Using the Music and Lyrics of her father and reggae legend, Bob Marley, Cedella Marley and Michael J. Bobbit collaborate on adapting her children’s book, Three Little Birds, for the stage in this Jukebox Musical. After a limited run Off Broadway in 2006, Children’s Theatre Company is giving this piece its regional debut. Attending opening night on a dreary and drizzly Friday in January, I was immediately glad to be drawn into the bright colors and bold musical strokes of Jamaica. Let the adventure begin!
At its heart, Three Little Birds is a simple story about a twelve year old boy with kid fears about the unknown, and how he wants to grow up and be brave. It hovers with one foot in reality and the other in the world of fables and folklore, where birds talk and evil spirits are desperate to steal children’s hair. With the music, simple moral, and clocking in at seventy minutes tops, this is an ideal show for kids of all ages and a lovely evening out of the cold, giving you a brief, jam session and some major Caribbean vibes. There are several prominent themes throughout this play that are perfect for audiences young and old: conquering fear; what it means to be brave; technology versus nature; the importance of learning about your heritage and history; and learning to trust your friends and yourself. I find the idea of being brave and conquering fear very timely and relatable.
In the not so distant past, ZIGGY (played by Ellis M. Dossavi Alipoeh), survived a horrible hurricane and in doing so saved a bird and reunited it with its family, before finding and reconnecting with his own Mother and Father. The bird, DOCTOR BIRD (an energetic and rockin’ Nathan Barlow) now holds Ziggy up as his hero. Ziggy is seemingly dealing with some PTSD after the fact, and is so terrified that this will all happen again that he won’t leave the house or his television. He stresses when his mother tries to leave the house for fear he won’t be around to save her this time. CEDELLA, Ziggy’s mom (played by a dynamic Lynnea Monique Doublette) is supportive and fun and always trying to encourage Ziggy to go outside and experience the real world (instead of sitting in front of the television all day). She dances and sings and is genuinely upbeat, while still taking care of the family and selling her wares down by the seaport. Along with DOCTOR BIRD, and his sassy friend NANSI (a scene stealing KateMarie Andrews), ZIGGY is forced to face his fears, battling evil spirits, avoid falling mangos, and even bipass the threat of a baby spider (ironically named after him). With the help of his friends and his ancestors, he is ultimately able to recognize his paranoia as unnecessary, and successfully move past it.
All of the characters are colorful and larger than life. I wouldn’t call them fully three dimensional, but the show lends itself to mythic and exaggerated storytelling so it fits the reality of this world perfectly. Not to mention HOW hard it is to sing and dance and act without passing out and losing a child’s attention, kudos to all the actors.
The set, designed by Lawrence E. Moten III, and cleverly repurposed wigs/costumes by Trevor Bowen, spark joy with sunny geometric shapes and flowy fabrics-- they seem to catch the island breezes, in the midst of our brittle Minnesotan winter. The Marley music starts right away and the ensemble encourages the audience to join the singing as if inviting us along for the journey. The sound seemed to be a bit problematic (there was some feedback on the body mics and a few wonky sound levels) but it eventually evened out; I chalk it up to opening night foibles. Considered a ‘Jukebox Musical,’ it uses the music of Bob Marley to help facilitate the story, but actually has nothing to do with Marley or his life, (with the exception of the main character being named Ziggy which is the name of one of Marley’s own sons, and it being set in Jamaica, where he is famously from). I think Cedella Marley and Michael J. Bobbit do a wonderful job of integrating music into the independent story. They find great places to insert “Is This Love That I’m Feeling,” and of course “Every Little Thing’s Gonna be Alright.” If you know the music you’ll get a kick out of the songs when they start playing, but if you don’t, they still make sense in the context of the show and are really well done, thanks to Musical Director, Sanford Moore, and the talented cast. It’s hard not to tap along to the beat, OR just get up out of your seats and dance like a few small people happily did in the front row.
The surprise of the evening for me was learning how many different cultures have influenced the country of Jamaica! There is an awesome scene in the second half of the show that uses music and costume, dance and great lighting (designed by Wu Chen Khoo), to give us a comprehensive history of its legacy. Not just English and African influence, but Spanish, Chinese and even Indian culture played a big part in the country's development. It is also made abundantly clear that not all people were brought to Jamaica willingly, and I thought it was very smart and important to articulate the multiple cases of colonization and slavery that were contributing factors to current day food, music, art and even attitude.
Three Little Birds is sweet and funny, with a good lesson, and allows you to enjoy good music. Bob Marley and his cannon are important to celebrate and the country of Jamaica worth taking the time to learn about and enjoy. If nothing else, this little love letter allows us a glimpse into Jamaica’s culture, its games, its vernacular, its superstition, its sense of humor, and opens the door to a world perhaps a tiny crack more. This is a great family night out on the town. Enjoy your trip!