The History Mystery
The TADA! Resident Youth Ensemble
Charming, charming, charming! The premise is simple. The History Mystery opens with students in study hall complaining how boring it is to study history, to the tune of "It's a Mystery." One student pops up exclaiming that the figures of history, about whom they are compelled to memorize dates and events, were actually children once themselves. Shortly a magical mystery tour of history commences, taking three students back though time, where they engage with Ben Franklin, Laura Ingalls, the Wright Brothers, Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., and others as kids.
Along their fanciful way, our young travelers are presented with the substance of history in unexpected ways. The history lessons concealed in the musical are backed into, shorn of the didactic trappings of textbook learning. But the lessons are there nonetheless. Little Eleanor Roosevelt watches the bombastic suffragettes ("Our Fight Isn't Over Yet")and bemoans that she is "just a girl" ("It Isn't Fair") before she is enticed by one of our time travelers to join in the protest. A small black boy is playing with several others when their ball bounces over a fence to the white playground. When he tries to get it back, they heckle him. Our time travelers talk to him about rights and the Constitution and break into "You've Got the Right." We find out who the little boy is when his mother calls him in by his full name. "I hate when she does that," he declares, as he reluctantly goes home. World War II is addressed in a rousing USO ensemble song-and-dance number led by a trio reminiscent of three famous sisters ("Freedom"), a much better way of telling children about a war than via the dry pages of a book.
The creators of This History Mystery have not shied away from controversy. A Japanese girl, Anna, reluctantly and tearfully tells that she is leaving for a detention camp and is comforted by time traveler Jenny (who is also a Japanese-American) as they sing "Be the Story." What a sensitive way to tell the story of an unpleasant fact of history!
The exuberant young cast and buoyant musical numbers alone are set to captivate both young and mature theater goers. On top of that are the high production values sure to make many an off-off Broadway producer drool with envy: the inventive set designed with color and panache, the carefully crafted lighting, the whimsical use of visual media, and the authentic look of period costumes add up to the kind of show I would have loved as a youngin'. As "the ancient of days" some consider me to be, I unabashedly declare that The History Mystery kept me engaged, delighted, and even (dare I say it) exhilarated. - Jay Reisberg
Through February 19, 2012
TADA! Youth Theater, 15 West 28th Street, 2nd Floor
Mr. Reisberg is a UCLA film school grad, professional singer, comedian, assistant to the founder of New York's Love Street Theatre, and bon vivant at large.