Children can visit ‘Market Street’ for life lessons


Courtesy Chicago Children’s Theater

The hip-hop musical “The Last Stop on Market Street” will be performed at the Chicago Children’s Theatre, 100 S. Racine Ave., April 24–May 27. 

By Kendrah Villiesse

In a single bus ride, children can learn both the importance of appreciating elders and never judging a book by its cover. 

The hip-hop musical “The Last Stop on Market Street” will be performed at the Chicago Children’s Theatre, 100 S. Racine Ave., April 24–May 27. It was adapted from the 2016 Newberry Medal-winning children’s book of the same name by Matt de la Pena. 

The story follows 7-year-old CJ and his grandmother on a citywide bus ride. Throughout the ride, CJ learns lessons about privilege, poverty and the folly of discrimination based on someone’s appearance. 

Andra Velis Simon, music director for the production and adjunct professor in the Theatre Department, said the musical is similar to the book, although a few details were changed to teach important life lessons to children. 

“It is about breaking the stereotypes, the assumptions we make about people and how incorrect those assumptions can be,” Simon said. “Through this visit with his grandmother, he learns a lot about how different kinds of people live.” 

Along with changes to the storyline, the show features music composed by Paris Ray Dozier and his father, famed Motown producer and songwriter Lamont Dozier, who has worked with performers such as the Supremes and Phil Collins and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

Paris Ray Dozier said the children’s book presented an opportunity to create a musical that could combine classic R&B, gospel and contemporary hip-hop in its score. 

Dozier said the greatest challenge of writing the score with his father was establishing a definitive voice for each character while also finding a balance between the various genres of music. Dozier added that he was able to create CJ’s character by fusing musical elements from young Michael Jackson and Drake. 

“You don’t see a lot of contemporary hip-hop done the right way and translated authentically in the theater arena,” Dozier said. “Chicago Children’s Theatre is providing a platform for hip-hop and R&B to be expressed the right way, and that is a big deal.” 

Brian Keys, who is playing the Tat-man and an ensemble member in the production, said he was not always interested in traditional musicals but was intrigued by “The Last Stop on Market Street” because of its hip-hop elements. Keys said he grew up listening to the genre with his sister and was excited to incorporate this brand of music into his repertoire. 

“It will reach a lot of kids that may be like me, that aren’t enticed by traditional musical theater,” Keys said. 

Keys’ character wears baggy clothing and is covered in tattoos, which gives the audience the idea that he is going to be trouble when he is introduced, he said. His character embodies the message not to judge a stranger based on appearances, he added. 

In addition to from the show’s message of breaking stereotypes, Keys noted it also highlights the relevance of elders. 

“We live in a time where the newer generation forgets about the past and our seniors are forgotten,” he said. “The show will highlight just how important grandparents are, great grandparents and the elders who have laid the foundation for what we are today.”