My family and I recently attended the wonderful revival of A Band of Angels produced by the New York City Children’s Theater (formerly Making Books Sing). A decade after its debut, the show remains both captivating and thought-provoking.
This revival not only commemorates the 10-year anniversary of the musical, but also the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. Adapted from Deborah Hopkinson's book of the same name, A Band of Angels takes the audience through a little known, yet exciting piece of history. Director Colman Domingo and the entire cast share the beautiful story through an amazing production, and I’m happy that we were able to witness it.
Through great song and dance, my 10-year-old son, his friend and I learned about the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a choir that is still around today. The choir was founded after the Civil War at one of the first schools for freed slaves. The audience goes back in time with the main character, Ella—a pop-culture obsessed teenager living in present-day NYC—who seems to be headed down the wrong path. During her journey, she meets the original Jubilee Singers, and learns about her history and the importance of education.
Ancestors look on as aspiring pop singer, Ella, talks about her relationship with her aunt.
The music direction by Kristen Rosenfeld was superb. The actors' voices, which projected through the theater, moved everyone in the audience. My son especially loved how they used their bodies as instruments, tapping their feet and swaying to the rhythm. They had people tapping right along with them! The songs, all performed a cappella, included many African-American spirituals. While some of the music was very familiar to me, the story was one I had never been told. I left the theater feeling not only entertained, but well-informed about a piece of history we all could benefit from learning about.
Ella travels back in time and sings with the Fisk Jubilee Choir.
My 10-year-old son and his friend were very impressed with the music and storyline. There wasn't a moment during the play when they looked disinterested or bored. I think the intertwining of the past and present kept them captivated. Despite finding Ella a bit "over-the-top" at times, they both said they saw some things in her that they notice in themselves. Regardless, her overacting brought many laughs to the audience.
After the show, my son said that he was moved by the performance. He even shared during the Talk Back (these sessions take place after every 4pm performance) that he felt like his ancestors were speaking to him during the show. I understood exactly what he meant, because my heart pounded as the cast gave us a peek into the past, showing us what life was like for African-Americans during that time period. The emotion really emanated through the songs they sang. Not only did the cast do an excellent job telling this amazing story, the detail in the set design, and period-appropriate props and costumes captured our attention from start to finish. A Band of Angels is truly a riveting and breathtaking production that's great for children ages 8 and up, and their parents.
The cast of A Band of Angels after the show.
A Band of Angels plays at Theater 3 at 311 West 43rd Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. It runs through Sunday, May 17. See our listing for times and prices.
For other great theater for kids, check out our roundup of the best spring family shows.
Photos by Carol Rosegg