Review: Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott

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NCT shines in its production of the Rosa Parks story, offering local kids an important look at the real people behind a pivotal true story in the civil rights movement.

Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott
Feb. 25 – March 13; Ages 8 and older
Nashville Children’s Theatre
25 Middleton St., Nashville
615-252-4675 • nashvillect.org
Show times: Sat – Sun 2 p.m.
Tickets: $20 adults, $15 children

Every so often, Nashville Children’s Theatre (NCT) breaks away from its usual formula of presenting theater for kids based on popular picture book characters or school-age fiction books by offering shows whose stories are rooted in history with characters who were real people. The latter tends to lend NCT its best moments, certainly the most memorable ones.

Such is the case with NCT’s current run of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Writer Sue Greenberg (the play was commissioned and originally produced by the St. Louis Black Repertory Company), brilliantly packs a lot of important civil rights history into the hour-and-10-minute production.

Anyone who’s paid attention in history class is aware of Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a bus to a white man in Montgomery, Ala. in December 1955. For a lot of kids and adults, that’s all they know about Parks. Greenberg’s play, however, dives into the many ripple effects of Parks’ act of defiance on that winter day, and how her courage sparked the civil rights movement in an undeniable new way. In fact, Greenberg notes that part of her inspiration behind writing the play had to do with the myths about Parks. According to the playwright, Parks’ story is “usually oversimplified and partially incorrect.” She notes that most folks think Parks refused to give up her seat because she was tired, while other believe that — as a civil rights activist — she planned the whole thing. One thing’s certain: it proved to be an important catalyst for change in America’s civil rights.

Jon Royal’s masterful direction brings the full impact of Parks’ story to the stage in a way that’s easy for kids to digest. NCT newcomer Tamiko Robinson Steele gives a solid portrayal of the 42-year-old Parks, offering the young audience a deeper understanding of Parks’ motivation on that winter day 60 years ago. Likewise, Rashad Rayford makes his NCT debut as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (doubling as Raymond Parks), delivering a striking performance in his role as the mid-20s minister who was initially reluctant to embrace his own leadership, but dynamically stepped up to the plate as the most visible face of the civil rights movement.

The remaining cast members all lend a lot of talent to this excellent show, including Bobby Wyckoff (Rev. Graetz/Bus Driver), James Rudolph (E.D. Nixon/Sylvester), Lauren Jones (Jo Ann Robinson/Sister Rogers), Latrisha Talley (Coretta Scott King/Claudette Colvin) and Denice Hicks (Virginia Durr/Juliette Morgan). Hicks’ role as Durr is of particular note, given how essential Mrs. Durr was to the true story as the good friend of Parks who proved the year-long boycott of the Montgomery Bus system had supporters in the white community.

Scott Leathers’ set design incorporates a lot of historical elements by way of actual words and phrases of the mid-1950s era, and Connye Forance’s superb musical direction provides an important element to the power of Parks’ story. All of the gospel-flavored musical numbers are sung a cappella, offering uplifting moments of hope during times of uncertainty so many years ago.

 

Chad Young is the managing editor and arts/entertainment editor for this publication.

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