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.

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.

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

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.

The Freshest Snow Whyte at Imagination Stage Written by Psalmayene 24

Katy Carkuff stars in “The Freshest Snow Whyte,” a futuristic, hip-hop update to the famous fairy tale.

Imagination Stage was so pleased with its hip-hop trilogy — “Zomo the Rabbit: A Hip-Hop Creation Myth,” 2009; “P. Nokio: A Hip-Hop Musical,” 2012; and “Cinderella: The Remix,” 2014 — that it has commissioned the same team again.

Playwright Psalmayene 24 and composer Nick “tha 1da” Hernandez will soon unveil The Freshest Snow Whyte, the first of a five-play series about science, technology, engineering, art and math. “ ‘The Freshest Snow Whyte’ is my exploration of technology through the lens of hip-hop,” Morrison says.

The heroine of the title, a brilliant graffiti artist played by Katy Carkuff, lives in the year 3000. Instead of spray cans, she uses a graffiti device that she programs and then “sprays” onto walls (with the help of designer Tewodross Melchishua’s projections).

She raps to the audience:

Said my name is Snow Whyte

But not the Disney version

Cuz this remix

Is just a bit more urban

And these raps are tight

Just like a turban

My talent reveals the light

Like an open curtain

Replacing the evil stepmother is a jealous uncle named Kanye East (Calvin McCullough). A longtime graffiti star himself, he goes a little crazy when he hears that Snow Whyte is now considered the best graffiti artist in the land. His servant, 3 Pac (Frank Britton), and magic mirror, Mira (Jonathan Feuer), can’t reassure him. So he spirits his niece to a backwater planet where they still use spray cans and her work won’t be seen. Of course Snow Whyte triumphs.

Read the full article fro the Washington Post here.

Funny, Scary, Delightful: First Stage Turns ‘Goosebumps’ into a Charming Musical


Based on the series by R.L. Stine, First Stage Associate Artistic Director John Maclay and Music Director-Composer Danny Abosch have adapted the novel into a musical which will charm audiences of all ages. The “big kids” will immediately recognize the storyline from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera while the “littler ones” easily pick up on all the Disney references. When Brooke and Zeke are cast in a show about a phantom, strange things begin to happen at the school. Is someone playing tricks? Or is there a real phantom out to stop this production?

Director Niffer Clarke masterfully keeps the silly suspense turned up high amid the solid musical numbers and her own well-executed choreography. With Stine’s books, it’s the kids who are the smart ones and Brooke and Zeke certainly rule here as they try to figure out who—or what—is actually behind all the ominous warnings.

The Chills cast of young performers handled the acting chores at last Saturday’s matinée with the utmost enthusiasm and professionalism. Chantae Miller is already a veteran of local productions and it shows in her pitch-perfect performance as Brooke. Jake Koch’s Zeke is the perfect comic foil and Mallorey Wallace hits all the rights notes (literally) as “mean girl—kinda-sorta” Tina. Veteran stage actors Carrie Hitchcock and Chris Klopatek serve this production well as the befuddled teacher and scary janitor, respectively.

Read the full article by Harry Cherkinian from the Shepherd Express here.

First Stage’s “Goosebumps” Conjures a Fabulously Frightful Night for Families

It’s not always the case that a play lives up to either its title or its billing, but First Stage, as you might expect, does just that with “Goosebumps,” which opened over the weekend.

The full title of the play is “Goosebumps: Phantom of the Auditorium: The Musical,” based on a book by R. L. Stine, who wrote a series of novels for children that have sold over 30 million copies worldwide.

The musical was yet another world premiere for First Stage and was written by John Maclay, who wrote the book, and Danny Abosch, both clients of the Gurman Agency, who wrote the music. The two combined to write some of the best and most interesting lyrics I’ve heard in a long time.

A high school drama class is going to stage a play under the thoughtful and hopeful direction of Mrs. Walker (a marvelously disguised Carrie Hitchcock). The story of the play is about a phantom who prowls the halls of the school auditorium. There are eight students (in the Chill cast which I saw Saturday) who have various roles in the production, headlined by Brooke Rodgers (Chantae Miller) and Zeke Matthews (Jake Koch) who is really the phantom.

Goosebumps runs through Nov. 13.

Read the full article by Dave Begel from OnMiluakee here.

‘Goosebumps the Musical’ is frightful fun from Oregon Children’s Theatre

R.L. Stine’s mega-selling “Goosebumps” children’s book series comes to the stage in a world premiere musical from Oregon Children’s Theatre. (Owen Carey)

“Goosebumps the Musical: Phantom of the Auditorium,” opened this weekend at the Newmark Theatre, and it retains the Stine signatures: campy horror, personal growth for the tween protagonists, and a supernatural twist in the final pages.

Based on the 24th book in the series, the musical is the logical, initial adaptation to launch what may develop into a stage franchise that could run for decades. The play mostly takes place in a middle-school theater, and the ghostly phantom is one of the author’s least gruesome villains, which dials down the fear factor for younger theatergoers. (Oregon Children’s Theatre suggests the show is a fit for ages 8 and up.) And the story is no sillier than Andrew Lloyd Webber’s overblown version of Gaston Leroux’s chiller, but here there’s no pretension, no tacky chandelier trick and no faux operatic caterwauling.

Line of the Night: “The show must go on. No one’s going to scare me off. It’s my time,” aspiring lead actress Brooke (Katie McClanan) proclaims after she’s fed up with the phantom’s antics.

Strengths: While the movie was a nostalgic feast for young parents who devoured two or three books over rainy weekends during their tween years, John Maclay’s play chiefly serves kids. And that feels absolutely correct. There’s no need for clever winks to Stephen King or cameos from Stine’s stable of other creatures. (Although the opening number, “Goosebumps,” delivers a quick shout-out to Slappy the demonic ventriloquist’s dummy, who’s the unofficial mascot for the series.) We can limit our nostalgia intake and let the kids discover all of the frightful fun for themselves.

Danny Abosch’s creepy, slightly pop score sounds much more suited to Stine’s material than Danny Elfman’s erratic, overly cute instrumental arrangement for the recent film. In fact, Sony Pictures should grab the play’s opening song for the upcoming “Goosebumps” movie sequel. This is one of those rare musicals with a tune that sticks in your head, playing over and over, days later.

Weaknesses: This is one of those rare musicals with a tune that sticks in your head, playing over and over, days later.

Most Significant Performances: Drama teacher Ms. Walker (played by Laurie Campbell-Leslie) and her convincingly anxious, spacey, funny and determined middle schoolers are a credit to theater geeks everywhere. The young cast owns their characters’ idiosyncrasies like natural personal traits.

McClanan handily pivots from tenacious, Tony-bound thespian to an adorably awkward crushing tween. As Zeke — a hyperactive, junior Johnny Knoxville whose pranks finally backfire — Skylar Derthick is all-heart, no Ritalin. He chews through his scenes with good-natured ferocity, like a hamster chewing through a shoebox.

Take-away: Small scares, little life lessons and a title track that, for better or worse, you’ll take to your grave.
— Lee Williams, for The Oregonian/OregonLive

“Goosebumps the Musical: Phantom of the Auditorium”

When: 2 and 5 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sunday (no 11 a.m. shows Nov. 6, 13 or 20) through Nov. 20

Where: Newmark Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway

Tickets: $14-$32, octc.org or 503-228-9571

Read the full article by Lee Williams for The Oregonian here.

‘Grace for President’ Deserves Your Vote

Grace (Talia Robinson) decides she’d like to represent her third-grade class in “Grace for President” at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte.
Grace (Talia Robinson) decides she’d like to represent her third-grade class in “Grace for President” at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte.

If a musical that explains the electoral college sounds like theater detention, skip the rest of this review. But you’ll miss out on an hour of fun in “Grace for President,” the world premiere now at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte.

Your child might tell you the story comes from a 2008 book by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrator LeUyen Pham, in which a third-grader looks at a wall full of presidential portraits and asks, “Where are the girls?” Grace decides to run for class president and, because uncontested elections take place only in dictatorships, an opponent is found: Thomas Cobb, a superachiever with an ego the size of his C.V.

What your child doesn’t yet know is the cleverness with which composer-librettist-playwright Joan Cushing has converted this narrative to a musical. We get a harmonized hymn to maleness in “Boys Boys Boys,” a plaintive song about participation in “My Vote Counts,” and a hip-hop showstopper in “The Democracy Rap” that borrows from the “Hamilton” playbook.

Yet Cushing makes a lot of good points: We should vote for the person best qualified for the job, not the blowhard who makes empty promises with no intention of keeping them. Long-term policies, not short-term gratification, matter most. Shy or hesitant people need to be invited to participate, whether in a school cafeteria or life. And a single vote can sway an election, as all historians know.

She tells the story so rousingly that children in the audience were cheering for Grace and Thomas by the end, like nominators at a political convention. Director Michelle Long, aware that politics can be a staid subject, keeps things moving cleverly: At one point, the student portraying Washington gets “rowed” across the classroom on a movable desk by fellow students. Talia Robinson’s energy, a combination of exuberance and justifiable irritation, makes the progressive Grace a charmer.

Read the full article by Lawrence Toppman for The Charlotte Observer here.