When I heard that OCT was doing a production of Last Stop on Market Street, I was really excited. The Caldecott Honor and Newberry Medal winning book by Matt de la Peña is one of our favorite family books. I appreciate its lyrical simplicity in dealing with complex topics of social engagement, diversity, and poverty. I wondered how that might be translated on stage.
First of all, the play gives the audience more context into the protagonist CJ’s modern life: he is a 7-year-old boy who is sheltered and distracted by technology and comfort. He is challenged by his grandmother who lives in a different part of town — with different smells and sounds and different rules as well. CJ’s reluctant journey with his Nana to the soup kitchen is interspersed with opportunities to open up to different people and different perspectives, and find commonality between them. He learns to confront his own quick conclusions about new places and new people with understanding and empathy.
I was glad to see a diverse cast. It reflects much of the illustrations in the book. Celia Castillo-Torres plays CJ, and his Nana is played by Patricia Alvitez. The energy between this pair is enjoyable to watch. The riffing between them and the exasperation of Castillo-Torres is relatable and funny. My five-year-old really liked Nana’s character because “she tied everything together in the story.”
The other cast members had their hands full, as costume changes shifted their roles on stage. They brought cohesion to a complex storyline, with different musical numbers and different styles of dance and music. I thought Netty McKenzie was dynamite as Grandma Posey, and she can sing! I loved hearing her bring it on stage. There is rap and hip hop in the play, which made the performance feel more upbeat, leading the audience to clap along several times during the hour-long performance. The pace of the music is definitely faster. My younger son had a harder time keeping up with the songs, but my nine-year-old caught most of the words.
Overall, it was a fun and thoughtful play that reminds us all that we can learn from and enjoy one another if we make space to hear one another’s stories and be available to the beauty all around us, even in the most unexpected places.
Last Stop on Market Street
May 1-May 29, 2022
Saturdays at 2 pm & 5 pm, Sundays at 11 am & 2 pm
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway
Proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test and masks are still required for entry.