The long awaited world premiere musical Mirandy and Brother Wind at Adventure Theatre is a gem of a show with an excellent cast, exciting new music and a piercingly creative story. Patricia C. McKissack’s original tale of a spunky young girl who tries to capture the wind as her dance partner to win a special contest is both a Caldecott and Coretta Scott King award winner, and a new musical waiting to happen. The story comes to life in the creative hands of Michael Bobbitt, who helped adapt the script, and we are all the better for it.
First of all, words can hardly express the wonder that Felicia Curry is actually in the title role. Pinch me, I must be dreaming. Known throughout the metro region for her commando-style vocal ability with notes that have hit plenty of rafters, she brings a bouncy playfulness to the character, a bonafide bundle of energy bursting at the seams. Curry’s Mirandy hits the ground running, literally, and when she sets her sights on achieving the impossible, she’ll stop at nothing to make it happen. She zooms past her mother, class mates, and friends, focused on her own objectives, barely listening to their admonitions, warnings and advice until she finally quiets down enough to let the messages sink in. As Mirandy, Curry portrays all of the transitions with tenderness and hearty vocals for a remarkable performance.
The ensemble is beautifully cast and each one rises to match Curry’s level of energy. The adorable Ayanna Hardy plays Orlinda, Mirandy’s well-turned-out nemesis and notoriously good dancer, along with her dancing partner Monroe, played by the steady and reliable Eric Williams who can cut up on the dance floor and turn on a dime. Lynne Streeter Childress as Grandma portrays her character’s movements and weathered mannerisms down to a tee. When Mirandy quotes her after finally learning some lessons, it’s a heartfelt moment reminiscent of one’s own life lessons. Soneka Anderson has some scene stealing moments casting her spell as the conjure woman who Mirandy solicits to help in her quest to dance with the wind. As her clumsy buddy Ezel, Jobari Parker-Namdar charms the crowd and helps Mirandy finally understand the true meaning of friendship.
All of the production elements work, especially the creative use of puppets to bring the wind to life, designed by Ksenya Litvak. Initially introduced as a large, silver shimmery stick figure backstage with a blustery entrance, Brother Wind affects everything in sight. Then, when you least expect it, he enters in human form played by Calvin McCullough blustering around in the same streaming costume to delighted squeals from the audience. Another scene that hit all the high marks entailed a formation of geese played by the ensemble of women singing about flying on the wind, while the dream sequence where Miranda longs with all her heart for her coveted prize must be seen to be believed.
The music and lyrics are especially notable, rhythmic and energetic to get the juices flowing, yet tender when the characters explore their feelings and reflections about life. The opening number “Spring is Here” has all the excitement of a glorious day, and the notes in Mirandy’s signature song “I Want to Dance with the Wind” actually crest and soar like blowing breezes.
The colorful set by Tim Jones complements the period costume design by Kendra Johnson complete with head wraps and hats that fit over them as needed. The superb combination of lighting and sound effects by Curtis Hodge and Christopher Baine respectively brings the howling front and center, including swirling lights in the darkening and ominous blue sky for a thrilling effect.
The authenticity of Mirandy and Brother Wind rings true throughout. The writing is clear and pulls no punches in its references to buck dancing and Jim Crow, as well as a “challenging time before freedom,” presenting the issues with clarity and respect suitable for all ages. The storyline focuses on the importance of freedom, using Mirandy’s quest as a valuable lesson. Her attempt to capture the wind and make it do her bidding, no matter how good intentioned, is reminiscent of those early difficult years of bondage, and she eventually changes course in a realistic and holistic way while learning lessons about the importance of friendship.
The production relays its messages with an assortment of show-stopping musical numbers and movement. There is simply nothing like the “Hambone” song to rivet attention, where the characters play an assortment of old-fashioned instruments – the jug, the wash board, and yes, even a masterful rendition on the spoons, which looks easier than it is. Likewise, the high-stepping rendition of the cake walk along with other historical dance movements reinforces the historical relevance of the various styles that served as a life-affirming artistic expression. No stylistic effort was spared in obtaining consultation on dialect, historically appropriate movement, even a cake walk consultant. The quickly paced direction by Jennifer L. Nelson assures that the production has both heart and soul to work at all levels with entertainment and style.
Mirandy and Brother Wind, a co-production with African Continuum Theatre, will transfer to the Atlas Performing Arts Center in DC later in February. Something this good deserves all the venues it can get.
Mirandy and Brother Wind plays Feb 25 – Mar 13, 2011 at Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St NE, Washington, DC.
Mirandy and Brother Wind
Based on the book by Patricia C. McKissack
Adapted by Michael J Bobbitt and John L. Cornelius,II
Music and lyrics by John L. Cornelius, II
Directed by Jennifer L. Nelson
Choreography by Michael J Bobbitt
Produced by Adventure Theatre and African Continuum Theatre
Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
Running time: 50 minutes with no intermission