“The Day You Begin,” at the Kennedy Center until Dec. 18, is based on the book by Kennedy Center Education Artist-in-Residence with music and lyrics by Toshi Reagon. Cast members (from left) Carla Duren, Ashley D. Nguyen, Noah Virgile, Camilo Linares (Courtesy of Teresa Wood/Kennedy Center)
“The Day You Begin,” at the Kennedy Center until Dec. 18, is based on the book by Kennedy Center Education Artist-in-Residence with music and lyrics by Toshi Reagon. Cast members (from left) Carla Duren, Ashley D. Nguyen, Noah Virgile, Camilo Linares (Courtesy of Teresa Wood/Kennedy Center)

Entering the Kennedy Center’s Family Theater, the audience is immediately hit with bright pastel colors on stage for “The Day You Begin.” This musical is adapted from Jacqueline Woodson’s book with the same title. The District’s own Toshi Reagon wrote the music and lyrics. On stage until December 18, the production looks at how nervous children are in a new situation. The setting is the first day of school that four children are navigating. A theme repeated several times in the 55-minute musical is, “There will be a time when you walk into a room, and no one there is like you.”

“I wanted to let people know that every one of us walking into a room has a story and has a gift to give that room. ‘The Day You Begin’ is about those gifts and those stories,” said Woodson, Kennedy Center Education Artist-in-Residence.

The staging is beautiful. I kept thinking that in real life, the brightly colored classroom would be a joyful setting for learning. In the musical, Ms. Veve is a positive, supportive teacher. Played by Audrey Hailes, Ms. Veve also engages children in the audience with guidance on how to listen closely. She also asked the children in the audience what they wanted to be when they grew up. It was a wonderful approach to have the audience focus.  

Adult actors portray the four children. That is significant as it is a subtle message that adults can also feel anxious, like children, when entering a new environment, like the first day of a new job. Without giving too much away to those unfamiliar with Woodson’s book, each student in this musical is unique. They identify commonalities that show they are more alike than different.

Other ensemble members in “The Day You Begin” are Camilo Linares as Rigoberto, who tells his classmates that he moved to the community during the summer. Noah Virgile is Sam, who hears and communicates differently using a device that shares his words with others. Sarah Anne Sillers, an understudy, played a student named Min. This character was portrayed as spirited and easily connected with her classmates. Carla Duren played Angelina. In the book, it is Angelina who seems most apprehensive, but in this production, she quickly becomes comfortable with her new friends. The cast also created puppets that eased the audience into the musical.

Reagon’s lyrics and music are wonderful and not overly produced. In fact, I found the music soothing. The musical is a world premiere Kennedy Center commission. Combined with Woodson’s writing, directing by Charlotte Braithwaite and the wonderful acting, this is a great time for the entire family.

For ticket information, go to www.kennedy-center.org. Learn about the origin of the book and musical for “The Day You Begin.”

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Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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