Local Arts

Review: ‘Three Little Birds’ brings Bob Marley’s cheery music down to children’s level

Garrick Vaughan as Ziggy in “Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds” at Children’s Theatre.
Garrick Vaughan as Ziggy in “Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds” at Children’s Theatre.

I told a friend I’d be reviewing Children’s Theatre of Charlotte’s “Three Little Birds,” with songs by Bob Marley — minus, of course, references to lovemaking, ganja, political corruption, racial unrest, religious philosophy and revolution.

“What’s left?” he asked.

The answer, in this entertaining hour-long play, is this: Messages about the need for adventure, the hope of self-realization, the unifying power of love, the simple joys of nature. And a whole lot of singable/danceable music, sometimes taken out of context but always ear-catching. Elementary students at Wednesday’s school performance didn’t need to know “Stir It Up” is Marley’s inducement to prolong and intensify sex; to them, it represented a simple incitement to raucous fun.

Michael J. Bobbitt’s play adapts a story by Cedella Marley, Bob’s first-born daughter and a Jamaican entertainer herself. The version at CTC benefits from the witty, audience-engaging presentation by director-choreographer Shondrika Moss-Bouldin and music director Charlene Miranda Thomas, the first team of African-American women to create a show for this company.

The six ebullient actors and funky four-piece band always seem to be in motion, either physically or tunefully; rivulets of music trickle through the piece, even when we’re not going to hear related lyrics — a good thing for “I Shot the Sheriff.” Yet Moss-Bouldin gives us a little time to breathe, time for the foolishness of 11-year-old Ziggy to sink in and his triumph over fear to register with youngsters. (Cedella Marley has a younger brother named Ziggy, who probably exasperated her as a girl.)

We enter a world illuminated by a vast, amiably sleepy sun atop Tom Burch’s set and populated by magical creatures. The title characters (irresistible Rahsheem Shabazz, Janeta Jackson and Ericka Ross) counsel Ziggy wisely and tease him a bit. But Ziggy (welcome Charlotte newcomer Garrick Vaughan) fears almost everything outside his home: insects, hurricanes and especially duppies, soul-stealing spirits who gain their power by taking children’s hair. He’s right on the last count, as a duppy (Jeremy DeCarlos) wants to get his claws on Ziggy’s dreads.

Nansi (high-energy Kayla Simone Ferguson) remains the story’s most complicated character: shrewd and naïve, bouncing girlishly over to kiss Ziggy’s cheek but also vaunting her cleverness as the island’s most adept trickster. She gets her name from Anansi, a wise and cunning character who runs through African and Caribbean folktales and takes the form of a spider – and sure enough, crafty Nansi carries a huge arachnid around to spring on the unwary.

We learn as we laugh. Jason Kyle Estrada’s vivid costumes start with the black, gold and green of the Jamaican flag and reflect the influx of other cultures who came to the island: Chinese and Indian, Spanish and British and African. A musical number, done with affectionate needling, introduces us to these interlopers.

I expect children will have to wrestle with the cast’s well-placed Jamaican accents, as I did. But even if they don’t understand exactly what’s being said, they will certainly understand what’s being meant by a show that gets the audience stomping, clapping and thinking at the same time.

This story is part of an Observer underwriting project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, supporting arts journalism in Charlotte.

‘Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds’

When: Through Feb. 24 at 7:30 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 4 p.m. Sunday (but no shows on Feb. 17). Sensory-friendly performance at 4 p.m. Feb. 10; ASL-interpreted performance on Feb. 16.

Where: ImaginOn, 300 E. Seventh St.

Running time: 60 minutes, no intermission.

Tickets: $12-25.

Details: 704-973-2828; www.ctcharlotte.org.