Magic Tree House’s Jazz Age tale hits all the right notes

Imagine–just for a second–that Louis Armstrong weren’t the King of Jazz. Now imagine you could go back in time and do something about that. That’s the premise of Emerald City Theatre’s “Magic Tree House: A Night in New Orleans,” a love letter to the city of beignets and brass bands in the beautiful Broadway Playhouse.

If you go

Runs through April 17 at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place

www.broadwayinchicago.com

 

Nora

Keely’s daughter, Nora, was so excited to meet Mary Pope Osborne and her husband Will.

Based on the wildly popular Magic Tree House book series by Mary Pope Osborne–and with book and lyrics by Osborne’s husband Will Osborne and Murray Horwitz–”A Night in New Orleans” (taken from the book “A Good Night for Ghosts”) follows perpetual adventurers Jack and Annie on their quest back to 1915 to find teenaged Louis Armstrong and set him on his rightful, Jazz Age trajectory. Along the way they’ll soak in the occasionally haunting, always enthralling New Orleans ambience, try out some jazz scat of their own and, yes, even discover what the heck makes gumbo so darned delicious.

The show’s not without its lessons, however. Sure, Jack and Annie may have met dinosaurs and ancient Greeks, but nothing can prepare them for the puzzling fact of segregation or the knowledge that a kid their age might need to have three or four jobs to barely make ends meet. The messages are delivered delicately and seamlessly, however, and by the end of the show you’ll be rooting for the young Armstrong alongside his new Pennsylvania pals. Sydney Sarah Stier, Magic Tree House’s Annie, loves her character’s willingness to try new things. “She jumps into any experience with no hesitation or regrets,” she tells me. Gilbert Domally, who plays Dipper, A.K.A. young Louis Armstrong, likes that “Dipper is not a stranger to hard work. He knows what his responsibilities are and he does his best to handle them with a cheery disposition.”

The cast, directed by Samuel Roberson, is exceptionally solid. Dipper is played pitch-perfectly by Domally with a mix of genuine enthusiasm and amused tolerance at the antics of the two time travelers. The main duo of Jack (Garrett Lutz) and Annie are eager, utterly likable and “just like the book,” according to my 6-year-old co-reviewer. And Dipper’s pals Lil Mac, Big Nose Sidney and Happy (Charli Williams, David Robbins and Trequon Tate, respectively) knock it out of the park with musical and physical dexterity–changing it up to play a variety of vibrant, New Orleans townspeople.

The takeaway that the cast hopes its younger viewers will understand? “It’s never too late to try something new, especially if it makes you happy,” says Stiers. Domally agrees, “[I]t’s okay to dream unapologetically!”

The music–with additional selections and lyrics by Allen Toussaint–is wonderful. The show, skipping along at just around an hour, is extremely enjoyable. And the setting (crafted with incredible detail), will make you want to take a trip of your own to the Big Easy–and now your kids’ll want to come, too.

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