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A World Premiere for young audiences


Acoustic Rooster's Barnyard Boogie: Starring Indigo Blume

Kwame Alexander's 2010 picture book for the age 5-8 set, Acoustic Rooster and His Barnyard Band, secretly serves as Jazz 101 for children the way Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf and Britten's Young People's Guide to the Orchestra introduce them to musical instruments. Alexander's book, with characters such as Mules Davis and Duck Ellington, not only brims with puns, it explicates jazz and packs its own gem of a glossary. His 2011 title, Indigo Blume and the Garden City, introduces his spunky 9 year old heroine who teaches an urban neighborhood to go green and make our garden grow. In 2020, Alexander blended some of the characters from both books to help children realize that the show must go on even when you're a little scared of getting up in front of groups and also that your parents love you. No. Matter. What The books are joys, but Alexander's and Mary Rand Hess' 2021 mashup of them into this 70 minute musical production, in the Family Theater of the Kennedy Center through November 28, has flaws. Let's get them over with so that the good news can follow.

Flaw 1: the unseen instrumentalists drown out every word of every song. Between Director, Lili-Anne Brown, Sound Designer, Kevin Lee Alexander, and whoever the sound operator is, this could be fixed. But that would take willingness to defy the current fashion for "loud is good." Randy Preston's songs deserve better, as do the actors performing them. Flaw 2: the 5-year-olds in the audience started leaving for the bathroom or beyond at the 40 minute mark. By minute 55, many of those remaining in the house were talking over the script. Children's theatre/theatre for young audiences is not new, nor are its principles; and what's worse, attention spans of all ages have shortened. 70 minutes might be OK for 8-year-olds-the youngest deserve shows that are a bit shorter than that. Flaw 3: perhaps clearances from Duke Ellington's estate to sing a few bars were inaccessible, but, alas, the aural puns that Duck Ellington kept speaking throughout the script fell flat. They don't mean a thing 'cause that ain't got that sing.

Kanysha Williams (as Indigo Blume), a good news triple threat graduate of DC's Duke Ellington High School for the Performing Arts, actually has a fourth skill in her toolkit that can't be taught or learnt. Along with her top notch singing/acting/dancing, she's got the kind of energy that carries shows. Williams made me think of a couple of numbers from Cy Coleman shows that might/could be great in her audition portfolio: "Hey, Big Spender" from Sweet Charity and "The Oldest Profession," a show stopping, Tony-causing number (shout out to Lilias White) from The Life. The kids in the audience, who in no way know from Coleman or Tonys, just loved her. Jaysen Wright (as Mules Davis) absolutely captures Miles Davis' speaking voice. Lauren Davis ably switches from icky, Chickee Minaj (who seems alarmingly obsessed with bling and cash in a play aimed at children 5-8) to Indigo's supporting and supportive Mom; Davis can change a singing style at the drop of a wig. (Wig Designer, Priscilla Bruce). It is no discredit to the fine singer/actor, Farrell Parker (as Dairy Parton) that Bruce's Parton-esque wig for her and Erik Teague's costume upstage her performance a bit. Teague has built an overskirt for the country singer/milkmaid out of tiers of bandannas. It's what Marie Antoinette might wear to attend the Grand Old Opry. Less successful are Teague's argyle choices for Duck Ellington. The Duke wore tails, tuxedos, suits; he might go without a tie in rehearsal or recording studio. But an argyle sweater and argyle knee high socks? Naw, man. Actor Vaughn Midder does, however, sport Duck Ellington's mallard-colored do-rag with panache. And speaking of panache, Teague trims Randy Preston's (as Acoustic Rooster) epaulets with reddish-brown feathers. His jacket, of course, is as red as a rooster's cob. And speaking of acoustics. These 5 excellent singers could reach the back row of the Family Theatre (and several other venues) without microphones. It's time to re-think sound, mixing, and volume. Loud is not, in and of itself, an asset. Rather, it's the empty calories of theatre. It's time for theatres to allow and enable audiences to hear all components of all songs. Audiences purchase an entire seat and are entitled to be able to experience the entire show. The lyrics of Acoustic Rooster's Barnyard Boogie: Starring Indigo Blume may have been as good as the tunes were.

Arnel Sanciano's brightly colored set perfectly complements the show and undoubtedly makes the little ones in the audience feel like they're inside a coloring book. The Family Theater stage got a little crowded when all 5 performers were working those ensemble numbers; no problem for choreographer Breon Arzell who created compact boogie which helped the actors look ahead of time, but never out of breath. Let's keep the Electric Slide alive even if the 6-year-olds have no clue.

For tickets to this world premiere commission, call 202.467.4600 or visit

Photo by Jati Lindsay

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