- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2008

The dude on the dollar bill leaps to life in Karen Zacarias’ entertaining and sometimes inspiring children’s musical “Chasing George Washington.” The production (at the Kennedy Center’s Family Theater) also features a spry score by Deborah Wicks La Puma that ably mixes hip-hop, disco, ballads and traditional show music.

Any kind of tour can be a colossal bore for many schoolchildren, but “Chasing George Washington,” directed by John Vreeke, puts a warmly personal spin on the furnishings, paintings and egg-and-dart moldings found in the White House and many other historic buildings.

The 60-minute musical shows the transformation of three children from unengaged lollygaggers to history buffs after a wrong turn leads them to a surprise encounter with big George (Harry A. Winter) himself — who has jumped down from his portrait to take the children through what he insists is “their” house.

Up to this point, they feel that they don’t belong in the White House. Dee (Felicia Curry) is a rich girl from suburban Atlanta, a sprightly chatterbox whose accessories always match her cell phone. Jose (Billy Bustamante) is a street-wise boy from Los Angeles who speaks in hip-hop rhymes. Annie (Jenna Sokolowski) is a recent immigrant from Eastern Europe whose parents were scientists and schoolteachers in their native country but are a cabdriver and hotel maid here.

George leads the threesome through White House — and American — history, including meet-ups with Susan Ford (Miss Sokolowski), whose senior prom was held in the East Room — a fact brought to life in a lively disco dance number complete with “Saturday Night Fever”-style moves — Caroline Kennedy (Miss Curry), who rode her pony Macaroni around the White House grounds; Jackie Kennedy (Gia Mora), who breathlessly sings about the importance of historic preservation and conservation; and Dolley Madison (Miss Mora again), who tells of saving Washington’s portrait from a White House fire.

The most indelible encounter is with Abraham Lincoln (Thomas Adrian Simpson), who is on the verge of signing the Emancipation Proclamation and worries whether he is making the right decision — a decision cemented by Miss Curry’s intensely moving performance of a song that urges him to change history “with a stroke of pen and ink.”

The significance of the various encounters is reinforced through scenic designer Daniel Conway’s skillful use of projections: a slide show of the District’s monuments and historical places, White House interiors and famous photographs. The set is a marvelously flexible assemblage of pristine white columns, rolling antique furniture and artwork.

The cast is also highly flexible and responsive in a variety of roles, ranging from schoolchildren to famous figures and befuddled security staff. Miss Curry is especially fine as the gregarious, happily coddled Dee, Miss Sokolowski as the stiff and tentative Annie, and Mr. Bustamante as the delightfully upfront Jose, who confesses he is on the tour “to get out of math.”

The phrase “if these walls could talk” is often heard. In the case of “Chasing George Washington,” they do — and they have a compelling story to tell.

***

WHAT: “Chasing George Washington,” by Karen Zacarias, directed by John Vreeke, music by Deborah Wicks La Puma

WHERE: Family Theater, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

WHEN: 1:30, 4 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 1:30 and 4 p.m. Sundays. Through Sunday .

TICKETS: $18

PHONE: 202/467-4600

WEB SITE: www.kennedy-center.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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