By Robert Andersen
Children’s Theatre may take many forms, and in Chicago, the options are almost endless. The gamut may take you from the parent’s guild in a church basement to a high school/college workshop, to full on-stage production. It is important, however, to maintain the distinction between “Children’s Theatre” and “Theatre for Young Adults.” Adventure Stage Chicago’s latest production, Katrina: The Girl Who Wanted Her Name Back, is definitely in the latter category. The story involves life choices, conflict resolution, alliances, and self-awareness.
The action takes place in New Orleans before and during the landfall of Hurricane Katrina. Our heroine, Katrina, is upset to share her name with the storm destined to bring widespread destruction. On the orders of her father, Katrina sets off on her own to help her Aunt Beulah and cantankerous neighbor Mr. Thibeaux get to the safety of a church.
Lost and whipped by the storm, the threesome seeks refuge in Perseverance Hall, an old music venue long since closed but haunted by ghosts and the spirits of New Orleans. Through the course of the storm which separates them, Katrina and her father, “Big Daddy”, are aided in their turmoil by unlikely companions.
My 10-year-old daughter pegged the show as “Fantastic, a little sad and a little scary all at the same time!”
The role of Katrina is wonderfully performed by Shakira Lavonne Carter. (so much so that in the after show discussion a question on everyone’s mind was what her real age might be) The ensemble as a whole does an excellent job of bringing the story and the feel of the event across to the audience. My daughter had no problem following the action or character connections.
Director Tom Arvetis assembles an exceptional cast, many born and raised in Chicago, and a combination of accomplished musicians who also play integral parts in the story adding to the wonderful atmosphere and mystique. There is no better way to express the feeling of New Orleans, during a parade or a storm, than with the sound that is unmistakable to this musical location. Colby Beserra, Music Director/Composer, and Co-Music Director Mikhail Eiksel create a score that, as one audience member put it, “reminds you that music can speak as easily as words.”
Being an old stage hand, I cannot fail to mention the functionally simplistic set design of Courtney O’Neil. Her use of multiple levels and depths make excellent use of the stage and keep your attention drawn to the entire picture. The talent of Lighting Designer Jesse Klug is also well displayed. The storm sequence and the appearances of the apparition gave both my daughter and me chills!
This is a story with real world relativity that older adults will enjoy as much as younger adults. It encompasses so much more than the moniker of “Children’s Theatre” normally covers. The unique combination of acting with musicianship demonstrates the unlimited experiences allowed in the world of theatre. This is not only a show to shared as a family but I would highly recommend it to school groups from 5th grade and up.
Adventure Stage Chicago’s world premiere of Katrina: The Girl Who Wanted Her Name Back is an entertaining triumph. This is the perfect show to expose young people to the collaborative world that is theatre.