Alejandro Vega: Remember that name. The Minnetonka middle schooler is a theater wunderkind who sings and raps, dances and acts with the poise and maturity of a seasoned veteran in “Last Stop on Market Street,” the bouncy new musical at Children’s Theatre Company by legendary Motown songwriter Lamont Dozier and his hop-hop-generation son Paris Ray Dozier.
Because it’s a stylish work that fuses soul, rap, gospel and show tunes, the show begs comparison to a Broadway juggernaut that’s taken up residence across town: As one wit quipped at Friday’s opening, it could be considered “Hamilton Jr.”
Vega plays C.J., a suburban 7-year-old who reluctantly spends a few days alone with his city-dwelling grandmother.
Nana (Greta Oglesby) is a churchgoing lady with strict rules, including confiscating his phone at night. C.J.’s hunched-in shoulders and sour grimace evince his displeasure, which he verbalizes in a rap battle with Nana.
But even as he counts down the hours until he can get back to his cocooned home, C.J. begins to appreciate Nana’s world, where much of life is lived outdoors. He meets characters such as a bus driver (Ansa Akyea, avuncular and noble), a tattooed hipster (Dwight Leslie, with loads of ’tude) and the nosy Grandma Posey (Autumn Ness, earnest and curious). He also gets to volunteer in a soup kitchen.
At 13, Vega has an impressive list of credits, having performed at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis in 7th House Theatre’s “The Passage, or What Comes of Searching in the Dark,” at Minnesota Opera in “The Shining” and in several shows at CTC, including “The Abominables.” His C.J. goes from a closed flower to a kid exulting with a free spirit.
But he’s not the only actor standing out in this musical, which takes place in an impressive urban landscape designed by Courtney O’Neill. (How did they maneuver that city bus?)
Oglesby, best known for her singing, including roles in “Black Nativity” at Penumbra and “Caroline, or Change” at the Guthrie, spits rhymes like a dope MC in her rap battle “Because I Said So.” It’s a deft showstopper. And a trio of teens in the ensemble (Symphonie Whitted, Kennedy Lucas and Calvin Zimmerman) put their heart into the acting and Ashley Selmer’s sleek hip-hop choreography.
If the performers shine, it’s because they are working with good material. The Doziers’ compositions are catchy and charming, while playwright Cheryl West, who adapted Matt de la Peña’s Newbery Medal-winning picture book, has amplified that simple story without seeming to add filler.
“Last Stop” boasts a capable creative team, including inventive costume designer Trevor Bowen and director Henry Godinez, who stages the show in a brisk 65 minutes. And music director Sanford Moore leads the band with verve.
“Last Stop” uses the metaphor of a bus trip to talk about a child expanding his mind, heart and soul. It is a spirited ride.