BWW Reviews: Jazz Comes to Life in Orlando Shakes' 'A NIGHT IN NEW ORLEANS'

Based off the popular Magic Tree House book series by Mary Pope Osborne, A NIGHT IN NEW ORLEANS makes its rolling world premiere at Orlando Shakespeare. Not only does this production introduce young audiences to musical theater, it also provided Orlando public school students with an opportunity to receive a generous book donations from amazing corporate partners. Kids of all ages will enjoy reading the stories and then seeing it come to life on stage.

In this adventure the beloved Magic Tree House characters, Jack and Annie, go back to 1915 in search of young Louis Armstrong. With book and lyrics co-written by Will Osborne and Murray Horwitz and music composed by legendary Jazz composer Allen Toussaint, A NIGHT IN NEW ORLEANS is a musical treat. The adventure is filled with fun dances and some interesting characters including a donkey. Jack and Annie learn that Louis Armstrong came from a hard-working background and faced poverty and race issues. The material is not heavy and perfectly written for the young audience. Applause to Orlando Shakes for choosing to go with a live orchestra. The live orchestra truly brings the production to life as the audience can hear and feel the music throughout the show.

Young Louis Armstrong goes by the nickname Dipper (Damian Barray) and he works several jobs to support his family. Jack (Jeffrey Todd Parrott) and Annie (Sophie Bell) try to convince him that music is his destiny, but Dipper is too busy working to bother. Semi-narrators and friends Lil Mac, Happy, and Big Nose (Bridgette Hoover, Joel Oramas, and Anachebe Asomugha), try to distract Dipper and perform some lively choreographed dances. Jack and Annie follow Dipper around New Orleans, helping him with his various jobs until finally Dipper agrees to play his trumpet.

As Dipper, Damian Barray is noble and suave. He plays the character with a genuine appeal and smooth voice. It is clear that Barray's musical talent stretches beyond scat singing. Jeffrey Todd Parrott's Jack is goofy, which made him a kid-favorite. Sophie Bell is a sweet Annie. She is brave and smart. Though the role of Annie does not give her a good chance to flex her singing muscles, if given the opportunity, she would shine.

In honor of the opening of A NIGHT IN NEW ORLEANS, JetBlue Airways donated 20,000 Magic Tree House books and backpacks to Orange County Public School Elementary students. The donation is part of JetBlue's Soar with Reading program, which provides age-appropraite books to children in underserved areas. In addition to JetBlue's donation, author Mary Pope Osborne, donated Magic Tree House Book #42: A Good Night for Ghosts to all Title 1 third and fourth graders who attend A NIGHT IN NEW ORLEANS with their schools. This is in addition to her previous donation of over 28,000 Magic Tree House books to every Orange County Title 1 third grader through her Gift of Books Program.

Directed by Steve Mackinnon, A NIGHT IN NEW ORLEANS: A MAGIC TREE HOUSE ADVENTURE runs until November 23 at Orlando Shakespeare Theater. For tickets and more information visit

Photo Credit: Landon St. Gordon

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