wood.

While the show plays with different fantastical scenarios, the crux of the drama is that Meg’s (Alicia Grace) little brother Charles Wallace (David Landstrom) is dying due to a disorder of his farandolae. Her earthly friend Calvin (Vaughn Ryan Midder) and otherworldly friend Progo (Tyasia Velines) need to find a way to make him well. To do this, they must complete a series of tests from an ethereal cosmic instructor named Blajeny (Lynette Rathnam), fight an evil force called the Echthroi who are attempting to “X” or eliminate everything in the universe, and communicate with each other telepathically through a process called “kything.” And finally, they must travel inside Charles Wallace‘s mitochondria to convince a particular farandolae called Sporos to “take root” and resist the chaotic influence of the Echthroi.https://e0f049babf827176dd0eb23c4f3b662c.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

This is a lot to tackle in just 60 minutes, but the Kennedy Center’s smart and heartfelt adaptation manages to crystallize the big ideas with time to spare for the grade school good stuff, from physical comedy to puppet dances. It’s a bit ambitious, but A Wind in the Door gets the job done – part of the play’s storytelling approach is to pepper in clearly formulated lessons about friendship, bravery, and loss, and while this might feel a bit didactic for adult audience members, it captures the spirit of L’Engle’s prose.

A Wind in the Door is also just fun to look at: the costumes by Ivania Stack and puppets by Matt-a-Magical were dazzlingly fun. For a show with minimal set changes, it was visually lush enough to hold the attention of even the most Tik Tok-steeped elementary schooler. This was largely due to the combination of the absolutely breathtaking lighting design by Sherrice Mojgani and sound by Tosin Olufolabi.

Beyond the beautiful visuals and ambiance, the show was carried by a spectacular cast. Alicia Grace brought bubbly energy and warmth to the character of Meg, simultaneously capturing her childlike wonder and maturity beyond her years. Tyasia Velines held the audience in the palm of their hand as Progo – perhaps a poor characterization here, since Progo’s hands are not palmed but rather take the form of additional heads, complete with snouts and wide eyes. Indeed, Velines made the unique physicality of this wondrous supernatural creature their own with charisma and (literal) panache. David Landstrom‘s endearing Charles Wallace embodied the boy genius in all his stuffy-nosed fragility. Vaughn Ryan Midder was delightful as Calvin, and Lynette Rathnam‘s Blajeny was captivating underneath a stunning costume that you have to see in person to fully experience.

BWW Review: A WIND IN THE DOOR at the Kennedy Center
Vaughn Ryan Midder, Alicia Grace, David Landstrom, Lynette Rathnam, and Tyasia Velines make up the dynamic ensemble cast of the Kennedy Center’s A Wind in the Door. Photo by Teresa Wood.

One of Madeleine L’Engle’s biggest talents is connecting the cosmic to the personal, and this synthesis between the vast and intimate is captured beautifully in Jacqueline Goldfinger’s adaptation. While concepts like the importance of “taking root” and Meg’s power to “name” people for who they are might seem a bit abstract for an elementary or middle schooler, A Wind in the Door makes big themes tangible and accessible without talking down to its audience.

The idea of love vanquishing darkness is not exactly radical, but it’s not every day that the triumph of good over evil is depicted through squirming farandolae or the feather of a many-eyed heavenly being. In the world of A Wind in the Door, we all depend on each other to survive (no matter how many eyes we have), and whether we look out for one another can determine the fate of us all. It’s a timeless lesson and one that couldn’t be more important for the times we live in now.

Running time: 60 minutes

A Wind in the Door at the Kennedy Center is playing through September 11, 2021, and the production will be streaming later in the fall for school audiences. The show is recommended for ages 9 and up. Tickets are $20 per person, and you can go here to reserve your seat. Information about the Kennedy Center’s Covid-19 requirements can be found here.

Read the full article by Dara Homer from Broadway World, Washington DC here.

Kennedy Center opens a fantastic ‘Wind in the Door’ for kids

The Kennedy Center’s world premiere commission of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door opened over Labor Day weekend to a much deserved standing ovation. The sequel to A Wrinkle in Time, and second installment of L’Engle’s Time Quartet, was adapted for the stage by Jacqueline Goldfinger and features the beloved characters Charles Wallace, Meg, and Calvin as they battle an evil force, which threatens all existence, through a series of tests.

Vaughn Ryan Midder, Alicia Grace, David Landstrom, Lynette Rathnam, and Tyasia Velines (Puppet by Matthew McGee) in ‘A Wind in the Door.’ Photo by Teresa Wood.

Director Nicole A. Watson brings the story to life with a five-person cast and a gorgeous set designed by Luciana Stecconi. The production includes a towering puppet (by Matt-a-Magic) and a lovable dragon-esque creature named Progo, charmingly played by Tyasia Velines, with a magically colorful costume (designed by Ivania Stack) using Velines’s arms as dragon necks with a head on each hand.

Alicia Grace and David Landstrom in ‘A Wind in the Door.’ Photo by Teresa Wood.

The story begins with Meg, played by Alicia Grace, worrying about her brother, Charles Wallace (David Landstrom), who is not well and keeps getting sicker. With the help of her good friend Calvin (Vaughn Ryan Midder), they encourage Charles Wallace to hunker down in a warm blanket so he can rest while they read a book to him.

But the trio is interrupted by an intergalactic Teacher named Blejany (Lynette Rathnam), who tells them that Charles Wallace is in danger and they must go on a mission to save him from the evil Echthros and restore balance to the Universe. 

They will not be alone, though; Blejany has brought them a guide named Progo (Velines) to help them along the way. With the creature’s help they agree to take on this enormous task and determine to save Charles Wallace and, in turn, the entire world.

In the first test, three replicas of Calvin appear. The actors are all wearing the same outfit, with an emotionless mask to hide their faces, all claiming to be Calvin and posturing like him. Meg must name them all and discover who is the real Calvin. The scene is a bit sinister but with enough humor to keep from being scary. The Calvins slither around Meg doing different moves and tricks to plead their case. But ultimately, because Meg knows Calvin’s heart so well, she is able to be rid of the imposters and find the real Calvin.

And this is the nature of the tests Meg must perform. She uses her knowledge and fortitude to find the truths and fight against deceit, flattery, and destruction, for the good of all. Grace portrays Meg’s struggle with a brilliant balance of youthful self-doubt and honest determination.

Tyasia Velines and Alicia Grace in ‘A Wind in the Door.’ Photo by Teresa Wood.

The entire cast does an impressive job and the show has a steady-paced, high-energy, suspenseful vibe that holds the audience’s engagement throughout the production. My 12- year-old attended with me and was shocked when only five actors appeared at the curtain call, asking “Where are the rest of the people?”— which speaks to the seamless performances and transitions by the crew.

A Wind in the Door is a heart-warming tale about love, hope, and responsibility. The story addresses the unpleasant truth that there are many evils in the world. And though things may not seem to affect us all directly, these evils could ultimately destroy our world if we do not band together and fight. This message transcends into so much that is going on today. Climate change, civil rights, prejudice, and mental health stigmas. The list is endless.

Alicia Grace and Vaughn Ryan Midder in ‘A Wind in the Door.’ Photo by Teresa Wood.

The Kennedy Center has created a fantastic, original production with a subtle yet powerful message that all youth should hear. With a knockout cast and impressive production team, A Wind in the Door is destined to become a new family favorite.

Read the article from Kendall Mostafavai at the DC Metro here.

Running Time: Approximately 60 minutes, with no intermission. Most enjoyed by 9+

A Wind in the Door plays September 2 through 11, 2021, at The Kennedy Center Family Theater, 2700 F St. NW, Washington, D.C. Tickets are available online or by calling the box office at (202) 416-8540.

Cast:  Alicia Grace (Meg Murry), David Landstrom (Charles Wallace), Vaughn Ryan Midder (Calvin O’Keefe), Lynette Rathnam (Blageny), and Tyasia Velines (Progo)

Creative Team: Director – Nicole A. Watson; Playwright – Jacqueline Goldfinger; Dramaturg – Martine Kei Green-Rogers; Stage Manager – Rachael Danielle Albert; Costume Designer – Ivania Stack; Sound Designer – Tosin Olufolabi; Properties Artisan – Patti Kalil; Production Assistant – Stephen Bubniak; Scenic Designer – Luciana Stecconi; Lighting Designer – Sherrice Mojgani; Puppets – Matt-a-Magical; Assistant Director – Agyeiwaa Asante; Casting Director – Michelle Kozlak

Khalia Davis Directs Online Play to Help Kids Grasp Racism at Orlando Repertory Theatre

The cast and crew of "A Kids Play About Racism."
The cast and crew of “A Kids Play About Racism.” (Orlando Repertory Theatre / Courtesy photo)

Orlando Repertory Theatre is among 41 theaters nationwide co-presenting the online premiere of a free play about racism designed for children, and this version is directed by Khalia Davis of the Gurman Agency LLC.

“A Kids Play About Racism” will be shown Aug. 1-2 in the hopes of giving families a way to engage in meaningful conversation about racial issues. The play is adapted from “A Kids Book About Race” by Jelani Memory, a Black father with six children of different races.

Orlando Rep and the other presenters, led by the Bay Area Children’s Theatre in California, Seattle Children’s Theatre and Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, specialize in theater for young audiences. The online presentation of “A Kids Play About Racism” will be available at get.broadwayondemand.com.

“This performance explains what racism is, how to know it when you see and experience it, and ideas for what you can do about it,” reads the website, kidsplayabout.org. The production is recommended for ages 5 and up.

Read the full article by Matthew J. Palm from the Orlando Sentinel here.

BWW Review: ZOMO THE RABBIT: A HIP-HOP CREATION MYTH, from Psalmayene 24, at Imagination Stage

In Imagination Stage’s production of Zomo The Rabbit: A Hip-Hop Creation Myth, written by Psalmayene 24 with music by Nick “tha 1 da” Hernandez, hip-hop meets a Nigerian folktale. Zomo the Rabbit (Gary L. Perkins III) doesn’t feel like he fits in with other animals. And much to Zomo’s dismay, no one is interested in his raps. Zomo decides what he needs is power. He seeks out the Sky God (Melissa Carter). Sky God is dealing with the constant fighting among the animals and is in need of something to unite them. She decides to give Zomo a quest. To get his power (and secretly help Sky God with her problem), he must retrieve three items: Big Fish’s (Unissa Cruse) dancing shoes, Wild Cow’s (Jonathan Atkinson) spray paint cans, and Leopard’s (Inés Domínguez del Corral) beat machine. As Zomo goes about his quest, he starts to realize that it wasn’t power that he was looking for after all. Imagination Stage’s Zomo The Rabbit: A Hip-Hop Creation Myth, directed by Raymond O. Caldwell, brings back old school hip-hop for a fun, interactive show for kids and adults.

From the dance moves (directed by Tiffany Quinn) to the music (created and directed by Nick Hernandez), the show is old school hip-hop to its core. The show references raps from the 70’s and 80’s. The raps aren’t so fast that they would lose kids. The rap styles are comfortingly familiar and you’ll keep trying to guess which rap styles were used as inspiration even after the show. The projections and scenic design, by Nate Sinnott, are colorful and are spot on for the graffiti art style associated with hip-hop.

The costumes, designed by Madison Booth, play on hip-hop elements and pull from styles iconic of the 80’s and early 90’s. With the show being set in D.C., adults and kids will enjoy little Easter eggs such as the references to the Metro and the National Zoo.

The cast is an energetic and talented bunch. They keep the energy going even during audience interactions. A clear first place for audience favorite is the dance battle between Zomo and Big Fish. You get to learn a move or two and get to cheer on your favorite dancer. Both Perkins and Cruse have some seriously awesome moves. It doesn’t just stop at the dance battle. There is yoga with Flamingo, a Mad Lib style rap, and much more. Carter’s yoga obsessed Sky God is quite funny. Sky God goes around spouting silly sayings to a confused Zomo almost like a parent would to their child.

The show’s lesson about power is a good one. As Zomo goes on his quest, he begins to realize that his actions to get power are hurting Big Fish, Wild Cow, and Leopard. He learns that you have to earn power. But, the show isn’t just a lesson about power. It’s a lesson in hip-hop. You learn about hip-hop music and dance styles.

The only missed beat in this show? It’s a bit longer than it should have been. There are a few scenes which stretch out a bit such as Zomo meeting Wild Cow. These scenes don’t quite match the pacing of Zomo meeting the other characters.

With its lovable characters and its creative storytelling, don’t run – “hop” to go see Imagination Stage’s Zomo the Rabbit: A Hip-Hop Creation Myth.

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission

Review by Hannah Wing from Broadway World.