Like his castmates in “Dr. Dolittle,” 12-year-old Derrick Jenkins had an extra week’s time to memorize his lines in the show’s title role. 

Like his castmates in “Dr. Dolittle,” 12-year-old Derrick Jenkins had an extra week’s time to memorize his lines in the show’s title role.  

All 342 of them.

But he didn’t need the extra time, his superiors brag.

In her five-plus years of directing Children’s Performing Theatre in Independence, “Dr. Dolittle” Director Marcia Armstrong said no other production has even come close in requiring the amount of line memorization.

“This was a very big undertaking,” Armstrong said of the show that opens Friday evening inside the Powerhouse Theatre at the Roger T. Sermon Community Center. “I specifically asked one of the other guys, and he was really hesitant about tackling that role, and I asked Derrick, and he hesitated a minute, and then said, ‘Yeah, I can do that.’

“So, he got the part.”

The show features children ranging from 5 to 14, portraying a colorful cast of characters – and animals – as Derrick portrays Dr. John Dolittle, a doctor who relates more with animals than animal patients, speaking to them in their own languages. He counts few humans among his friends.

But one friend, Matthew Mugg, is being played by someone quite familiar to Derrick: his younger sister, 11-year-old Olivia Jenkins, who was originally just a stagehand for the production. Olivia stepped up last week, though, when the boy assigned as Matthew Mugg could no longer act, and she learned about 40 lines in one week’s time.

At a time when many children’s minds are drifting toward holiday breaks from school and what they want for Christmas, the cast of “Dr. Dolittle” is focusing on one of the most challenging productions that Armstrong has seen the Children’s Performing Theatre undertake.

The 79-page script features seven set changes – and the children have many directions to follow, Armstrong said.

“I haven’t had to do a lot of correcting during rehearsals. They’ve really stepped up to the plate,” Armstrong said. “We talked early on about ‘This is a big undertaking, and I need you to be able to do what I ask.’ They have done a great job of following directions, and I’m very proud of each and every one of them.”

Armstrong said she is usually quite nervous up until the opening night, but last week, “I knew we were going to have it. I just knew it, and to know that two weeks before the performance – it’s the first time.”

Audience members will be awed at the amount of talent on stage, she said, “because I certainly am. I can’t think of a better way to spend your weekend than seeing these kids.”  

And despite the amount of stage time and dialogue that Derrick Jenkins has, he wants his fellow cast mates to know one thing: Their roles are just as significant.

“Just because I am the main character in this doesn’t mean that anybody else in the play is any less important than I am,” Derrick said. “Just because they have this small part doesn’t mean that they aren’t very important.”