No, Glen Echo Park has not turned achromatic. If it seems that way, it’s because of the exuberant colors in “Three Little Birds,” the children’s reggae musical in a world premiere run at Adventure Theatre MTC inside the park. With a jammin’ score woven from the songs of Bob Marley and buoyant design to match, the show flaunts such jubilant, tropical-candy tones that the outside world looks drab by comparison.
The bright tints are emotional, as well as visual and sonic. Adapted by Michael J. Bobbitt from a children’s book by Cedella Marley (Bob’s daughter), and directed by Nick Olcott, “Three Little Birds” tells a tale of triumph over anxiety. The young protagonist, Ziggy (Jobari Parker-Namdar), is so terrified of hurricanes, mongooses and other things in his native Jamaica that he is afraid to leave the house. Adding to his apprehension is the lurking presence of a bogeyman named Duppy (S. Lewis Feemster), who sneaks up on people and steals their hair.
Fear not, Ziggy! To quote this play’s namesake song: Every little thing gonna be all right! Sure enough, with help and encouragement from his mother (Ayanna Hardy), his friend Nansi (Brittany N. Williams), and an avian chum named Doctor Bird (David Little), Ziggy finally gets out into the sunshine, scuttling Duppy’s villainous plans in the process.
The story’s positive vibrations find a correlative in designer Jos. B. Musumeci Jr.’s set, dominated by an enormous golden sun and encompassing Crayola-toned shapes evoking trees and houses. Brian S. Allard’s lighting and Neil McFadden’s sound design help turn this layout into various Jamaican locales, including a mango grove, an ocean port and the living room where Ziggy watches the TV weather report.
Parker-Namdar makes a funny and appealing Ziggy, whether the boy hero is brooding, racing around with his arms full of red underwear — such garments may have anti-bogeyman properties, he’s heard — or singing “Is This Love?” after Nansi has given him a flirtatious kiss. Speaking in a hoarse growl, skulking around in a crazy-quilt coat, with hair of various colors and textures snaking out from beneath his top hat, Feemster’s Duppy is pleasantly outlandish, but not unduly scary. (The show is recommended for age 4 and up.)
Hardy radiates matronly ebullience as Ziggy’s mother; Williams leaps, squeals and teases impishly as Nansi; and Little makes a jaunty Doctor Bird. In a lighthearted but educational riff on the history of Jamaica, some actors — including Tara Yates-Reeves — double as birds of various nationalities: Spanish birds wearing conquistador armor, British colonizer birds in 19th-century attire, and so on. (Kendra Rai designed the vibrant costumes for the show, which is the third in Adventure Theatre MTC’s African-American Adventure Series.)
The narrative pace of the hour-long show does slow to a good-humored amble for the middle 20 minutes. But whatever is happening onstage, we’re rarely more than a few seconds away from an infectious musical number — “Roots, Rock, Reggae,” “Natural Mystic,” “One Love,” and more — breezily but effectively hooked into the plot. You might not have thought of Marley’s music as a natural complement to children’s theater. But the two got together, and it feels all right.
Wren is a freelance writer.
adapted by Michael J. Bobbitt from the story by Cedella Marley; music and lyrics by Bob Marley; additional music and lyrics, and arrangements/orchestrations, John L. Cornelius II. Directed by Nick Olcott; choreography, Bobbitt; dramaturg, Sybil Roberts; musical director, Darius Smith; dialect coaches, Edwin Brown and Jennifer Mendenhall; properties, Andrea “Dre” Moore; assistant director, Adi Stein. With Angeleaza Anderson and Michael Mainwaring. One hour. Recommended for age 4 and up. Through April 14 at Adventure Theatre MTC, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo. Visit www.adventuretheatre-mtc.org or call 301-634-2270.