Show Review: Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds – By Amy Wall Lerman

birdsThis Sunday afternoon I left the cold winter streets of Manhattan and saw the bright sunny skies of Jamaica.  Okay…I didn’t exactly go to Jamaica, but after a week of trying not to break my neck on my frozen driveway and wading through shin deep filthy slush that greets every crosswalk in the city, it sure was nice to pretend – even for an hour.

I took my son and my husband to The New Victory Theater to see “Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds,” inspired, obviously, by the Bob Marley song.  Perhaps not as obvious, however, is the fact that the story depicted in the show is based on the children’s book, “Three Little Birds” written by Marley’s daughter, Cedella

The New Vic is one of my favorite weekend hangouts because, as far as I’m concerned, it is the place for children’s theater.  I have yet to find better in New York.  The New Vic manages to find performances from around the world and bring them as close to Broadway as children’s theater is likely to get, and I have yet to be disappointed.

They didn’t have to look too far this time since “Three Little Birds” is brought to us by Adventure Theatre and Musical Theater Center, located in Maryland.  This show is a delight even before it begins.  From the moment you sit down in front of a brightly lit stage with an enormous, smiling sun, front and center, you are instantly transported to a world of rhythm and light – a welcome retreat for winter-weary New Yorkers. 

Through the backdrop of bright tropical bird colors which surround center stage, peeps a hint of corrugated sheet metal, the likes of which is seen on many an island shanty – yet another reminder of island life.

The show opens with a song, of course, it’s Bob Marley’s, “Jammin’, sung in almost atonal harmonies giving it a flare of contemporary reggae style. The song is accompanied on either side of the stage by musicians on bongos, keyboard, piano, guitar, and flute.  Everyone was swaying in their seats from beginning to end.

The story is about an 11-year-old boy named Ziggy (the name of another one of Bob Marley’s children – now a famous musician in his own rite) who is afraid of hurricanes and losing his mom in a storm.  He watches the news all day long and avoids the outdoors until his friend, Nansi, convinces him to have an adventure by visiting his mom who sells jerk chicken at the seaport.  Ziggy and Nansi are stalked by the fiendish bird, Duppy, who wants nothing more than to add Ziggy’s beautiful hair to his head of other stolen locks.

Ziggy is played by Jobari Parker-Namdar who had moments of vocal perfection throughout the show.  S. Lewis Feemster’s portrayal of Duppy, was brilliant for a couple of reasons: 1) He was funny – he played his bird as a perfect preening narcissist and 2) He was a little scary – he was such a good “bad guy” that the 4 year-old seated behind me cried every time he popped his head out from behind the scenes – the ultimate testament to achieving perfect “villainhood” in children’s theater.

However, the show was undoubtedly stolen by Brittany N. Williams who played Ziggy’s devoted companion, Nansi.  Ms. Williams has a natural stage presence and played Nansi with an animation that is immediately appealing to adult and child alike.  Her over the top gestures, bouncy little girl movements, and pregnant pauses are perfect in timing and expert in their ability to capture the imagination of every child.

When we think of Bob Marley, we don’t usually think of children or happiness despite the upbeat rhythms and sometimes simple lyrics – but this show convinces us that Bob Marley’s music transcends all ages…through all the ages.  It’s music for everyone. From “One Love” and “Three Little Birds” to “I Know” and “Running Away” this stage company brings the songs into modern times with a new styling that makes us feel innocent and young without losing what we all know and love about Bob Marley’s music.  Every audience member should leave humming, “don’t worry ‘bout a thing…”  feeling the warmth of the sun with and a bounce in each step (even if that bounce is made in thick-soled winter boots crunching large chunks of rock-salt under foot. How many days left until spring, again?)

I have only one suggestion and it’s a very minor one involving the curtain call:  The company missed the perfect opportunity for audience reaction by not bringing out S. Lewis Feemster (“Duppy”) in full Duppy costume.  The kids could have boo’d him with great delight.  After all, an actor portraying the bad guy is only as good as his boo!


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