The Kennedy Center has brought its national tour of Barrio Grrrl! to the Minneapolis Children’s Theatre, offering a view of summer in the barrio through the eyes of 9-year-old Ana (Desireé Rodriguez). To alleviate the boredom of being left home alone while her grandpa (“Abuelo,” played by Diego Prieto) goes to work in a restaurant, she marshals her friends Sandip (Vishal Vaidya), Oscar (Chris Wilson) and Odette (Deonna Bouye) to create a better world – starting with getting ice cream.
Even nine-year-olds will not miss the positive message inherent in this sweet story: that it is possible to change your world for the better, just by exercising a little imagination and gumption. Ana, however, has a lot of imagination, manifested in her best (imaginary) friend, The Amazing Voice (Michelle Liu Coughlin), who encourages her flights of fantasy (especially in “Amazing Ride”) and keeps her company when she’s grounded for soliciting the neighborhood for ice cream money.
This relationship illustrates one of the more persistent dangers of poor children who are, of necessity, left alone – sheer boredom, rendered with good humor in “We’re Bored” by Ana and her friends. This is where a parent’s (or grandparent’s) admonitions – Don’t leave the stoop, Ana!” – provide the critical yin to restless children’s yang. It’s about all that her grandpa can do while Ana’s mother, a soldier, is serving in Iraq and he tries to earn a living and care for Ana.
The restlessness, poverty and loneliness – and Oscar’s grumpy “hope is a nope” attitude – are enough of a “villain” for this age group. In their world, this is quite enough to handle. The play provides the affirmation to get kids through periods of their lives where they may feel powerless and trapped (“Change the World.”) Just this: you’re pretty great just the way you are and your dreams and imagination are a good thing (“Somethin’ out of Nothin’”).
As charming as this little musical is, and as capable as the young adult performers are, I would have loved to see this with age appropriate children playing the roles. One has to wonder if the youngest in the audience wondered why the grown-ups were acting like little kids. (A youngster on his mom’s lap nearby observed – out loud – that Ana’s jacket was too small. Kids see what they see.)
The musical features book and lyrics by the Broadway succees, In the Heights team of Quiara Alegría Hudes and Bill Sherman with direction by Peter Flynn, and choreography by Devanand Janki.
Recommended for age nine and up. Although very young children will be entertained by the singing and dancing, they probably won’t follow the issues underlying the plot and might not track with the story, either. But it’s just one hour with no intermission, so take your first-grader if she’s complaining about her older sibling leaving her behind. She’ll enjoy it, too. The show runs through March 27.