The Very First Family

Aliya, Alikis,

Aliya, Alikis,

Dog … Danny Cox

Maya, Basha,

Woman … Karen Cline-Wright

Taffy, Girl Fish,

Cat … Jakyta M. Sullivan

Narrator, Chief … Brad Shaw

Narrator, Tribeswoman,

Cow … Shoshanna Gold

Boy Fish, Stranger Man,

Horse, Baby … William Harper

The Coterie has drawn talent from several venues to assure a top-flight production in this first presentation of a new work by Philip Hall. It brought in director Dale AJ Rose, veteran of the Missouri Rep, in company with its own Jeff Church and the author to produce.

The author has done his part well, somewhat freely adapting from the “Just So” short stories of Rudyard Kipling, principally “How the Very First Letter Was Written” and “The Cat Who Walked by Herself.” In a major switch, he traded catching butterflies for fishing, and gained a dramatic punch. He has composed in the calypso mode, background and sequences wrapping around half a dozen vocals, all lively.

The cast is headed by actor/comedian/musician Danny Cox with able assistance from an enthusiastic crew. Special attention is evident in the stage of unique and colorful set pieces and platforms by Howard C. Jones, musical direction by Molly Jessup, Stone Age costumes by Brad Shaw, the many details of staging by Art Kent and Ron Magee and choreography by DeeAnna Hiett-Washington, an Alvin Ailey vet.

Cox is the Stone Age potter, with Karen Cline-Wright the mother, Jakyta M. Sullivan the young teen daughter and William Harper (actually a young man) the baby. They are very busy with the pottery, the washing and cave-keeping, but daughter persuades father “This Day Has Been Made for Fishing,” the first song. It’s followed by “The Fishes Fight,” “What Do We Do Now” and a lullaby, “The Very First Song.”

Daughter writes the very first letter, a drawing on a skin, to carry a message to mother to replace the broken spear. She misinterprets to great consternation, but all is resolved after daughter reinterprets. Father, daughter , stranger man and tribeswoman become the animals in the “Cat” sequence, in which “The Animal Song” and “Man’s Best Friend” are featured numbers.

Most of the show’s songs are “en chorale,” and two numbers use extensive calypso choreography by the company. Performances are good throughout, Harper being called upon for special versatility as the baby, boy fish, stranger man and a much abused horse. Direction maintains a lighthearted tone and keeps proceedings fast-paced for an all-too-short and delightful hour.

The musical had a reading at the Kennedy Center last spring. The Coterie commissioned the production and will give about 50 performances in the monthlong stand. “The Very First Family,” which returns to Washington next spring, may be due for a few minor adjustments, according to the author, but will be presented at Kennedy largely as it was here.

The Very First Family

Production: KANSAS CITY A Coterie Theater production of a musical with book, music and lyrics by Philip Hall. Directed by Dale AJ Rose; music director, Molly Jessup.

Crew: Choreography, DeeAnna Hiett-Washington; set, Howard C. Jones; costumes, Brad Shaw; lighting, Art Kent; stage manager, Ron Magee; Ron Simonian. Executive director, Joette Pelster; artistic director, Jeff Church. Opened, reviewed April 26, 1994. 150 seats; $ 5 top. Running time: 1 HOUR

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