When you bring Bob Marley's reggae together with a charming story about children and sassy talking birds, you get sheer delight onstage. Off-Broadway's New Victory Theater has done just that with Bob Marley's Three Little Birds, directed by Nick Olcott and featuring a gorgeous set by Joseph B. Musumeci Jr. Parents and kids will be entertained by the music and dancing, but there's an important lesson to learn from these little birds.
Based on a story by Cedella Marley (Bob and Rita Marley's first child), Three Little Birds tells the tale of Ziggy (Jobari Parker-Namdar), a timid, dreadlocked 11-year-old Jamaican boy who watches way too much TV and refuses to go outside because he fears hurricanes, mongooses, and Duppy (S. Lewis Feemster), an evil spirit bird that steals the hair of children. His friend Nansi (Brittany N. Williams), on the other hand, can't get enough of the open air, and one day she cajoles Ziggy into visiting his mother, Cedella (Ayanna Hardy), at the seaport, where she sells spicy jerk chicken to tourists.
But along the way, Ziggy and Nansi quarrel over whose pet is better: Ziggy's lucky bird, Doctor Bird (David Little), or Nansi's big hairy spider, Baby Ziggy. To make them even angrier, the wicked Duppy, unseen in the trees, drops mangoes on their heads, and the two children storm off in opposite directions. They encounter Duppy while separated, but when Ziggy discovers the power of the island within himself, not even Duppy can scare him.
Marley's songs make up the majority of the show's music, with additional music and lyrics by John L. Cornelius II. Among the most familiar tunes are "One Love," which is reprised throughout the show, and "So Much Trouble in the World." Parker-Namdar as Ziggy brings an impressive set of pipes to these and other reggae tunes. How he and the show's other wonderful performers manage to hold a note while dancing so energetically is anyone's guess, but it's a thrill to hear and watch.
Bob Marley's Three Little Birds packs enough music, dancing, and colorful storytelling into 55 minutes to keep even the most fidgety tykes engaged. Note that when the show begins, youngsters who are unfamiliar with Jamaican culture may take a few minutes to adapt to the actors' Jamaican accents, and there are a few simple jokes and humorous moments that might be lost on them. But after 15 minutes or so, kids will be laughing along with the adults.
Besides its value as entertainment, the production offers wonderful teachable moments for kids five and up, for example, when Cedella observes that tourists who come to Jamaica "speak with funny accents." The show also briefly touches on the customs and traditions that have been brought to Jamaica from Spain, England, Africa, China, and India. From mangoes and mongooses to hurricanes and spicy jerk chicken, this musical offers all sorts of springboards for conversations about different foods, animals, music, and ways of life. But the best lesson for kids to take from Bob Marley's Three Little Birds is that your fears should never get in the way of having an adventure with the world. Not a bad lesson for grown-ups, either.