“Leo’s Big Day Out” Delivers Big Fun


“Leo’s Big Day Out,” directed by Henry Ford College theatre director John Michael Seffel, had the audience at the college’s Adray Auditorium smiling from ear to ear by the end of the light-hearted musical.

The story follows Leo, an eight-year-old boy living in New York City with his cautious and protective aunt. Leo is an exuberant boy with big dreams, itching to make his mark on the world. With the help of his neighbor, Estella, and mischievous cat, Gita, Leo embarks on quite the adventure. The musical was written by Aaron Coleman. In a surprising and inclusive twist, Coleman seamlessly intertwined English, Arabic and Spanish language throughout the play.

Aya Barakat did a fabulous job playing eight-year-old Leo Fawaz. Barakat gave Leo a very loveable and warm persona, while nailing each song. Barakat embodied passion and perseverance. His performance is the engine that drives Leo.

Hannah Whiataker’s interpretation of Gita highlighted her deft skills as a puppeteer. Gita’s character brought a balance of playful mischief to the musical.

Leo’s aunt, Letty, played by Amal Khalil, dramatically embodied our collective fear of rejection and harm. It was refreshing to see Letty’s character develop as the musical progressed. Khalil did a wonderful job leaning into both sides of Letty and allowing her character to explore an array of emotional facets.

Leo’s neighbor, Estella Luz, played by Emily Orellana, embodied the typical, driven wannabe Broadway star. However, Orellana’s performance elevated the character beyond a mere caricature. In fact, watching Orellana’s confidence in her character, you couldn’t help but root for her success. I couldn’t help but notice the exuberance and passion emanating from Link, the postal delivery man played by Kahrar Noel.

Overall, the acting and profound, emotional performances delivered by this ensemble cast elevated “Leo’s Big Day Out” well beyond the mundane and ordinary.

The production and artistic crew also came together to deliver a show that rose above expectations. The set designs mimicked a New York City apartment, street view and the foliage at Central Park. It was colorful and well built, and it was easy for all of us in the audience to imagine that we were right there in Manhattan, experiencing it all in real time with the characters onstage. That spell was occasionally broken by the stage crew, who moved set pieces abruptly. Making those changes with the stage lights dimmed may have better kept the mood intact.

The show at the Adray Auditorium was, notably, the national onstage debut of “Leo’s Big Day Out.” It was originally composed and conceived by New York City’s legendary Circle in the Square Theater School. However, it came to life only as a virtual production during the dark days of the pandemic, so the actors and audience convened only through Zoom.

Clearly, being in the presence of living, breathing actors who can interact in a more real, authentic way has allowed “Leo’s Big Day Out” to reach new, emotional heights. Bravo HFC!