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When I first heard about Virginia Repertory Theatre’s new musical for kids and families, She Persisted, The Musical, I immediately knew this show would be a must-see for my nine-year-old daughter Eloise. She’s read the book, She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton, on which the musical is based, but watching the stories come alive at the Jessica M. Bogese Theatre at Virginia Rep Center for Arts and Education deepened her understanding and inspired her in new ways.
The play begins by introducing the audience to Naomi (Khadijah Franks), an endearing fourth grader who while she wants to succeed, often hesitates to try. As we become acquainted with Naomi, we see her self-doubt and negative self-talk override her willingness to persevere.
Naomi’s class, led by their teacher, Ms. Chan (Amber Fe Armstrong) takes a field trip to a women’s history museum, where Naomi is introduced to female trailblazers who faced obstacles and ultimately defined their own successes.
Each woman Naomi encounters, from Harriet Tubman to Sally Ride, teaches her something different. For example, Florence Griffith Joyner models positive thinking and doing only your personal best. Virginia Apgar teaches Naomi the value of curiosity, while Sonia Sotomayor embraces flexibility and resourcefulness, as she consistently worked to find “another solution.” Watching these stories unfold while taking in the lessons to be learned was just magic.
The performances are outstanding. My daughter and I both loved the comedic relief provided by Time (Amber Fe Armstrong). Her enthusiasm and spirit as she guided Naomi through her time travel adventure brought a youthful joy to the show. The cast is seven members strong, all performing with fluidity and ease.
The only thing more captivating than the performances was the music. Jianna Hurt’s (Harriet Tubman) number, “Hope” moved both my daughter and I to tears – pack your tissues! As we exited the theater, my daughter happily sang, “We walk on…” the song from Ruby Bridges’ scene as well as the finale. The best part? When Eloise turned to me and said, “Yeah, that’s just what I’m going to do. If things get hard, I’m just gonna keep going.”
Prior to the show, the audience received a welcome from Todd Norris, artistic director of Education for Virginia Rep. In his brief introduction, he mentioned that She Persisted is “relatable to anyone alive right now.” I couldn’t say it better myself. You don’t need to have read the books, or even be familiar with the history to be touched by this production.
Because each of the characters Naomi meets – Ruby Bridges, Dr. Virginia Apgar, Sally Ride, Harriet Tubman, Florence Griffith Joyner, and Sonia Sotomayor – have unique stories and contributions to history, this show speaks to everyone. For example, Ruby Bridges was only six years old when she decided to (as the song says) “Walk On.” It’s so empowering for children to know they don’t need to wait until adulthood to make a difference.
On the other hand, during the show, I learned that Sally Ride – the first American female to go in space – wanted to be a professional tennis player at one time in her life. She tells Naomi, “You don’t have to decide now” and “You don’t have to be perfect.” These messages resonate universally.
The show is recommended for ages five and up, but all are welcome. I think this show is ideal for young elementary schoolers, as it’s about an hour long with no intermission. The Jessica M. Bogese Theater is beautiful but unpretentious, so your children will feel comfortable no matter what they wear.
The show runs through Sunday, March 12, at Virginia Rep Center for Arts and Education. Tickets can be be purchased online or at the box office, 4204 Hermitage Road. To enrich your child’s experience, Virginia Rep has a printable study guide, which includes historical information, reflection questions and a simple guide for theater etiquette.
For tickets and showtimes, go here.
[Photos by Aaron Sutten]