Theater review by Raven Snook
A call to action for families raising young feminists, She Persisted celebrates real-life sheroes while demonstrating that everyone has the power to make a difference. Based on Chelsea Clinton's picture book of the same name—thanks for the title, Mitch McConnell!—Adam Tobin and Deborah Wicks La Puma's musical at Atlantic for Kids is fast, fun and full of facts.
On a school field trip to a women's history museum, insecure fourth grader Naomi (an adorkable Amber Jaunai) is magically whisked back in history by Time (gleefully personified by Heather Sawyer) to meet women who changed the world. In engaging scenes and songs, Naomi and young audiences learn about groundbreaking ladies in STEM (anesthesiologist Virginia Apgar, astronaut Sally Ride), sports (track and field great Florence Griffith Joyner), law (Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor) and social activism (abolitionist Harriet Tubman, integration pioneer Ruby Bridges). Naomi encounters these figures when they're in the midst of making history, so she sees the challenges they needed to overcome—including their own doubts and fears.
Although the production is recommended for children 5 and up, it's best for older elementary schoolers who already have some context for complex subjects like slavery and civil rights. Tobin's profiles of these trailblazers are brief but never condescending, and Wicks La Puma's varied music styles complement the subjects. Aside from Jaunai, the performers all play multiple characters; vocal powerhouse Cynthia Nesbit is the standout as sassy Flo-Jo (with an R&B tune) and a sobering Tubman (with a rousing gospel number). Long before the climactic inspirational anthem, "Walk On," the message to all the girls watching is clear: The past has been hard, but the future can be female.
Atlantic Theater Company (Off Broadway). Book and lyrics by Adam Tobin. Music by Deborah Wicks La Puma. Directed by MK Lawson. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr. No intermission.
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