Chasing George Washington:
A White House Adventure
March 8 - 16, 2008
Kennedy Center Performances for Young Audiences Series
A world premiere Kennedy Center co-commission
and co-production with the White House Historical Association
Book and lyrics by KAREN ZACARÍAS
Music by DEBORAH WICKS LA PUMA
Directed by JOHN VREEKE
In this charming new musical, Dee Dee, Jose, and Annie accidentally knock George Washington out of his portrait and into real life--turning their tour into an unexpected adventure. As they try to get the nation's first President back into his painting, the threesome encounters other famous White House residents, including Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary Todd, Dolley Madison, and Jackie Kennedy. Together, they learn that the White House isn't just a historic building... it's also a home.
Review by Jayne Blanchard
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Chasing "Washington" to a Good Story
The dude on the dollar bill leaps to life in Karen Zacarias' entertaining and sometimes inspiring children's musical "Chasing George Washington." The production (at the Kennedy Center's Family Theater) also features a spry score by Deborah Wicks La Puma that ably mixes hip-hop, disco, ballads and traditional show music.Any kind of tour can be a colossal bore for many schoolchildren, but "Chasing George Washington," directed by John Vreeke, puts a warmly personal spin on the furnishings, paintings and egg-and-dart moldings found in the White House and many other historic buildings.
The 60-minute musical shows the transformation of three children from unengaged lollygaggers to history buffs after a wrong turn leads them to a surprise encounter with big George (Harry A. Winter) himself — who has jumped down from his portrait to take the children through what he insists is "their" house.
Up to this point, they feel that they don't belong in the White House. Dee (Felicia Curry) is a rich girl from suburban Atlanta, a sprightly chatterbox whose accessories always match her cell phone. Jose (Billy Bustamante) is a street-wise boy from Los Angeles who speaks in hip-hop rhymes. Annie (Jenna Sokolowski) is a recent immigrant from Eastern Europe whose parents were scientists and schoolteachers in their native country but are a cabdriver and hotel maid here.
George leads the threesome through White House — and American — history, including meet-ups with Susan Ford (Miss Sokolowski), whose senior prom was held in the East Room — a fact brought to life in a lively disco dance number complete with "Saturday Night Fever"-style moves — Caroline Kennedy (Miss Curry), who rode her pony Macaroni around the White House grounds; Jackie Kennedy (Gia Mora), who breathlessly sings about the importance of historic preservation and conservation; and Dolley Madison (Miss Mora again), who tells of saving Washington's portrait from a White House fire.
The most indelible encounter is with Abraham Lincoln (Thomas Adrian Simpson), who is on the verge of signing the Emancipation Proclamation and worries whether he is making the right decision — a decision cemented by Miss Curry's intensely moving performance of a song that urges him to change history "with a stroke of pen and ink."
The significance of the various encounters is reinforced through scenic designer Daniel Conway's skillful use of projections: a slide show of the District's monuments and historical places, White House interiors and famous photographs. The set is a marvelously flexible assemblage of pristine white columns, rolling antique furniture and artwork.
The cast is also highly flexible and responsive in a variety of roles, ranging from schoolchildren to famous figures and befuddled security staff. Miss Curry is especially fine as the gregarious, happily coddled Dee, Miss Sokolowski as the stiff and tentative Annie, and Mr. Bustamante as the delightfully upfront Jose, who confesses he is on the tour "to get out of math."The phrase "if these walls could talk" is often heard. In the case of "Chasing George Washington," they do — and they have a compelling story to tell.
Review by Celia WrenSpecial to The Washington Post
Monday, March 10, 2008; Page C12
Daddy of Our Country: At the Kennedy Center, the Presidency for Kids
"Educational Musical is Goofy Fun"
Who knew that America's first president was such a hoofer? In "Chasing George Washington: A White House Adventure," an ambling, mildly educational new children's musical at the Kennedy Center Family Theater, three youngsters on a field trip to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. come face to face with the Founding Father, and he leads them in a shimmy he calls the White House Slide.
The moment epitomizes the easygoing goofiness of this hour-long show, which features a book and lyrics by Karen Zacarias; pop-flavored music by Deborah Wicks La Puma; and direction by John Vreeke. As befits a work commissioned by the White House Historical Association and the Kennedy Center, "Chasing George Washington" forks over a share of edification. (The show is suggested for ages 9 and up.) Stumbling through a blithely anachronistic reality, the musical's pint-size protagonists meet a pillbox-bedecked Jackie Kennedy (Gia Mora), who tells them of the importance of historic preservation; and they watch as Abraham Lincoln (Thomas Adrian Simpson) musters his courage to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves. They learn about the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. And they live through a fiery moment from the War of 1812.
But Zacarias also goes for tongue-in-cheek humor, some of it about past administrations -- a woebegone Martin Van Buren (Simpson) grouses about White House furniture -- and some of it about 21st-century children and pompous 21st-century adults. The tale's school-age heroes are Dee (Felicia Curry), a cellphone addict from the suburban South; Annie (Jenna Sokolowski), a gawky reality-TV fan from an immigrant family; and Jose (Billy Bustamante), a Los Angeles hip-hop enthusiast who turns out to be a sucker for Tiffany glass. Escorting them around the presidential mansion is the hyper-perky Ms. Letter (Mora), who says things like "Children, feast your eyes on that egg-and-dart molding!"
Needless to say, the kids are less thrilled about decor -- so it's almost a relief when they accidentally knock down Gilbert Stuart's George Washington portrait, magically freeing the bewigged commander in chief (a twinkly-eyed Harry A. Winter, flourishing a sword). Attempting to dodge a White House guard (Simpson, doing a hilarious spoof of officiousness), the group encounters figures from the past, including Susan Ford (Sokolowski, in a pink prom dress) and Dolley Madison (Mora, who doubles engagingly in several roles, and who has a beautiful singing voice).
Because of the script's laid-back pace and flip colloquialisms ("The dude on my dollar bill!" Jose cries when he sees the Stuart painting), "Chasing George Washington" lacks the pizzazz of "Teddy Roosevelt and the Treasure of Ursa Major," the 2006 children's musical that was also a production of the Kennedy Center and the White House Historical Association. The hints of slackness here may reflect this play's development process, in which Zacarias brainstormed with schoolchildren through the Young Playwrights' Theater program, which she founded.
Still, "Chasing George Washington" boasts solid production values, including designer Daniel Conway's flexible set of white columns on a red-and-blue floor. The columns frame a screen that displays changing photographs, including the East Wing and Lincoln Bedroom; snapshots of presidential families; and, at one point, a montage of presidential pets and other animal visitors to the White House.
Debra Kim Sivigny supplies appropriate period costumes, and Martha Mountain underscores the element of fantasy with rich, romantic lighting tones. Ilona Kessell's choreography -- with its semaphoring arms and disco references -- picks up on the lightheartedness that pervades the entire show.
Chasing George Washington: A White House Adventure,
lyrics by Karen Zacarias, music by Deborah Wicks La Puma. Directed by
John Vreeke; music direction, Christopher Youstra; sound design, Matt
Nielson. One hour. Through March 16 at the Kennedy Center Family
Theater. Call 202-467-4600 or 800-444-1324, or visit http:/
Chasing George Washington: A White House Adventure
.....In The White House East Room!
Mrs. Laura Bush, along with invited guests, watches a scene performance Friday, March 7, 2008 in the East Room of the White House, from the theater production of Chasing George Washington: A White House Adventure. The play is part of the Kennedy Center Performances for Young Audiences Series. White House photo by Joyce N. Boghosian
MRS. BUSH: Welcome, everybody, to the White House. This is the
perfect place to get to see the play we're going to see. We're going to
see a few scenes from "Chasing George Washington," which is the play
that's on at the Kennedy Center right now, the Kennedy Center Family
Theater. And the play is actually a collaboration between the Kennedy
Center for the Performing Arts and the White House Historical
Association. And the books that are written that go along with this
play are a great book to read to learn about history.
There is a very famous portrait of George Washington in the
White House. Does anybody see it? (Laughter.) Do you? That's it, right
there. And this is a funny story about what happens when some kids come
on a field trip to the White House and they accidentally bump into the
picture of George Washington.
Excerpts from WhiteHouse.gov
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
2700 F Street, NW
Washington, DC 20566
Tickets and Information: 800-444-1324 or 202-467-4600
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