Story: With so many people out of work, the Great Depression in 1936 is a particularly challenging time in America. For 10-year-old Bud, though, it’s especially tough. Since the death of his mother he’s been shifted between orphanages and foster homes while holding onto the hope that eventually he’ll come in contact with his long-absent father.

As fate would have it, Bud (who insists on being referred to as that and definitely not as Buddy), ends up in the company of a traveling band of merry musicians who move throughout the Midwest, including Bud’s home of Flint, Michigan. Known as the Dusky Devastators of the Depression, they are led by Herman E. Calloway, whom Bud surmises from an advertising flyer must be his father.

Naturally, Calloway isn’t amused by Bud’s insistence that the older gentleman is Bud’s dad. Others in the band, though, including the kindly singer Mrs. Thomas, welcome him with open arms. They even give Bud a recorder to test his mettle and his desire to join them in their musical endeavors.

As bad as the Great Depression is, it’s even worse for the band members of the mostly black band, who are accustomed to prejudice on their tours in the Midwest. They rely on their only white player, pianist Dirty Deed, to gain them access to clubs which otherwise wouldn’t admit them, and then only because it’s too late to hire anyone else after they’ve arrived.

Even after joining this good-natured musical entourage, Bud becomes separated for a while from the group and notches more adventures on the road. All the while Bud maintains his upbeat attitude, fervently remembering his late mother’s words that “when one door closes, another one opens.” Will the future be kind, cruel or indifferent to Bud?

Highlights: Metro Theater Company joins forces with Jazz St. Louis for a delightful rendition of this one-act play with words by Kirsten Greenidge and an original musical score by jazz legend Terence Blanchard. It’s a sure-fire treat for theater patrons young and old as well as devotees of America’s original musical art form.

Other Info: Julia Flood, artistic director for Metro Theater Company (MTC), says in a news release that MTC is the first company in the country to mount a production of Bud, Not Buddy after its commissioned debut at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Flood directs the presentation with flair and Jazz St. Louis Director of Education Phil Dunlap snappily serves as music director.

Based on a book by Christopher Paul Curtis, which won the 2000 Newbery Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature as well as the Coretta Scott King Award, Bud, Not Buddy moves fluidly in MTC’s well-paced presentation. A 13-piece jazz band is perched in back and above the area where the eight actors play out the 60-minute story.

Myke Andrews anchors the production with a winning portrayal of the amiable Bud. Andrews captures the joy and buoyant optimism of youth with an omnipresent smile and body language that shows the enthusiasm of a 10-year-old with persuasion. His interaction with the other performers is as ingratiating and infectious as Bud’s personality.

He’s supported by a strong ensemble which includes Don McClendon as the sophisticated Calloway, dressed to the nines (as are the other musicians) in Lou Bird’s stylish costumes. FeliceSkye Hutchinson ably portrays the band’s chanteuse, Miss Thomas, as well as other female roles.

Reginald Pierre brings an easy grace and affable demeanor to the role of the dapper Jimmy, while Carl Overly Jr. scores as easy-going Lefty Lewis as well as a courier who delivers blood to hospitals on his route. The latter part (not the performance) can be problematic as the older man attempted to pick up Bud while he was walking alone on a road late at night, but all’s well that ends well in Greenidge’s script.

Antony Terrell and Chris Ware also contribute to sundry roles, the former as a childhood chum of Bud’s and the latter as the devil-may-care band member Thug. Nicholas Kryah has a fine time as white pianist Dirty Deed, who doesn’t suffer the injustices inflicted on his mates by often hostile club owners.

Sean Savoie’s lighting contrasts the performing area for the Jazz St. Louis musicians in a bit of funky darkness opposite the brighter upstage. David Blake’s set beneath a placard for the Michigan Central Railroad utilizes properties master Meg Brinkley’s wide assortment of props, including Bud’s treasured suitcase, while Rusty Wandall’s sound design complements the proceedings.

Jazz St. Louis performers who bring Blanchard’s rich, evocative score to life include Ben Wheeler on bass, drummer Kevin Gianino, guitarist Anthony Peterson, trumpeter Daniel Campbell, trombonist Cody Henry, Steve Lawson on tuba, Carole Lemire on French horn, Kwanae Johnson on tenor sax, clarinetist Jeffrey Collins, bass clarinetist Derick Tramel, flutist Ben Reece, Mark Overton on oboe and Dunlap at the piano.

Bud, Not Buddy is a joyful noise as well as a captivating story. Like Bud’s mother might have said, it opens the door to an opportunity for a musical and theatrical treat.

Play: Bud, Not Buddy

Company: Metro Theater Company

Venue: Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square

Dates: February 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18, 23, 24, 25

Tickets: $14-$20; contact 534-1111 or metroplays.org

Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.

Photos courtesy of Dan Donovan

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