Chicago Children’s Theatre presents ‘The Watsons Go to Birmingham’

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Cast of "The Watson Go to Birmingham-1963"

The New 411

Chicago Children’s Theatre’s 13th season finale is the world premiere of “The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963,” a Civil Rights era family drama based on the groundbreaking young adult novel by Christopher Paul Curtis about the 1963 Birmingham church bombing.

Since Chicago Children’s Theatre’s founding, “please…please do ‘The Watsons Go to Birmingham’” has been the #1 new play request from one of the company’s most important audiences – Chicago teachers.

Happily, school groups and the general public will have the chance to see Chicago Children’s Theatre’s new adaptation of the Newbery-winning book.

And it comes with impressive credentials. Chicago director Wardell Julius Clark, currently riding on a meteoric rise as one of Chicago’s most acclaimed young directors, makes his CCT directing debut with “The Watsons Go To Birmingham– 1963.” Internationally admired playwright Cheryl L. West penned this fresh new adaptation of Curtis’s acclaimed novel, which features original music composed by Paris Ray Dozier. West and Dozier collaborated with CCT on the company’s 2018 smash hit world premiere Last Stop on Market Street.

Meet the Watsons, an African-American family of five, who live in Flint, Michigan. When oldest son Byron starts getting into trouble, it’s decided he needs to be sent to Birmingham, Alabama, to live with his grandma and get set straight. So the whole family – Mama, Daddy, Byron, Kenny and Joetta – sets out on a cross-country journey in the family car, the “Brown Bomber.” When they make it to Birmingham, they find more than they bargained for – a city simmering with tension during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. This powerful story reminds us that during times of crisis, hope reveals itself in the forms of family, friendships, learning, growing and evolving.

“The Watsons Go To Birmingham – 1963” is appropriate for children 9 years old and up, yet sophisticated enough for adults. Weekday school matinees begin March 26. Public performances are March 30-April 28: Saturdays and Sunday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Exception: No shows Easter Sunday, April 21.

Single tickets are $25-$41. Visit chicagochildrenstheatre.org or call Chicago Children’s Theatre Guest Services, (312) 374-8835, for single tickets, subscriptions, information on school performances and group rates.

Chicago Children’s Theatre, The Station, is located at 100 S. Racine Ave. in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood. The Station is minutes from I-90, I-290, downtown and Ashland Avenue. Free onsite parking is available on the south side of the building, enter from Racine Ave. Nearby street parking is typically available on weekends, or look for the Impark parking lot, 1301 W. Madison St.

Access Weekend for “The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963” is Saturday and Sunday, April 13 and 14. ASL interpretation will be provided Saturday, April 11 at 11 a.m. Open captioning will be provided at the 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. performances on Saturday, April 13. On Sunday, April 14, the 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. performances will be sensory-friendly. A quiet room and family restroom will be available.

Wardell Julius Clark has earned uniform critical acclaim for his bold stagings of The Shipment for Red Tape Theatre, Insurrection: Holding History for Stage Left, among others. He is a TimeLine Theatre company member, a teaching artist with its Living History program, and an associate artist with the Black Lives, Black Words theater Wardell Julius Clark.

Christopher Paul Curtis (author) was born and reared in Flint, Michigan. After high school graduation, he worked on the assembly line of the Fisher Body Plant/Flint Plant No. 1 and graduated from the Flint branch of the University of Michigan. His debut book, The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963, was one of the most highly acclaimed first novels for young readers in recent years, receiving a Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Honor book citation in 1996.

Cheryl L. West (adaptor) wrote the adaptation for Last Stop On Market Street, Chicago Children’s Theatre’s 2018 world premiere musical based on Matt de la Peña’s Newbery-winning, Caldecott-honored children’s book. Among other accomplishments, West adapted Holiday Heart for Showtime/ MGM and Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Productions. She has worked in TV and film projects at Paramount, MTV Films, Showtime, TNT, HBO and CBS. She was the Webby nominated writer for the web series, Diary of a Single Mom in collaboration with Robert Townsend’s V Studios.

Paris Ray Dozier (composer) first collaborated in 2018 with CCT as co-composer with his father, Motown legend Lamont Dozier, on the original score for Last Stop on Market Street. He also created music and sound for CCT’s world premiere of X Marks the Spot. Dozier continues to write and produce for various artists in just about every genre of music.

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