“Giraffes Can’t Dance” Highlights Power of Perseverance—at BACT
Gloria Bond Clunie’s Lyrics Encourage Kids to Dance
by Rosa Leither
Giraffes Can’t Dance, a picture book by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees, has been a family favorite since our kids were a few months old. So, expectations ran high as we entered BACT’s theater in the round. Seven-year-old Itasca and five-year-old River fled their “festival style” seats as soon as they were invited to sit around the large, rectangular stage.
“Daddy Dude” and I closed the gap between us (a rare event!), admiring the gorgeous set, glowing in hues of blue and gold. With colorful costumes and African-inspired music, we are transported to a savannah where the Moon presides over the animals.
That’s right, the first character to speak is a huge cutout of the Moon (Alexandra Rivers), calling the jungle animals to “shine their light” by dancing. Glancing down, I could see my kids riveted, the cast singing, drumming, and dancing in front of them.
The idea that ‘giraffes can’t dance’ is a truism in the jungle where Gerald lives. Whenever the other animals see Gerald (vibrant, shy, earnest Jeffrey May Hyche) trying to bust a move, they cackle, delighting in his failures. Luckily, the young giraffe has a steadfast friend in Cricket (warm, tall, lanky Gabrielle Smith).
Cricket urges him to try, try again, despite fiasco after fiasco. Even a class at Elephant’s Dance Academy cannot help poor Gerald. When he attempts the waltz, his knees buckle. He fails at the cha cha, modern dance— and even a “wiggle wiggle, hop hop” that he makes up himself. Through it all, Gerald sings his story—with vibes of James Brown meets Bruno Mars.
Under Tanika Baptise’s creative direction, Monkey (talented Kiana Rhodeos) shows a flair for the dramatic, railing against Gerald for spilling water and stepping on Elephant’s toe. Lion (engaging Ashley Jaye) lights up the stage with her bright smile. She also has us frowning when she teases Gerald. Zebra (poised, expressive Alexandra Rivers) plays both the bully and the friend with ease.
Parents will appreciate that the aggressors in the play aren’t just mean. These characters also sing in charming harmony. They feel the power of nature moving through their bodies as they dance. They are excited to host all the animals at the upcoming Blue Moon Ball. They are dedicated students at Elephant’s infamous dance academy, run by high energy, motherly Kennedy Joy Fullard.
Complexity saves the day, keeping the kids from falling into “bad guys” vs. “good guys” thinking. Gloria Bond Clunie’s script and lyrics for “Giraffes Can’t Dance: The Musical” teaches kids that when people are cruel to you, retaliation doesn’t solve any problems or make you feel any better. And most of all, Gerald learns to never give up on his dreams. As the Moon says, “Dances are dreams waiting to be danced.”
As the music ends, we all leap to our feet, grooving and clapping as Gerald declares: “I am my very own song!” This giraffe has moves. His dancing blows everyone else out of the water, and the kids delight in his hard-earned success.
“Giraffes Can’t Dance: The Musical” –script & lyrics by Gloria Bond Clunie, music by Elton Bradman & Lila Oleszkiewicz, based on the book by Giles Andreae & Guy Parker-Rees, directed by Tanika Baptiste, at Bay Area Children’s Theatre, 2055 Center Street, Berkeley. Info: BACTheatre.org – to June 23, 2023
Also playing in San Francisco: June 10 – 18, at Fort Mason.
Cast: Jeffrey May Hyche, Gabrielle Smith, Ashley Jay, Kennedy Joy Fullard, Kiana Rhodeos, and Alexandra Rivers.