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Review: ‘Me…Jane: The Dreams & Adventures of Young Jane Goodall’ at the Kennedy Center

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The story of Jane Goodall – primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist – has been told numerous times in various media forms. The British born naturalist is said to be the leading expert on chimpanzees, and her passion for her work has been a source of admiration and inspiration for years. The documentary, Jane, was released just this year, with detailed accounts and footage from her expeditions.

Me…Jane: The Dreams & Adventures of Young Jane Goodall is a Kennedy Center commissioned production and is currently making its world premiere in the Kennedy Center’s Family Theater. Based on Patrick McDonnell’s book Me…Jane, the story focuses on Jane as a child, as she explores the world around her and dreams of going to Africa. While her mother is wonderfully supportive and encourages Jane’s aspirations, other people in Jane’s life think her ideas are dangerous and try to convince her that her dreams are impossible.

McDonnell adapted his book and wrote the show with Andy Mitton and Aaron Posner. Andy Mitton also wrote the music and lyrics, while Aaron Posner directed the show. The result is a fantastically entertaining musical, full of colorful characters and songs that will have you dancing in your seat.

Erin Weaver (Helen Hayes Award winner) plays the eight-year-old Jane Goodall, and her ability to embody a child’s physicality and voice patterns is incredible. Weaver’s restless curiosity is exciting to watch, as she studies the animals in her neighborhood and makes interesting discoveries.

Playing Jane’s Mum is Tracy Lynn Olivera (Helen Hayes Award winner). Olivera is the mother everyone wants. She is loving and soothes Jane’s fears, when others make her doubt her goals, but is also strong and makes sure that Jane knows she must work hard for what she wants.

Video: Meet Jubilee from Me… Jane Now Playing at the Kennedy Center

Also in this small cast are Awa Sal Secka, Sam Ludwig, and Eymard Cabling, who each play multiple characters. Ludwig and Secka are the crotchety neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Crouch, constantly chiding Jane for her ridiculous aspirations. And Cabling plays the lovable dog Rusty, Jane’s best friend (aside from her beloved stuffed chimpanzee, Jubilee, of course). The trio of actors also portrays three hens (Secka is particularly hilarious as the distraught, Maisie) and three squirrels, who Jane seeks out to observe and learn from.

The music is catchy and fun and many of the numbers, like “Animals, Animals, Animals!” (my personal favorite), have choreography that perfectly harnesses and enhances the youthful, liveliness of the show. Christopher d’Amboise’s choreography has the actors dance and jump with boundless energy, or perfectly capture the identifiable posture and movements of the various animals they portray.

But Me…Jane: The Dreams & Adventures of Young Jane Goodall doesn’t only teach the audience about Jane’s youth. The show also carries a message of believing in yourself and making dreams a reality by hard-work and dedication. Jane’s story is motivational to children and adults alike, showing that the possibilities before you are mostly in your own hands: It is not enough to dream. You must also DO.

The show is advertised for audiences six and up, and I can assure you that there is no age limit to who can enjoy this educational and moving production. I attended The Kennedy Center production with my three boys, ranging in ages from eight to twelve, and the four of us were grinning from ear to ear as we walked to the car and discussed the show.
Me…Jane is a teaching moment for adults, an encouraging story for kids, and a heartening tale of the potential locked within us all, for everyone in between. Andy Mitton conveys the overall informational and inspirational feel of the musical in his lyrics:

EVERY ONE OF US DISTINCT
BUT EVERY ONE OF US IS LINKED
BY A HOME AND BY A HISTORY
BY A UNIVERSAL MYSTERY
FROM THE STARFISH TO THE SWAN
EVERY ONE US PHENOMENONS
AND EVERY ONE OF US HAS WORTH
AREN’T WE LUCKY TO SHARE THE EARTH
WITH…
ANIMALS! ANIMALS! ANIMALS! ANIMALS! ANIMALS!

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission.

Me…Jane: The Dreams and Adventures of Young Jane Goodall plays through Sunday December 10, 2017, at The Kennedy Center’s Family Theater – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 467-4600, or Toll-Free: (800) 444-1324, or purchase them online.

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