American writer Kwame Alexander has won numerous awards with his poetry and children’s fiction. And now, the New York Times best-selling author has combined two of his books to bring the characters to life in a world premiere Kennedy Center commission, Acoustic Rooster’s Barnyard Boogie: Starring Indigo Blume.
Alexander worked with writing partner Mary Rand Hess for the script and collaborated musically with Randy Preston, who composed the songs. The story takes the title character from Indigo Blume and the Garden City, about a young girl who inspires her community to go green and creates a rooftop garden and moves forward in her life.
The city’s residents are enjoying their success in cleaning up their neighborhood with a big celebration, and Indigo (played by Kanysha Williams) is going to sing on center stage! While this is exciting in theory, the little girl with big dreams begins to feel overwhelmed as her friends gush about how cool she’ll look up on the stage and how many people will be looking just at her.
After a minor freakout, despite loving reassurances from her parents, Indigo resolves that she just can’t perform alone on stage and lies down to take a nap after an exhausting day.
Enter the Acoustic Rooster and His Barnyard Band characters! Last seen in their book, they had come together to form a rocking band for a competition and discover that making incredible music with great friends is better than any prize.
Indigo seems to awaken from her nap and finds herself in the barn where the animals are practicing. She recognizes the characters from her favorite book and is ecstatic to be in the presence of Acoustic Rooster (Randy Preston), Mules Davis (Jaysen Wright), Duck Ellington (Vaughn Midder), Chickee Minaj (Lauren Davis), and Miss Dairy Parton (Farrell Parker). These five characters play instruments, sing, dance, and rap in preparation for the next Barnyard event.
But a storm blows by, destroying the barn, along with their plans for the concert and their future. Through Indigo’s resilience and positivity, the group pushes onward to find a solution, learning that where there is fear, there can also be bravery.
The production is truly an amazing experience, filled with energy, courage, and hope. The songs in the show are a fantastic mix of jazz, soul, hip hop, blues, and everything in between, featuring each of the cast members in varying genres. I would almost say that the adults enjoyed the show even more than the kids did, with the references to lyrics and characters’ human counterparts most likely lost on the youth but hilariously clever for the benefit of the grown-ups.
The costumes (designed by Erik Teague) paired with wigs (designed by Priscilla Bruce) conveyed the human/animal hybrids in a realistic and fun way and allowed each to strut their unique selves proudly about the stage.
But with all the beautiful creative pieces in place, even the most smartly designed show must have a stellar cast. And they did. Composer Randy Preston plays the Dad and the Rooster. His presence and the power in his voice are magnificent.
Lauren Davis played the Mom and Chickee Minaj, who frankly deserves her own reality show. Her character was explosive, and I am not ashamed to say that I was cackling numerous times over her antics.
Kanysha Williams as Indigo Blume was perfect casting (by Michelle Kozlak). Williams’ ability to play a child with the innocence and unsureness at times in her voice — and then so smoothly and naturally slide into her true voice, when her character’s confidence peaked — is a wonderful development to see, or rather, hear.
Farrell Parker as the fabulous Miss Dairy Parton (the sweetest and most loved Diva Cow there ever was), with Vaughn Ryan Midder as the eclectic Duck Ellington, and Jaysen Wright as the soulful Mules Davis rounded out the cast, and the combination of genuine talent and uplifting material created a guaranteed hit.
If I had to find fault, I would simply say that there are two scene changes that seemed oddly out of place in their stillness, since most of the show works the movement of pieces and transitions of the stage into the action. But the moments are easily overlooked and don’t affect the overall energy.
The show is recommended for 5 and up but anyone can enjoy the humor, music, and triumph that the production exudes. Author Kwame Alexander released a book based on the new show in 2020 and I would not be surprised if it becomes a fast favorite, along with its musical counterpart.
The Kennedy Center’s world premiere of Acoustic Rooster’s Barnyard Boogie: Starring Indigo Blume is a smash hit, and the show’s lessons of being brave in the face of fear and finding the strength inside you can resonate with all people, young and old alike. Don’t miss this joyous adventure.
Running Time: Approximately 70 minutes, with no intermission.
Acoustic Rooster’s Barnyard Boogie: Starring Indigo Blume plays through November 28, 2021, in the Family Theater at the Kennedy Center – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets ($20), call (202) 467-4600 or go online.
Best enjoyed by children 5+.
COVID Safety: The Kennedy Center Vaccination and Mask Policy (including for children under 12) is here.
Acoustic Rooster’s Barnyard Boogie: Starring Indigo Blume will go on tour across the country in the 2022–2023 season (cities and dates to be announced).
Acoustic Rooster’s Barnyard Boogie: Starring Indigo Blume
A Kennedy Center World Premiere Commission
Adapted from the books by Kwame Alexander
By Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess
Music by Randy Preston
Directed by Lili-Anne Brown
Acoustic Rooster/Dad: Randy Preston, Indigo Blume: Kanysha Williams, Chickee Minaj/Mom: Lauren Davis, Miss Dairy Parton/Samantha: Farrell Parker, Duck Ellington/Elijah: Vaughn Ryan Midder, Mules Davis/Mr. Woody: Jaysen Wright
Kwame Alexander: Playwright, Mary Rand Hess: Playwright, Lili-Anne Brown: Director, Randy Preston: Composer, Mark G. Meadows: Music Director/Orchestrator, Breon Arzell: Choreographer, Arnel Sancianco: Scenic Designer, Erik Teague: Costume Designer, Alberto Segarra: Lighting Designer, Kevin Alexander: Sound Designer, Andrea “Dre” Moore: Properties Artisan, Michelle Kozlak: Casting Director, Julia Singer: Production Stage Manager, Nadia Guevara: Assistant Director, Priscilla Bruce: Wig Designer
Randy Preston crows about his songs in ‘Accoustic Rooster’ at KenCen (interview by Chad Kinsman)