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BWW Review: EARTHRISE at Kennedy Center

BWW Review: EARTHRISE at Kennedy Center
L-R David Landstrom and Joe Mallon in the Kennedy Center World Premiere Commission production of Earthrise. Photo by Jati Lindsay.

We are now at the midpoint of summer and you are most likely looking for something a little bit different to do with your kids before sending them back to school. What if I told you that the Kennedy Center is currently producing a World Premiere Commission that is both entertaining and educational? I hope you'd say "Tell me more!" because I have plenty to say about this brand new musical for all ages called Earthrise. The production was created to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch.

Lauren Gunderson's book puts us back in the summer of 1969. President Kennedy's dream of putting a man on the moon was finally realized when Neil Armstrong became that first man to step foot on it during the Apollo 11 mission.

Rick (David Landstrom) is an all American kid. He plays little league and was even chosen to be on his all-star team. He will not however be playing in that game because his Dad (Joe Mallon) has been chosen to be one of the astronauts on the Apollo 11 mission. You'll be able to figure out which astronaut he is if you go to the show. Because there is a risk of his dad not returning Rick is worried to say the least. He doesn't even know if he can watch the launch and/or the landing.

Rick has a few friends whose parents are also involved in the mission. There's Sophia (Chani Wereley) the artist whose dad (Stephawn P. Stephens) works at mission control and Andrea (Ayanna Hardy) whose mom (Nicole C. Julien) is a statistician for NASA. Think about the movie Hidden Figures and you'll get what she does. Andrea dreams of being the first women to go to the moon but unfortunately it's the late 60's and prejudice still reigns. With Andrea being an African American all she can do for the moment is to think about what could be someday.

Earthrise is definitely unique in its production design. Andrew Cohen's set takes the Terrace Gallery and turns it into a theatre in the round. The set is aided by many projectors showing the fine work of Patrick W. Lord. The projections range from stunning shots of space to inside the mission control room at NASA. This is a fully immersive visual experience to keep even the fussiest of kids mesmerized.

Any good Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) has something to keep the adults interested. In this case the score by Brian Lowdermilk (Music) and Kait Kerrigan (Lyrics) was what definitely did it for me. For all you musical theatre geeks here is your chance to hear a five song score written by one of today's best songwriting teams.

From the first notes of "When I Look Up" and onward through "Escape Velocity", "The Longest Distance", "Rocket", and the show's title song the score literally lifts the show into another stratosphere. The pre-recorded orchestra track is orchestrated by Lloyd Kikoler and thankfully seems to feature all real musicians as opposed to bad MIDI programming. The vocalists were put through their paces by musical director extraordinaire William Yanesh who brings out the full and rich sounding vocal harmonies.

Tiffany Quinn's choreography is full of energy and uses every inch of the playing area to full advantage.

Christopher Baine's sound design includes getting Joe Mallon to sound like he is actually on the moon just like Neil Armstrong was when he said "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." It's quite the effect.

Alberto Segarra's lighting makes us feel as if we're above the clouds and beyond the stars.

Jeannette Christensen's costumes include, you guessed it, a full blown space suit.

Director Dawn Monique Williams truly gives us an out of this world experience getting terrific performances out of each of her cast members.

All the performances are strong but by far the standout is David Landstrom as the kid who just wants his dad to come home safe so he can play baseball with him again. Landstrom is one of the areas' finest and Earthrise proves that again in a big way.

Kudos must go to Ayanna Hardy for stepping into the role of Andrea with only a few days notice. Of course being the professional she is you wouldn't know it watching her onstage.

Earthrise is a rare breed of TYA fare for a few reasons. First off, every element is top notch. You don't always see that. Second, the amount of information the writers crammed into a 50ish minute production is staggering. Lastly, if you can keep all ages in the audience interested you are definitely doing something right.

I highly urge you to the moon and back to check out Earthrise and see why this critic was lifted to infinity and beyond.

Running Time: 50ish minutes with no intermission.

Earthrise runs through August 4, 2019 in the Terrace Gallery at the Kennedy Center. The venue is located at 2700 F Street, NW in Washington, DC.

For tickets, click here.

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