Making Books Sing, a nonprofit dedicated to combining children’s love of books with musical theater, turns to the subject of homelessness with its 11th musical, “A Shelter in Our Car.” Geared to audiences ages 4 to 14, the current offering is unsophisticated yet endearing, with a heartwarming tug at the end.
Piece is based on the 2004 book of the same title by Monica Gunning. Following the death of her father, 11-year-old Zettie and her mother find themselves evicted from their 184th Street apartment. While Mama — a nurse back in Jamaica — studies to get a New York license, they sleep in their car, washing up in park restrooms.
Surrounded by wailing sirens, shunted from illegal parking spaces by policemen and mercilessly teased by bullies, Zettie struggles through it all, dreaming of life back in Port Antonio and just one luxurious bubble bath.
Big-voiced Emily Agy stands out as Zettie, although she appears to be somewhat older than 11. (If they ever get around to color-blind casting in “Hairspray,” Agy is Tracy Turnblad material.)
Robyn Payne makes a sympathetic and stylish Mama, while the ingratiating Ronny Mercedes is a favorite with the pre-teens as Zettie’s friend Ricardo.
Anette Michelle Sanders steps out of the ensemble late in the show with an unexpected and delightful comedy turn as an Irish policewoman.
Making Books Sing began in 1996 as the children’s program at the Vineyard Theater. (Vineyard founder and former executive director Barbara Zinn Kreiger is artistic director of Making Books Sing.)
“Shelter” began a 21-performance, four-borough tour on Jan. 22, with stops at Lehman College, Queensborough PAC, Kingsborough College and Symphony Space. With teacher’s resource packets, school-based artist residencies and development workshops, org seems to be serving its stated purpose. A program note states 38% of the city’s homeless are families with children, making “A Shelter in Our Car” especially pertinent to inner-city schoolchildren.