Sarah Reviews “The Smartest Girl in the World”

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My daughter and I started our Halloween festivities early…not with a trick, but with a late afternoon treat – the world premiere of The Smartest Girl in the World at Tempe Center for the Arts.

Because this is an original show, and a first for playwright Miriam Gonzales, we were intrigued by the title. Who was this smartest girl in the world? Was she a child prodigy? A superhero with special powers? The creator of the next big thing?

At the risk of giving too much away, she is Lizzy Martinez, a spirited third grader with a big personality and big dreams to match. The show follows the story of Lizzy, her older brother Leo and the unique challenges facing their family – from parents who have to work round-the-clock jobs to chronic illness. “The Smartest Girl in the World”, it turns out, is the one who puts her mind to conquering adversity and making sacrifices for the better.

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Having recently seen Childsplay’s silly adaptation of Sideways Stories from Wayside School, I admit I wasn’t expecting such mature topics – like responsibility, illness and jealousy – in The Smartest Girl in the World. But this wasn’t a bad thing. On the contrary, my daughter and I had a better discussion following this show than we have following other Childsplay productions. A sixth grader, she had questions about Leo’s illness and about why the parents were not home much. It provided an opportunity to discuss family dynamics much different from ours, as we are a single mom and daughter duo.

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One of my favorite aspects of the show was its Hispanic flair – from the brightly decorated set to the Spanish guitar playing in the background to the family’s snippets of Spanish conversation. My daughter loved the creative set changes, watching the simple pieces transform from a bedroom to a kitchen to a game show set in minutes. And, as always with Childsplay, the acting was spot on. The small, four-person cast seamlessly transitioned from one role to another, garnering laughs along the way.

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The Smartest Girl in the World only runs about 50 minutes without an intermission. (It was the perfect length for my antsy trick-or-treater!) Like Lizzy, you could say that it’s short, but mighty, and kids and adults will leave feeling just a little bit smarter – and inspired – themselves.

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