ST. LOUIS — “Last Stop on Market Street” narrates the story of 7-year-old CJ, who’s in for an awakening when his spoiled tendencies are placed on the backburner by his Afro-Cuban Nana, who teaches him about valuable life lessons on their weekly bus rides after church.
Daniel McRath, who plays CJ and is also a music teacher in the Normandy School Collaborative District, said while stepping into the role, he realizes children are, too, human beings like adults that go through psychological processes and emotions.
“It’s beautiful because I get to see through the eyes of a 7-year-old as he is trying his best to live his life be open,” McRath said. “On the other hand, he’s nervous about being exposed to new experiences causing him to sometimes be stuck in his own way.”
In preparing for his role, McRath said since he teaches grades first through eighth, he was able to observe them and gain a better understanding of them for his character.
“I’m understanding more of the psychology of why children need to express themselves,” he said. “They need to get certain things out because they’re trying to learn, they’re trying to please themselves and others and trying to do the right thing, but they still wanna get their way.”
The jazz legend Denise Thimes, who plays CJ’s Nana, said her character parallels with who she is in her personal life.
“It’s refreshing and a wonderful feeling to be the messenger through the script in how it talks about the same beliefs and values I have in my personal life,” she said. “I’ve used those same principles in raising my children, and CJ reminds me a lot of how my son was when he was growing up.”
The rest of the ensemble cast includes Robert Crenshaw, Valentina Silva, Cameron Tyler, and Tyler White, with portrayals of multiple characters.
Philip A. Woodmore, Ph.D., a veteran in St. Louis’ music community and executive director of P. Woodmore Music, LLC, is the musical director for “Last Stop on Market Street.”
Christopher Page-Sanders, a former dancer with Cleo Parker Robinson Dance and current founding co-artistic director of Denver’s NU-World Contemporary Danse Theatre, is the choreographer.
The musical is based on the book written by Matt de la Peña and is adapted for the stage by playwright Cheryl L. West. MTC Associate Artist Jacqueline Thompson, who directed the production said she resonates with the story because she and her late grandmother had a close relationship.
“The story resonates with me a lot because my grandmother was my universe, and I enjoyed spending time with my granny growing up,” Thompson said. However, she said CJ’s plot in the book and the play differ.
“The book has CJ enjoying the journey, whereas in the play, he’s annoyed by doing all these different things and asks why they are on the bus and don’t have a car,” she said. ”The themes will connect with the audience and hopefully show young people they should cherish the relationships they have with their grandparents and other elders in their lives.”
McRath and Thompson both said they had a great experience working with Thimes, who is deemed a local legend by many in St. Louis.
“I can see how her character is part of who she is and her spirit,” McRath said. “She’s a nurturing person but still wants the best for everyone. She has the patience my character CJ needs but also as Denise Thimes.”
“Last Stop on Market Street” is described in a press release as a hip-hop meets Motown musical due to the score being done by Motown icon Lamont Dozier and his son Paris Ray Dozier. Sticking to the part of the theme, Thimes said she has a part in the production where she raps.
“It’s very different but enjoyable at the same time,” she said.
Thompson said she wants the audience to leave with the message to honor their elder loved ones.
“Pay attention to them, spend time with them and ask the elders in your lives questions,” Thompson said. “Getting older sometimes you grow up, go hang with your friends and forget about the foundational people who cultivated you as you’ve traveled through life. It’s about being intentional and cherishing the time you have with them.”
“Last Stop on Market Street” is 70 minutes with no intermission and is recommended for ages 5 and up.
Viewers can watch how the story unfolds when Metro Theatre Company premieres the production Feb. 6-27 at The Grandel Theatre or via live streaming Feb. 11-27 at metroplays.org.
Tickets are $20-$36 and are available through MetroTix.
For more information about the shows, visit metroplays.org.
MTC is adhering to CDC-recommended COVID-19 protocol, visit metroplays.org/covid for more information.