John Lewis Steptoe’s Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, An African Tale is coming soon to Brooklyn. Based on the Caldecott Award-winning children’s book of the same name, this new family musical sets the Cinderella story amidst the splendor of Zimbabwe, incorporating authentic African drumming, original songs, and powerful and majestic choreography.
The production is to be performed by the Dallas Children’s Theater on Tour, at Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College.
Steptoe, creator of award-winning picture books for children, was born and raised in Bedford-Stuyvesant. He began drawing as a young child and received his formal art training at the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan. While still a student, he began work on his first children’s book, Stevie.
Two years later, at the age of 18, he came to national attention when Stevie appeared in its entirety in Life magazine. He would go on to illustrate 15 more picture books, 10 of which he also wrote.
The story of Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters goes like this: When a great African king desires a wife, only the most perfect maidens in the land are invited to meet him. Mufaro’s daughters, two young women of very different dispositions, travel a half day’s journey through a mystical jungle and across a deep river to be presented to the king. Along the way they encounter a number of mysterious situations that test their courage, kindness and strength of spirit. Both are beautiful, but does either have the inner beauty of a potential queen?
The show will be immediately followed by Brooklyn Center’s fifth annual National Grid Earth Day Celebration, a free community festival.
Steptoe hoped that his books would lead children, especially African-American children, to feel pride in their origins and in who they are.
“I am not an exception to the rule among my race of people,” he said. “I am the rule. By that I mean there are a great many others like me where I come from.”
Steptoe was only 38 years old when he died at Saint Luke’s Hospital in Manhattan, following a long illness. Steptoe is one of only a handful of African-American artists who have made a successful career in children’s books.
The production is sponsored through Brooklyn Center’s Target FamilyFun series. All seats for the ’11–’12 season are $7 to $10.