“A bird does not sing because it has an answer,” we are told in Children’s Theatre Company’s buoyant, color-saturated “Three Little Birds.” “It sings because it has a song.”
“Three Little Birds” is all about songs — specifically, the songs of reggae legend Bob Marley, which are front and center in the brief show. Pop music can feel shoehorned in or manhandled when it’s repurposed for musical theater, but the simplicity of songs such as “One Love,” “Jamming” and “Is This Love” makes it possible for them to mean many things. And while the six-person cast performed them with energy and skill on opening night, which began at 7, it was great fun to see young theatergoers jamming until the break of, well, 8.
CTC veteran Nathan Barlow, as one of the titular birds, is our friendly and nimble guide. (He for sure likes jamming.) Barlow introduces us to Ziggy (Ellis M. Dossavi Alipoeh), an anxious Jamaican kid whose worries — bad weather, spiders, an evil spirit that covets Ziggy’s handsome dreadlocks — keep him in front of the TV, despite the pleas of his good-humored mother (Lynnea Monique Doublette). But, with the help of the three little birds and a good friend named Nansi (KateMarie Andrews), Ziggy eventually puts down the remote control and, because this is CTC, realizes that the evil spirit (Kory LaQuess Pullam) is no match for his youthful ingenuity.
Michael J. Bobbitt’s script is full of low-key humor (“I’m timid,” Ziggy moans, to which Nansi immediately replies, “No, you’re weird.”) and even a brief lesson in Jamaican history. But, honestly, the story, based on the work of Bob and Rita Marley’s daughter, Cedella, is a little murky. It’s especially difficult to determine what age Ziggy is supposed to be, since Alipoeh seems to be older than his character, but it’s easy to see why he was cast, anyway. Both he and Andrews are ebullient performers who have the gift of being able to invite us into the fun they’re having.
Under the lively direction of Shá Cage, that means “Three Little Birds” has both kinds of warmth — the kind you get from a friendly welcome and the kind you get in the tropics — which are suggested by a Lawrence E. Moten III set with slashes of orange, yellow and parrot green. Also turning up the heat are the witty costumes of Trevor Bowen, who uses the arms of a jacket Andrews wears tossed around her shoulders to suggest the multiple arms of a spider, a creature Nansi loves.
Together, all of those elements capture “the spirit of Jamaica” and a feeling of optimism that, if we put our heads together, we can be assured of the title song’s promise that, “Every little thing’s gonna be all right.” In the middle of winter and in the middle of a whole lot of seemingly insoluble stuff, that message couldn’t come at a more opportune time.
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