Jamaica is coming to Adventure Theatre Musical Theatre Center this spring, with the world-premiere musical, Three Little Birds. The show is based on the children’s book of the same name, penned by Cedella Marley, daughter of legendary reggae artist Bob Marley. And it features numerous songs by Bob Marley himself.
The book tells the story of Ziggy, a shy boy who’s more than happy to stay home and watch TV, until his trickster friend, Nansi, convinces him to embark on a daring adventure across the island.
Before adapting the book for the stage, Adventure Theatre artistic director Michael Bobbitt had to secure the rights for Bob Marley’s musical repertoire. A task, he says, wasn’t actually too challenging, but two things were.
To begin with, he says, “I had to sort of comb through the catalogue and figure out what songs were appropriate for children’s theater.” He explains he had to create a story and figure out how the songs would fit. In the end, though, Bobbitt says both undertakings came surprisingly easy, especially the second.
“We were staging the finale and I’m like, ‘it’s almost like he wrote this song for this play.’ But it wasn’t; it was written just to be a song!”
Nick Olcott is directing Three Little Birds. He confesses that when Michael Bobbitt first approached him about directing the show, “at first I thought, ‘A children’s musical using Bob Marley music? Are you out of your mind?’”
But, like Bobbitt, Olcott soon found the combination was a match made in musical-theater heaven — children’s musical theater heaven, to be exact.
“I talked to friends of mine who have young kids, and they said it makes perfect sense; kids love reggae music,” Olcott says. “The beat is just infectious. So everyone who likes reggae music is going to want to see this show. Because they’re beautiful arrangements in six-part harmony.”
Lewis Feemster is among the actors who get to belt out this six-part harmony. He says sure, Bob Marley’s songs are bound to get everyone in the audience bopping, but not just because they’re catchy. They also have these timeless messages of hope, liberation and love.
“If you look around D.C. now, people have changed some of the One Way signs to One Love,” he says. “So there’s still some of that spirit that Bob Marley is able just to kind of bring out in people.”
Adventure Theatre artistic director Michael Bobbitt says that spirit is a prime reason he decided to make Three Little Birds the third show in the theater’s African-American Adventure series, highlighting African American culture.
“I really started looking through the canon of works that exist in the children’s theater genre for books that celebrate the culture, where race is not a plot point,” he says. “And so this idea of Three Little Birds came up and even though Jamaica is not an American province, certainly Bob Marley and reggae has [sic] influenced a lot of African American culture.”
In fact, they’ve influenced many cultures, and Michael Bobbitt hopes this brand new musical will influence Washingtonians to head to Glen Echo and know that — at least while they’re sitting in that darkened theater — every little thing is, truly, gonna be all right.
[Music: "Three Little Birds" performed by Cedella Marley & Taj Mahal from Putomayo: World Playground]
Photos: 'Three Little Birds'