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Review: THE DAY YOU BEGIN at Kennedy Center

Grab your family some tickets and make this show part of your holiday theatre going plans.

Review: THE DAY YOU BEGIN at Kennedy Center
The company of Kennedy Center's World Premeire musical
The Day You Begin.
Photo by Teresa Wood.

Jacqueline Woodson's 2018 children's book The Day You Begin comes to radiant musical life in the Family Theater at the Kennedy Center this holiday season. The show is a world premeire.

Woodson's story of inclusion and getting along with everyone is the perfect alternative to the standard holiday fare. The show comes complete with a knockout score by Toshi Reagon, fine direction by Charlotte Brathwaite and a very talented cast of performers.

On Jian Jung's attractively designed schoolroom set we meet teacher Ms. Veve (Audrey Hailes) on the first day of school. Her students are a diverse group to be sure. There's Angelina (Leilani Clendenin at my performance) who aspires to be a teacher when she grows up so she can teach "real" kids and not just her sister. There's Rigoberto (Camilo Linares) an immigrant from Venezuela, Min (Ashley D. Nguyen) who is of Korean descent and has a lot to share about her culture, particularly when it comes to the food. Lastly, there is Sam (Luis Cordovez at my performance) who is a non-verbal autistic that communicates with the help of a tablet.

Most of the characters are very well constructed and it's fun and interesting to hear about each of their backgrounds. I say most of because the character of Sam, one that you don't see onstage very often, is underdeveloped in the way his story is told. There are hints along the way such as his mother reminding him to take his headphones to school, but Woodson never fully addresses his autism. One character asks, "Does Sam ever speak?" but it is never answered. If this is a true story of inclusion and acceptance, then why not talk about Sam's autism openly? As I have said for years, theatre is meant to educate as well as entertain and I feel as if Woodson missed the opportunity here.

Performance wise this is a true ensemble piece with each performer complimenting the rest. The song entitled "These Are Our Stories" brings out an audibly pleasing finish to the show and gives the full company a chance to perform together.

I appreciate fully that Toshi Reagon's pre-recorded tracks are performed by REAL musicians and are not just cheesy MIDI sounds. Reagon even uses a real harp on two of the songs. Nice touch.

The projection co-design by the super talented team of Hailey LaRoe and Attilio Rigotti compliments the story perfectly without being overbearing as does Tuçe Yasak's lighting design.

Charlotte Brathwaite's direction keeps the audience interested from beginning to end. This is a great achievement in a Theatre for Young Audiences production. At my performance, the audience of varying ages enjoyed every minute of the show.

The Day You Begin is one of those shows has something for everyone. Kids get lessons about acceptance and more while adults can appreciate the artistry from the creative team. Grab your family some tickets and make this show part of your holiday theatre going plans. It's short so you can still make a Nutcracker performance somewhere after.

Running Time: 50 minutes with no intermission.

The Day You Begin runs through December 18th, 2022, in Kennedy Center's Family Theater. The venue is located at 2700 F St NW, Washington, DC.

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