Me…Jane: The Musical Stages the Beginning of Something Wonderful


Me…Jane: The Dreams and Adventures of Young Jane Goodall, is a delightful theatrical experience, a musical account of conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall’s childhood, when she had a special toy chimpanzee named Jubilee. Together, Jane and Jubilee discover the miracles of nature on their shared outdoor adventures, and young Jane imagines spending the rest of her life helping animals in Africa. It runs until November 6.

It is also the inaugural presentation of an innovative partnership between Evanston/Skokie School District 65 and Northwestern University’s Imagine U, a nationally recognized theater producer for young audiences. The partnership is called Learn and Imagine Together Through Theater (LITTT) and takes place at the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts.

Sami DeVries as Jane Goodall as a child with her chimpanzee toy Jubilee. Credit: Justin Barbin / Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts

The program combines lesson plans and learning experiences before and after attending the play. By November 4, every third-grade class in District 65 will have watched a performance and had the opportunity to interact with students in the northwest cast.

“The experience of seeing the play is the epicenter of a larger learning experience,” said Rives Collins, the show‘s director, who has also been an award-winning professor in the Department of Theater for 35 years and director of Theater for Young. Schedule of hearings.

District 65 drama teachers received a video that introduced students to the Me..Jane history and northwest. The tour took them backstage to meet Collins and Journey Cole, the assistant director, as well as a look at the show’s rehearsals, sets and costumes. The video features Nolan Robinson, a Northwestern graduate who grew up and attended K-12 school in Evanston.

For some third-graders, this will be their first time seeing a live theater performance or their first time on a college campus.

Musical comedy

The piece is clever, easy to follow and holds the interest of young audiences as well as their companions. During Friday afternoon’s performance, only three children had to be escorted to the bathroom, a telltale indicator of restlessness and boredom, according to the director.

The cast is top notch. Sami DeVries as Jane is flawless, portraying Jane as the warm, genuine, “brave” girl she must have been in her youth. Her stuffed chimp, Jubilee, is a worthy co-star.

Jane and the supporting cast during Animals, Animals, Animals! in a performance of ‘Me…Jane’ Credit: Justin Barbin / Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts

Mom, played by Jonyca Jiao, brings to life the loving influence that nurtured her daughter to realize her potential and more. Astute theatergoers might recognize Jiao from her role as Mulan in last season. The Ballad of Mulan.

The Northwestern students (Sean Zuckerman, Isadora Coco Gonzalez, Nick Hollenbeck, and Angelena Browne) who play the other adults and a variety of animals on the show are clearly having a good time. Their animals (chickens, squirrels and a furry dog) are extremely attractive and quite funny. Gonzalez brings relatable angst to his chicken about to turn into a hen.

The themes woven throughout the piece are beautiful and timeless. Jane’s mother supports and encourages Jane, without trying to change her, despite many nosy naysayers offering negative feedback. She teaches Jane to trust her instincts and study hard to pursue her dreams.

All the songs are catchy, but they also have messages that could resonate with adults in the audience as well as children. “What are you going to do today?” is particularly moving.

The informal discussions with the students after the show generated many positive comments. Lynn Kelso, Imagine U’s artistic mentor, said that after the morning performance, as the children were leaving the Josephine Louis Theater for lunch, she heard a young girl exclaim, “This is the best spectacle that I have seen in all my nine years!

During the Sunday afternoon performance, a first-grader sitting nearby wanted to know how to talk to animals like Jane did.

There was a talkback offered after Sunday’s performance which allowed anyone interested to meet the cast and ask questions. The children who spoke loved that Jane befriended the chicken and were happy when she met the squirrels. There was a lot of interest in the squirrels’ temporarily missing pizza. The children recounted the interactions between Jane and her dog, Rusty, played enthusiastically and adorably by Zuckerman.

There were lots of questions. Does the door to Jane’s house work? How does Jane climb the tree? How long did it take to learn the lyrics to the songs? How many helpers work there to make the show? (And as you might expect, was it real pizza?)

Thalia Ionita, who was there with three girlfriends, her mother and another adult, liked how Jane was more confident after the scene with Rusty. She couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. All the girls enjoyed the show very much.

But it’s not just for kids: one adult in the chat said it was the best show he’s seen in years.

‘Me…Jane’ tells the delightful story of Dr Jane Goodall’s early life. Credit: Justin Barbin / Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts

Me… Jane was commissioned by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. and was first produced there during the 2017–18 season. It is based on the book by Patrick McDonnell, adapted by Patrick McDonnell and Aaron Posner, with music and lyrics by Andy Mitton.

Me… Jane suitable for children aged 5 and over and lasting 60 minutes. There is no intermission. Contact the Wirtz for more information and tickets. Ticket holders receive an electronic social story about the show to help young viewers understand what’s going on, a digital program and an adventure guide to learn more about Goodall and his work with chimpanzees and conservation.


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