What to do? Ten year old Zoe (Zoe Ettinger Hochberg), daughter of the English teacher, Mr. Turner (Voice Over), at Lincoln Elementary School in the community of Fairfield County, Connecticut has had an unfortunate encounter with the school bully – Billy (Joe Blaikie) at the water fountain – on the very same day that her dad has assigned his students to write about something “unfair in their lives”. She has been grounded to her dad’s den (how comfy) – without a cell phone, or computer and no TV and can only come out when she’s learned something about life. Yikes. What to do?
In this well intentioned musical, which is a Special Event at this year’s New York Musical Festival, cast with children from ages eight to eleven (17 females/2 males) we see a white toast version of kids with problems that all kids have.
As fate would have it or rather the book writer Jill Jaysen (who is also responsible for the perky direction) has it, Zoe finds all those essays on her dad’s desk and we see them come to life in song (music and lyrics by Mark Shepard) and sometimes dance.
We begin with “Awful Day” with everyone complaining about their individual minor problems and then get right to the heart of the matter with “Letters To Daddy” – someone is too small, another wants to be a scientist while his dad wants him to play sports, another wants to paint but at home family problems cause her dad to scream a lot more than praise her artwork. She’s also the sister of misunderstood Billy the school Bully.
In the short two acts with ten songs, the children learn to be positive, to help one another, that competition is about having fun and not necessarily about winning, that it’s great luck to have good friends, that you must follow your dreams, that people are more than what they seem to be and that it’s not too late to change the world to be a better place.
The Bully turns out to be not so bad after all and the new girl in school – who was ignored because of rumors that she was mean and a trouble-maker, is welcomed when the rumors are proven false. Awful becomes Awesome!
Letters to Daddy, Jr. is chock full of life’s lessons without ever being preachy – in fact it’s all done with humor and bright and catchy soft rock tunes that the kids obviously relish singing especially the wonderful “Together We Can Change The World”.
It’s great to see so many youngsters so dedicated in doing what they feel so passionate about. They are a welcome addition to NYMF. My only wish is that the cast was more multi-representational.
CAST: Zoe Ettinger Hochberg, Gigi Vallone, Theo Koskoff, Emma Parry, Riley Thrush, Jamie Santarella, Lily Tarshis, Claudia Serino, Jillian Gault, Isabella Blansfield, Brooke Kessler, Colette Vynerib, Lila Weiser, Joe Blaikie, Ariane Elizabeth Hero, Julianna Shmaruk, Alin Mey Pasa, Simone Barr, Peri Kessler