BWW Review: THE SMARTEST GIRL IN THE WORLD Charms Audiences at Austin Playhouse

BWW Review: THE SMARTEST GIRL IN THE WORLD Charms Audiences at Austin Playhouse
(l-r) David Barrera, Ben Bazán, and Madi Palomo.
Photo by Jess Hughes

THE SMARTEST GIRL IN THE WORLD is now playing at Austin Playhouse as their spring Theatre for Youth production. Premiering in 2015 and written by playwright, Miriam Gonzales, the sixty-minute children's show serves as a touching reminder that everyone can be smart in their own unique way. The play tells the story of siblings, Leo (David Barrera) and Lizzie Martinez (Madi Palomo), two "latchkey kids" with big plans. While their parents are at work, studious Leo and enthusiastic Lizzie spend hours memorizing educational facts in hopes that Leo will win big on a local TV game show. The two are convinced that being smart and winning the competition will give their family a better life. But even after Leo is selected, Mami (Martinique Duchene-Phillips) and Papi (Ben Bazán) refuse to let him participate due to his Sickle Cell Anemia diagnosis. Determined not to let their dream fizzle out, little sister, Lizzie studies day and night to compete in his place. Along the way, the pair learns to face their fears and forgive each other's mistakes.

As siblings, David Barrera and Madi Palomo are a dynamic team. Their contrasting personalities show different perspectives as the kids use their imagination, convince their friends to forgo play to study, and face the reality of Leo's illness. Madi Palomo as Lizzie is an energetic ray of sunshine. Barely stopping to catch her breath, Palomo brings nonstop smiles and comedic antics to her role. David Barrera as Leo is the picture of a loving, devoted big brother. Even when he is sad, angry, or dealing with the effects of his illness, his love for his younger sister shines through. The supporting cast of actors moves seamlessly between various characters. Favorite supporting roles include Kenedi Delgado as Lizzie's fun-loving friend, Cheryl; Ben Bazán as the children's cousin, Hector; and Martinique Duchene-Phillips as wise and loving Aunt Kid.

The technical elements of the show are kept simple. Leo and Lizzie's shared bedroom serves as the setting for the majority of the show, only changing a handful of times. Mike Toner's simplistic design is clear, concise and allows for easy maneuvering between settings of the bedroom, an imaginary world, Aunt Kid's kitchen table, and the set of TV game show. Additionally, costumes by Glenda Wolfe perfectly suit the personality of each character and bring a sense of fun and whimsy to the show's visual elements.

Under the skilled and thoughtful direction of Roxanne Schroeder-Arce, this production is a lively, comedic story with a lot of heart. Schroeder-Arce understands that pacing and energy are vital to storytelling, especially in shows catering to children. Shown from a child's perspective, the show's themes of education, family, and imagination are illustrated through Lizzie and Leo's relationship and their determination to succeed. Even when their plan falters and Leo loses his way, Lizzie carries the banner for both of them with unwavering resolve.

THE SMARTEST GIRL IN THE WORLD is must-see production for kids of all ages. With a funny, heartwarming story and engaging characters that rival any superhero, this show is the perfect family theatre experience. Run don't walk to catch this story that is truly one of a kind.


THE SMARTEST GIRL IN THE WORLD is now playing at Austin Playhouse at ACC Highland (6001 Airport Blvd., Austin, TX 78752) until April 14th. Two Saturday showings at 11 am and 2 pm.

Approx. running time: Sixty minutes

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