×

Musical shows life of young scientist

  • From left, Erin Weaver, Eymard Cabling, Sam Ludwig and Awa Sal Secka star in the play. MUST CREDIT: Teresa Wood Teresa Wood—Teresa Wood

  • A new play explores the early years of Jane Goodall, who became famous for studying chimps in the wild. MUST CREDIT: Teresa Wood Teresa Wood—Teresa Wood

  • Jane Goodall, portrayed by Erin Weaver, had a toy chimp named Jubilee. MUST CREDIT: Teresa Wood Teresa Wood—Teresa Wood



For the Washington Post
Wednesday, December 06, 2017

‘Every one of us is linked,” a girl sings about animals, including elephants, giraffes, wasps and her dog, Rusty, in the play Me ... Jane: The Dreams & Adventures of Young Jane Goodall at the Kennedy Center through Dec. 10.

The musical is about Jane Goodall as a child in England. Today, Goodall is a famous scientist. She was the first person to study chimpanzees in their native habitat, in Africa, and she has written about 30 books on her experiences. She also travels and speaks frequently about conservation and protecting our shared planet.

In the 1940s, though, Jane was just a regular kid who was fascinated by animals. The play explores her yearning to live with and learn about the wild creatures in Africa. But nosy neighbors tell her that her dreams are silly. At that time, girls were not encouraged to have adventures. They were supposed to work as secretaries or sales clerks.

Jane doesn’t let their opinion stop her. She works hard to make her dreams come true. She takes her toy chimpanzee, Jubilee, with her as she watches the chickens and squirrels in her neighborhood. She records her observations in a notebook.

Erin Weaver, the actress who plays young Jane, tries to bring “a sense of that patience and dedication” to her character, she told the Washington Post.

“Jane has exceptional focus,” Weaver said.

The play is based on a biography with the same title by Patrick McDonnell. Like Goodall, the author loves animals. He is also the creator of the popular comic strip Mutts, which appears in the Post and many other newspapers.

McDonnell’s book is very short, so he and Weaver’s husband, director Aaron Posner, added details from Goodall’s books and letters. Andy Mitton wrote songs like “Animals, Animals, Animals!” and “Be Still” that reflect young Jane’s passion for the natural world.

Animals sing and dance throughout the show. Not real animals, but the actors Awa Sal Secka, Sam Ludwig and Eymard Cabling. They leap, swing, scamper, pant and peck just like the creatures they portray.

Judging by the cheers and laughter of the audience, they were a big hit at the world premiere of this production.

Six-year-old Norine McGrath of Alexandria, Va., connected deeply with the play. Like young Jane, she wants “to be a scientist and study animals and plants,” she said. And she, too, is devoted to a family pet, a pooch named Lucy.

“I liked how (Jane) believed in her dreams, and those dreams came true,” Norine said.

Her 4-year-old brother Ronan agreed. He brought a new toy chimpanzee to the musical.

Posner and Weaver noticed that their 6-year-old daughter has become a fan of the play. She’s seen it several times and wants to go again, they said by phone from their home in Silver Spring, Md.

“She even makes up her own versions of the songs,” said Posner, laughing.

He added: “Jane Goodall is a strong role model for all kids, but especially for girls. (Her example) tells us that you can do anything if you’re determined and work hard.”

The play ends with a video of Goodall as an adult. It shows her observing and playing with chimps in Africa and uttering a surprise message.

Goodall herself attended this recent performance. When we asked her opinion, the researcher replied, smiling: “It was absolutely fantastic.”