BWW Review: CTC'S Delightful LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET Encourages More 'Dancing in Life.'

BWW Review: CTC'S Delightful LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET Encourages More 'Dancing in Life.'
Oglesby, Vega & Leslie in Last Stop on Market Street
Photo Credit: Don Norman

Dancing and energizing music imbue life with joy in the Midwest premiere of Children's Theater Company's Last Stop on Market Street this September. Produced as a co-commission with Chicago Children's Theatre and based on the Newbery Award Winning book written by Matt de la Peña, Last Stop on Market Street charms and delights audiences. Directed by Henry Godinez, and then adapted by for the stage by Cheryl L. West, this exuberant production recreates the adventures a seven year old boy encounters when he visits his Nana for the weekend. Nana lives in a neighborhood teeming with a wide variety of personalities and new experiences CJ is unfamiliar with and often wary of--Including the reggae music and "laying some sugar on his Nana,"which Nana then explains means to kiss her.

Alejandro Vega, a 14 year old actor, literally inhabits CJ's character. Vega dances and sings with a vibrant stage presence and expert precision well beyond his years, similar to a well honed professional. His expertise gives the production warmth and believability, and surprising sparks of reality. Vega collaborates with his Nana, Greta Oglesby, who adds her effervescent and expressive persona together with a grand voice. Together, Oglesby and Vega transform the stage when their formidable team crosses generations who argue over contemporary technical devices.

Also appearing as almost two separate characters in this production, the first is the music composed and written by Lamont Dozier and Paris Ray Dozier. Whether hip hop, rap, gospel or the lovely ballad "When you're far away, I will still always love you" becomes a centerpiece for the production. Each song, and the complimentary choreography connects the scenes with exuberance and vitality. Four musicians under Musical Director Sanford Moore accompany the cast and can be "heard" through an open sewer cavity in the "street."

Second in the production, scenery plays another extraordinary character through Scenic Designer Courtney O'Neill when Nana's house rotates from exterior to interior, and one enters the Soup Kitchen Nana and CJ visit at the last bus stop on Market Street. Surprise arrives when the monumental "bus" pulls through the back scenery door, and catapults the audience to the streets, where Nana's neighborhood comes alive for CJ.

Interchangeable use of Spanish and English dialogue promotes a bilingual flavor to the musical, which holds the audience's attention each moment of the performance. Incredible choreography by Ashley Selmer overtakes the stage, especially when a supposed blind man, Calvin Zimmerman, begins an ensemble, Broadway worthy number. A rousing Gospel number also raises the roof as Oglesby leads a chorus in the theater for audiences. The ensemble also features Dwight Leslie, Ansa Akyea, Autumn Ness, and Kennedy Lucas in other dances and songs.

To say much more regarding how Cj overcomes his fear and understands his new surroundings to appreciates his Nana's neighborhood might spoil the surprise in this 90 minute, no intermission performance. Both the music and dancing create magical theater for those interested in learning how appearances provide only a thin cover to what lies underneath someone's skin and their distinctive personality. The entire performance surprises the audience with audacity and a clear message to embrace the unfamiliar and discover the best someone might be when we dance through life and "watch the world through their [someone else's] eyes."

Be sure to experience this dance and musical extravaganza that might open your eyes to the ways of another world, where ever that might be in an extraordinary place. Surround yourself with whatever environments might be beautiful, and other person's souls wait to be discovered underneath an opaque veneer of stereotypes. The delightful Last Stop on Market Street plays through October 21 at Children's Theatre Company, and might suggest the world needs an people with open hearts who could "lay some sugar" on those they affectionately meet along with a life filled with plenty of dancing and singing.

Children's Theater Company presents Last Stop on Market Street through October 21. For information or season tickets, or tickets to this performance, please visit: www.childresntheatre.org.

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From This Author Peggy Sue Dunigan

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