Actors Cedric Lamar and Brandon L. Smith in Seattle Children’ s Theatre’ s production “The Boy Who Kissed the Sky.” Credit: Truman Buffett
If you call Seattle home, it’s likely you’ve learned to revere local — and international — music legend, Jimi Hendrix. I’ve always loved Hendrix, but since moving to Seattle over a decade ago, I’ve learned much more about the icon. Seattle takes its rock and roll history seriously, and I, like most Seattleites, have seen my fair share of Hendrix hot takes, including everything from inspired architecture to exhibits to cover bands.
So when I saw that Seattle Children’s Theatre’s new season featured a play about Jimi Hendrix, I thought I knew what I was in for: A fairly predictable biography of one of the world’s greatest guitarists.
“The Boy Who Kissed the Sky” is so, so much more.
The bottom line
Seattle Children’s Theatre’s world premiere show, “The Boy Who Kissed the Sky,” by artistic director Idris Goodwin, is on stage now through Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022.
Based on the real-life childhood of rock legend Jimi Hendrix, the play follows a 12-year-old boy as he grapples with poverty, addiction, systemic racism and generational trauma.
Yet, with an incredible script, superb acting, and out-of-this-world costume and set design, “The Boy Who Kissed the Sky” manages to take these heavy topics and make them sing — literally and figuratively. After attending dozens of productions at SCT over the past decade, this show may be my absolute favorite.
In the heart of Seattle’s Central District, in a shabby, derelict apartment, 12-year-old Jimi Hendrix (Brandon L. Smith) is home alone much of the day, as his father works long, odd hours. But while Jimi is alone, he’s never lonely because he’s visited often by his imaginary friend, J Sonic (Cedric Lamar). This friend is an afro-futuristic, intergalactic, funk-inspired dude who travels through time. J Sonic orients Jimi to his heritage and history while encouraging him to create as a way to process the challenges of his young life.
“The Boy Who Kissed the Sky” is a reminder that making meaning in the midst of heartache is an important part of coming of age, even for those viewed more as myth than man. In doing so, the play not only humanizes Jimi, but also children like him living through similar challenges, encouraging them to find healthy ways to cope and thrive.
Parents should know
“The Boy Who Kissed the Sky” is incredibly entertaining. It’s fast-paced enough to capture the attention of the youngest theater-goers, while also offering a lot to think about for older kids, and even the adult caregivers and educators in the audience.
First off, it’s brilliantly cast. Brandon L. Smith’s 12-year-old Jimi offered one of the best, if not the best, portrayals of a child by an adult actor that I’ve seen at SCT or, frankly, anywhere. He strikes a perfect balance of child-like wonder with a seriousness and authenticity that is often missed in adult portrayals of children.
Cedric Lamar’s performance as the character J Sonic is also incredibly smooth, carrying the play’s darker moments with a levity and warmth that bring the scenes to life. Adam Washington (Mel) also shines as Jimi’s diligent and caring father. In truth, the cast as a whole is not to be missed.
Jimi’s story is a local one, and some of the sets reflect that, celebrating Seattle landmarks that are fun for kids to recognize. Most notably, Underground Seattle is featured, which is a common field trip destination for elementary and middle schoolers. The costumes, too, are reminiscent of Jimi’s real-life stage outfits, some of which can be found just a short walk away at MoPop.
Amid the terrific acting and sets, my favorite thing about the play is this: It doesn’t shy away from honest critiques of institutions that enforced systemic racism in Jimi’s family’s life. These institutions include the military, the theater and even child protective services. Jimi’s grandparents migrate to Canada to escape discrimination in the theater, and Jimi’s father Mel (Adam Washington) serves in World War II, but does not receive any GI benefits.
Jimi himself is afraid he’ll be separated from his loving, hard-working father, a historically accurate reality for many young indigenous and Black kids living in poverty (both then and now). What’s remarkable (and sadly, rare) about these depictions is that Jimi is aware of the difficulties of his life, and aware of the ways the adults, and the systems they participate in, have let him down.
The play also offers an unflinching and ultimately devastating portrayal of addiction and death, as Jimi’s mother (Aishé Keita) is introduced as absent and unwell. Jimi spends much of the play wrestling with feelings of disappointment and abandonment. Ultimately, his mother dies, a plot point that may be upsetting to younger or sensitive viewers.
With that warning in mind for younger children, I highly recommend this show for your family. Go book your tickets right now!
If you go …
When: “The Boy Who Kissed the Sky” plays through Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022.
Tickets: $15–$35; buy tickets online for the best availability. SCT offers pricing tiers. Patrons can select their preferred ticket price, subject to availability. The tiers are premium ($35 adult, $30 child), standard ($25 adult, $20 child) and value ($15 adult or child). Select “value” from the dropdown menu on the ticket page to find the less expensive tickets. There are a limited number available for each performance.
Accessibility: SCT offers an ASL-interpreted performance (Saturday, Oct. 29), an audio-described show (Saturday, Nov. 5) and a sensory-friendly show (Sunday, Oct. 30). Wheelchair and companion seating are available; check the theater’s accessibility page.
Age recommendation: SCT recommends this show for ages 8 and older.
Run time: About 80 minutes with no intermission.
Safety protocols: SCT continues to require masks for everyone ages 2 and older, though proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 are no longer required. Read more on SCT’s health and safety page.