“It’s people first,” says Dr. Nava R. Silton of her new family musical Addy & Uno. For the first family musical about disability, Silton, a developmental psychologist, brings her expertise in children and disabilities to the story. A spinoff of her ten comic book series Realabilities used to teach typical kids about their peers with differing abilities, Addy & Uno puts Silton’s comic characters center stage at New York City’s 14th street Y. “It’s RJ who loves rockets first, it’s Uno who loves math, it’s Addy who is hilarious and spunky, and they have a disability. We want the audience to get to know them as kids and as people.”
Silton, who has worked with Sesame Workshop and Nickelodeon, was initially looking for a way to adapt her comic book series for children’s television. But when cost became prohibitive, she looked for another path and met her collaborate composer-lyricist Bonnie Gleicher.
After zipping through the ten comic books, Gleicher had her first song written in a day. “A year ago today I wrote the first song which was ‘Brave,’” says Gleicher. “All the music was written in a month and then by December  we had our first couple of workshops and this is our first full-scale production.”
Instead of an animated television series, Silton and Gleicher use puppets for five of the characters in Addy & Uno, each with a different challenge: Addy has ADHD, but the show focuses on her adventurous nature; Uno has autism, but the story emphasizes his love of math; Melody has visual impairment but musical talent and perfect pitch; Seemore is hearing impaired, but the script focuses on a love story between him and a new student at school; and RJ uses a wheelchair, but the book focuses on his love of sports and science.
“These characters and their journey is perfect [fodder] for a musical,” says Gleicher. “Because they have such challenges and they overcome them with such hope and resilience and joy, it totally is meant to be sung.”
The show aims to educate typically developing children about peers with differing abilities, but also creates a rare relatability for audience members with special needs. “What was so wonderful is in our workshops of the show a lot of individuals with disabilities were interested in coming—and did come—so kids on the Autism spectrum, adults on the Autism spectrum, adults with physical disabilities, they were able to see themselves in such a favorable light on the canvas here and that was an incredible opportunity,” says Silton.
That also informed her as the writing process continued and her characters took shape onstage. “Every disability is on a spectrum, so you have someone who is completely visually impaired and someone with low vision. It's hard to take one characterization of it and just portray that,” says Silton.
Silton proceeded cautiously with her portrayals, knowing she could not capture everyone’s experience in a single character. But she felt she could move forward after one audience member’s approval. “My sister, Michal, is the mother of a child with Autism,” says Silton. “I was so worried that she would see this high-functioning portrayal of Autism and say, ‘That doesn't represent my kid.’”
But Silton’s script passed inspection. “She said, ‘I loved it. More and more every day I'm finding strengths of his,’” Silton shared. “What this [show] brings out is one portrayal but there are strengths and real abilities in each person. It's up to us to be investigators to find those special strengths.”
Addy & Uno written by Dr. Nava R. Silton and Bonnie Gleicher and directed by Donna Drake runs September 2-24 at the 14th Street Y in Manhattan. Click here for tickets and information.