Woodson, Reagon, Davis Offer Musical Gift to Parents, Kids
by Rosa del Duca
“The Day You Begin!” is the day you start to tell your special stories, unique to you. That is the empowering message behind Bay Area Children’s Theatre’s latest musical, based Jacqueline Woodson’s bestselling book.
Four nervous children attend their first day of school, unsure what to expect, how they will fit in, or how to express big, deep ideas they feel but can’t yet put into words.
The cast expertly transforms into children before our eyes. Rigoberto (agile Mundo Ballejos), a young soccer enthusiast, has just moved to New York from Venezuela. Angelina (sparkling Jordan Taylor) is worried that her teacher will ask what she did that summer. She didn’t do anything except read books and babysit her sister.
Sam (imaginative, shy Lou Cooper) spent the summer composing music on his tablet, which also allows him to communicate. He cannot speak but the kids welcome him enthusiastically. And who can forget Min (spunky, unapologetic Un Joo Christopher), who lives for art and family trips to Korea.
When Min opens her lunch, the other kids lean back. “What is that horrible smell?” She puts them in their place, informing them that kimchi is delicious and furthermore, rice is a perfectly normal thing to eat for lunch. She launches into my favorite song of the whole show—a punk rock, tongue-in-cheek ode to rice.
When you first arrive in the theater, kids are invited onto the “stage” to make puppets with crayons and paper bags—or you can lounge on huge bean bag chairs. When the arts and crafts are whisked away, Ms.Veve (inviting Elizabeth Jones)—who rocks a colorful dress and knee socks—tells the children: “There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you.”
Ms. Veve recalls that she was the only kid in her kindergarten class who wanted to grow up to be a teacher. Soon the kids in the audience are sharing what they want to be—singer, dancer, basketball star. My daughter nudges me when Ms. Veve asks who wants to be a writer: “Raise your hand, Mom!”
The audience is encouraged to join in throughout this delightful musical. The puppets cheer on Rigoberto when he scores the winning soccer goal in a long, exciting game that Rigoberto narrates entirely in Spanish.
Later, he leads the room in a salsa dance: “Forward, back, side, side!” My daughter was especially charmed by his ability to sound, act, and look like a little kid, clasping his hands and smiling bashfully.
Some plot lines lead nowhere, and some conflicts evaporate into thin air, but kids feel safe, comfortable and reassured. The younger ones are excited about this mysterious place called “school.” As parents, that’s how we want our children to feel.
For this show, BACT creates a womb-like atmosphere. The open, welcoming set, the actors, the music, the lighting, encourage relaxation and wonder. I watched my daughter escape into a bright world of expression, exploration, and fun and let myself follow, too. The show is a wonderful gift to parents and their young children.
“The Day You Begin!” A Play With Lots Of Music!” –based on the book by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López, script by Jacqueline Woodson. music & lyrics by Toshi Reagon, directed & choreographed by Khalia Davis, at Bay Area Children’s Theatre, Berkeley & San Francisco. Info: BACTheatre.org – to April 2023.
Cast: Jordan Taylor, Un Joo Christopher, Lou Cooper, Mundo Ballejos, and Elizabeth Jones.