By Lynn Venhaus
A sunny, soulful song-and-dance showcase, “Last Stop on Market Street” includes a sweet slice-of-life lesson to engage audiences of all ages.
Metro Theater Company is presenting this vivacious 75-minute musical without intermission at the Grandel Theatre from Feb. 6-27 and is offering a video streaming option, too.
Written by Matt de la Pena with illustrations by Christian Robinson in 2015, the Newberry Medal-winning picture book is considered a modern classic and its theme of inclusivity and community is timeless.
It strikes a chord about finding the good in unexpected places through a child spending time with his out-of-town grandmother. He’s dropped off for the weekend and hasn’t ever spent that much time away from his parents – he’s counting the hours he must be there. Their relationship is rocky at first, and he is a reluctant guest, but eventually grows in love and understanding.
The child, CJ, is spoiled and a bit sheltered, and while bonding with his older and wiser grandmother “Nana,” he learns about the bigger, and very different, world around him. She introduces him to neighbors and new experiences.
Always plugged into his phone and tablet, he learns how fun adventures can be without reliance on screens. She, in turn, learns more about technology. In a relatable way, they appreciate age differences – and bridge the digital divide.
That intergenerational bond, if we’re lucky to experience it, lasts a lifetime – and the legacy beyond that, which this presentation shows so well.
It’s always a good thing when we can be reminded of our grandmother’s love and guidance, and how they helped shape our paths. My “Mims” was a special person that I reference almost daily, what an impact this little dynamo made on my life from her 50s until age 80.
With her indomitable spirit, director Jacqueline Thompson has highlighted the colorful book’s emphasis on kindness, compassion, and gratitude.
In her director’s notes, Thompson dedicated the show to “all the Nanas of the world, — our truth tellers, safe spaces, warmth, roots to our foundation and light.” Amen to that. And thank you to Mildred Thompson.
The book was adapted for the stage by Cheryl L. West and co-produced by the Chicago Children’s Theater and the Children’s Theatre Company in 2018.
In bringing this celebration of community to the local region, Metro has enlisted five-star talent to create an outstanding production that unifies young and old, and easily gets folks into the rhythm and out of their seats.
In the neighborhood setting, brightly imagined by scenic designers extraordinaire Margery and Peter Spack, a sense of community is palpable. The Spacks are known for their original creations that evoke whimsy and wonder, and their work here could fit into a PBS set for the Children’s Television Workshop.
Get ready to be energized by the beat, with a Motown-infused score from rhythm-and-blues legend Lamont Dozier and his son Paris Ray Dozier, who have incorporated hip hop, soul, rap and gospel into the catchy music and lyrics.
Music director Phil Woodmore and choreographer Christopher Page-Sanders have captured the Doziers’ vibrancy.
The tight ensemble is like a vitamin shot, with Robert Crenshaw, Daniel McRath, Valentina Silva, Denise Thimes, Cameron Tyler, and Tyler White lifting their voices in heartfelt harmony, and making you smile because of their joie de vivre as they groove to the beats.
Denise Thimes is well-suited to play the inspirational Nana, and her relationship with Daniel McRath, playing CJ, is believable – stern but warm.
Thimes is a local jazz legend and has sung on the world’s greatest stages and with world-class artists. She’s in a league of her own.
Listening to the group sing is enjoyable, but their sublime solo efforts are when we get the full experience of their remarkable vocal chops. Wow.
McRath has an exceptional voice. He’s a graduate of Opera Theatre of St. Louis’s Artist-in-Training program and was in “Aida” at The Muny.
Part of the ensemble, Robert Crenshaw’s voice is also superb, and last seen in “Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope” and “Spell #7,” both at The Black Rep.
Valentina Silva, who is seen in multiple roles, including M. Butterfly, is a versatile performer and recent BFA graduate in musical theater from Webster University. Cameron Tyler, a recent musical theater graduate of Missouri Baptist University, is the sympathetic Jojo, a homeless youth, that opens CJ’s eyes to the plight of others.
Tyler White is a veteran artist who has appeared on multiple stages and easily transitions to different roles, like a bus driver and homeless woman, with authenticity.
With creativity and dedication, the artists and technicians have ensured the details pop to keep youngsters occupied.
The lighting and sound design work is notable, from Jayson M. Lawshee and Jackie “Jackpot” Sharp respectively. Costume designer Felia Davenport crafted each characters’ outfits with personality in mind.
For those who love St. Louis, this charming and delightful production is a special treat from the Metro Theater Company, now in its 49th year, reminding us now, more than ever, small acts of kindness are never wasted. And city living is endlessly educational.
The play is recommended for children ages 5 and up. A short on-stage Q&A with the cast follows the performance.
“Last Stop on Market Street” is live on stage through Feb. 27 at The Grandel Theater, 3610 Grandel Square in Grand Center Arts District, across the street from Powell Hall. Tickets are available at MetroTix at (314) 534-1111 until 4 hours prior to the performance, then at The Grandel box office an hour before the performance.
Seven live performances are left: Feb. 18, 7 p.m.; Feb. 19, 4 p.m.; Feb. 20, 2 and 5 p.m.; Feb. 26, 1 and 4 p.m.; and Feb. 27, 2 p.m.
A video stream of the production is available. For more information: www.metroplays.org/marketstreet
Pandemic Protocols: Please be sure to bring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for every member of your party who is medically eligible for the vaccine. You will not be able to enter the building without proof of vaccination. Mask wearing is required at all times inside the Grandel. For more details, please take a moment to look over the COVID safety procedures on the website. Thank you for doing your part to keep our audiences of all ages safe and healthy!
Photos by Jennifer A. Lin.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.