In one very “pinktastic” production, First Stage Children’s Theater opened Pinkalicious the Musical in the Todd Wehr Theater this February. Crowds of children, including many little girls crowned with glittering tiaras and waving silver wands, smiled every moment sitting in their seats when Pinkalicious and Peter Pinkerton’s world unfolded on Scenic Designer Jason Coale’s playful sets.

Music by John Gregor combined with a book and lyrics written by the sister duo of Elizabeth and Victoria Kann feature a cadre of clever songs that will charm audiences of any ages while Jessica Redish's choreography keeps the show on its toes. Moving through the set’s background on ballet slippers, an ensemble of dancing cupcakes clad in Alison Siple’s fanciful costumes are worthy of any girl’s dreams. Which includes the yards of tulle in Mrs. Pinkerton’s ball gown for the musical’s finale. All the clothing, often covered in sparkles, fashionably dresses the cast in fairy tale couture.

The “Pinktastic” cast performed on Saturday afternoon, led by a sparkling Mallorey Wallace exuding Pinkalicious personality while dancing and swooning in one of her musical numbers “When Dreams Come True.” Cole Winston gives her brother Peter everything he has singing “I Got the Pink Blues,” when he laments that his wishes are often ignored in the Pinkerton family because Pinkalicious steals all the attention, including the fact he is not allowed to wear the color pink.  

Adult cast member Karen Estrada literally tap dances with energetic delight in her cameo role as the pediatrician Dr. Wink, who diagnoses Pinkalicious with acute pinkatitis when she eats too much pink hued food. Although Niffer Clarke and Joe Fransee provide plenty of Pinkerton family shenanigans as the distraught parents teaching their pink tinted daughter to eat more green foods for “antioxidant” protection. When the ultimate crisis arrives, Peter actually saves the day when his sister's eyes see everything only colored pink and the siblings need to work together to cure the imaginary disease. Under Director John Maclay's pitch perfect direction, the musical enchants the audience while staying true to the more subtle story lines. 

Perhaps Pinkalicious (and the inventive Kann sisters) borrowed some thoughts from the classic Audrey Hepburn’s elegant fashion repetoire when the iconic actress said: “I believe in pink…I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong…I believe in miracles.” Whether one agrees with Hepburn and enjoys any shade of pink such as confetti, flamingo, jellybean, geranium, sunset or valentine pink, Pinkalicious and Peter Pinkerton come to life through this rose colored production. They each discover the real value to eating and enjoying the delicious color pink (in moderation, of course): Pink is the color of laughter and love when performed to magical perfection at First Stage. Take a seat before the show sells out and discover along with the Pinkerton family how fashionable and fun learning to love pink might be.

First Stage Children’s Theater presents Pinkalicious the Musical in the Todd Wehr Theater at the Marcus Center for the Performing Art through March 27. A Pink Cupcake Pairing, two miniature cupcakes for snacking on, sponsored by the Milwaukee Cupcake Company can be purchased in the theater lobby for a minimum donation of $5.00 to benefit First Stage Children Theater programming. For information or tickets, please call 414.273.7208 or click the First Stage link to the left.              by Peggy Sue Dunigan




What do they call a fascination with all things pink and Pinkalicious Pinkerton?: A pinkalicious phenomenon. The little girl named Pinkalicious loves the color pink along with her younger brother Peter Pinkerton.  Both children were a figment of Victoria Kann’s imagination, the author who developed the New York Times best selling picture book series together with her sister and pediatrician Elizabeth Kann. The sisters also co-wrote the Broadway show, Pinkalicious The Musical. that charmed audiences of all ages. On February 22, a children’s versio titled Pinkalicious The Musical arrives at First Stage Children’s Theater to bring the extravagantly sweet tale to life in Milwaukee.

Director for the First Stage musical John Maclay enthusiastically chatted about the Pinkalicious phenomenon for the contemporary younger set. Kann’s book series explores the color world through all the senses with touches of exaggerated scenery, sparkling magic and fantastical storytelling. Which Maclay describes as a delicious opportunity to stage a musical on a big, bold set where the characters suspend reality and can be colored, of course, in pink. “Her brother Peter also likes pink, “ Maclay explained,  “Which his father tells him is an absolute no for boys.”

“The stage story revolves around this close brother and sister relationship between Pinkalicious and Peter,” Maclay commented. “The storytelling is then really driven by the music. There are at least a dozen musical numbers, so the whole show moves very quickly.” Maclay adds Milwaukee’s Jamie Johns directs the score, while Chicago’s Jessica Redish choreographed the numbers, which includes a frosting covered chorus line of dancing cupcakes.

Does the Pinkalicious production go slightly over the top? Maclay resoundingly answers yes, and all with great fun because the rules of reality rarely apply in this show. Newcomer Jason Coale needed to find that hyperrealism in a set designed with a pink doily backdrop accented by purple and green floors. Costume Designer Alison Siple discovered how to make the main character turn completely pink when she gorges on cupcakes—and keeps on eating them even when her doctor tells her no, she has pinkatitus! And so mounds of pink, whether bubble gum pink, cotton candy pink or creamy frosting pink hues will cover the stage.

While solving this problem of eating too many pink cupcakes and enjoying too much pink, Pinkalicious and Peter learn a child can like any color they please, with some necessary moderation. Pink is after all just a color and anyone can like a color. And any child can understand as the Pinkertons do and Maclay says, “To be the best version of who they really are.”

With these themes underscoring the brilliantly colored scenes, First Stage’s Pinkalicious sings a story for every boy or girl, every family whose child might wish to overindulge or choose to be slightly unique. A  musical production for those who approve only of having delightful fun with lyrics, dance and color, especially pink, or enjoying cupcakes that will be sold during the intermissions at the performances. Maclay adds that tickets were selling fast because the popular books really have become a phenomenon. And to close the discussion on the “pink” phenomenon, Maclay finishes the conversation with this worthy comment: “I was proud to direct a play my seven year old son thinks is really funny.”

First Stage Children's Theater present Pinkaliscious The Musical in the Todd Wehr Theater at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts from February 22 through March 27. For information or tickets, please call 414.273.7206  or click the First Stage link to the left.              by Peggy Sue Dunigan




In the first few minutes of the dark, opening scenes of First Stage Children’s Theater second Wisconsin Series production To The Promised Land, two young girls in the back row seats covered there eyes. When they opened them the stage lit up with this world premiere written by Milwaukee’s Jonathan Gillard Daly that captures how urban neighborhoods represent history traced from generation to generation. 

While that opening scene might be “scary,” as the girls sitting in the theater’s back row talked about during intermission, events similar to this also happen in Milwaukee 2013. These events, or shootings, have their beginnings at the turn of the 20th century, when the famous stateswoman and one of Israel’s Prime Ministers (1969-1974) Golda Meir attended Milwaukee’s Fourth Street School in 1910.     

In Daly’s play, the house Golda lived in as a Jewish immigrant during 1910 on 615 Walnut Street (an imaginary place although the street remains), also houses a displaced girl from Alabama, the daughter of an African American sharecropper named Ruth in 1969. During these 50 years, the neighborhood’s occupants may have changed, but the problems, concerns, dreams and hopes are consistent across an entire century. Which implies today’s residents because Fourth Street School still educates Milwaukee youth.

In 1969, 14-year-old Ruth struggles with several personal tragedies, including losing family members and a mother who works six days a week to keep “food on the table, instead of a phone in the hand.” To deal with these issues, Ruth skips school until her teacher Mr. Baker, a white suburbanite, visits Ruth at home and encourages her to do a report on Golda Meir. From that point on, the memories of 14-year-old Golda attempt to inspire Ruth, as do the memories of Ruth’s brother, Cliff. 

Daly weaves the stories of Golda in 1910 and Ruth in 1969 directly on stage, alternating family settings while discussing complex social concepts, such as Cliff’s joining the Milwaukee Commandos in the late 1960’s to support Open Housing protests in the city. Or when Golda refuses to marry someone who is 30 years old for security and instead insists on attending the university. Each girl’s future will be portrayed as uncertain, a journey “to their promised land” they dream about. 

Throughout the play the audience then observes similarities between the Jewish and African American communities, regardless of skin color. They also come to appreciate the problems of two 14 year old adolescents when they try to accomplish their own dreams, instead of ones their families, especially their mothers, might have decided for them. These conflicts represent one’s 21st century teenagers might understand as Golda says, “To find their own way, as only those who dare…who have the courage to dream.” 

This performance the Promise Cast gave Lonnae Hickman’s Ruth and Katherine Pollnow’s Golda inner strength with sassy personality. D’Monte Henning’s Cliff and Marvette Knight acting as Ruth’s mother add emotional stability with assured stage presence. Motown music from the 1960’s sets a rhythmic atmosphere to the Todd Wehr Theater so feet could be heard tapping on the floor while Director Sheri Williams Pannell uses sensitive pacing to move the characters’ transformations through the script’s important “teaching moments.” 

Because First Stage’s second Wisconsin series production delved into very complex political ssues, the audience will ultimately miss the meaning to some of these, and premiere plays often undergo revisions. However, the child-parent relationships and personal misfortunes will resonate with today’s youth audiences. The two young girls sitting in the back row were challenged and entertained, and had much to discuss with their own mother when leaving the theater. Whenever theater offers these learning opportunities, welcome them as moments to build on in and for the future. A bright future First Stage provides by illustrating a timely and ultimately fulfilling journey to success on one’s way To The Promised Land. 

First Stage Children’s Theater presents To The Promised Land in the Todd Wehr Theater at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts with a limited performance schedule through February 10. For information and tickets, please call: 414.273.7206 or click the First Stage link to the left.     by Peggy Sue Dunigan



Preview: Milwaukee Playwright Daly Inspired by Mothers and Daughters

A Milwaukee playwright contributes the second selection to First Stage Children’s Theater innovative Wisconsin Series. Jonathon Gillard Daly began forming the idea for his world premiere play To The Promised Land when his daughter was enrolled at Milwaukee’s Fourth Street School. Which is now named for one of its most revered students, Golda Meir, an international statesperson, even before her homeland Israel became an independent state and she eventually was elected Prime Minister in 1969.

Daly volunteered in his daughter’s class, somewhere about six years ago, and was mesmerized by the 1969 picture of Golda Meir hugging a small girl from the school on Meir’s during that same year. This fueled an interest in a school project developing only Golda's story. When Golda attended the school at the turn of the 20th century, Milwaukee was the place as Daly puts it, “Housed the largest Jewish European population in the world.”

Milwaukee’s Fourth Street School segregated the Jewish population from the rest of the city, much like in the late 1960’s, especially 1967-69, for African American residents. In those years, Milwaukee’s housing riots and their resulting curfews spoke to open housing opportunities that were unavailable to the African American population, the girl Golda hugs in the school's picture. Would Golda's and that student's life inevitably intertwine?

In To The Promised Land, a 14-year-old girl named Ruth struggles with what is happening in her home life and her neighborhood surrounding the Fourth Street School. When she discovers Golda Meir faced some of the same challenges more than 50 years before, Ruth learns from Golda’s life while gaining strength from Meir’s return to Milwaukee to visit the school.

In doing the research on this play, Daly seemed to relate Golda and Ruth’s struggles to similar ones that kids and parents go through in 2013, the difficult period when a child reaches adolescence. He also believes along with First Stage that writing Theater for Young Audiences needs to be compelling, where Daly comments, “We need to create work for families, that adults and children can enjoy together, challenge the children with these stories.”

During the last 18-24 months, the play has undergone numerous readings and workshops and in the last two weeks revisions were still underway, with the talented Daly also acting in the premiere production creating the dual roles of Golda’s father and Ruth’s teacher. While Golda’s father was trying to make a living as a Jewish immigrant, Golda and her mother had a rewarding relationship. That mother-daughter relationship resonates throughout the production also llustrated by Ruth and conversations with her own mother.

Daly discusses that 40 years later he wonders how much the housing scene has changed in Milwaukee. Between 4th and 6th Street, where the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center and the renamed Golda Meir School are located, the neighborhood appears to be going through revitalization, reclaimed as an arts district. Daly indicated, “One can almost trace the development of the neighborhood from the 4th Street School, from within those four walls.”

More importantly, the neighborhood has represented “a promised land,” that place to call one’s own, to multiple generations, even as the neighborhood might offer to the residnets today. This is where First Stage Children’s Theater resides, their new home, and is building for the future while Golda Meir School expands and trains children for the 21st century. A recent grant from the Helen Bader Foundation will allow this First Stage second Wisconsin Series production to be taped on February 4th for further learning opportunities, posterity. A posterity where Daly still believes every child needs to discover how mothers and daughters, families, search and hope for their unique promised land.

First Stage Children’s Theater presents the world premiere of The Promised Land with a limited performance run in the Todd Wehr Theater at the Marcus Center for Performing Arts through February 10. For information on the company’s annual Make Believe Ball on March 9 or tickets please call 414.273.2931 or click the First Stage link to the left.     by Peggy Sue Dunigan




The under five (years of age) set sits transfixed at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center watching First Stage Children’s Theater World Premiere of Lois Ehlert's Mole Hill Stories. While the narrator walks slowly around the theater picking on a South African kalimba, or wooden finger piano, the audience will be mesmerized by the instrument’s soothing melody. The music opened this delightful combination of Lois Ehlert stories adapted by Alvaro Saar Rios where a fox, mole, owl and skunk overcome the wild forest by discovering true friendship.

Mole Hill Stories represents the first collaboration between Milwaukee’s Danceworks Performance Company and First Stage, and then adds bilingual dialogue in Spanish with comfortable ease. Director Desiree Rosas discussed the production’s combinations of three Mole Hill plots from the award winning Ehlert’s picture book collection. What transpires on the stage for the audience could be termed performance art. Rosas explains, “The performance is equal parts dance and theater, where the movement and text intertwine.”

“There’s storytelling through movement,” Rosas continues. Indeed, Danceworks’ Artistic Director Dani Kuepper choreographed the story where the actors resonate as dancers, literally breathing life in these stories through the body movements representing animal creatures, fire, grass, trees and water. Rosas believes, “You make an immediate connection to the forest stories and immerse yourself in the dance, music, words and songs.”

Music becomes integral to the production with an original score by Julio Pabon, who teaches at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. His African-Latin themed music echoes the dual script, where an English line will be spoken with the Spanish translation to follow, or vice versa. Set against the lilting, rhythmic percussion, these two languages flow freely for adults and children to enjoy, learn and understand.

All these elements seamlessly integrate in Ehlert’s charming animal characters. First Stage actor Michael Cotey plays the fox and owl with leadership pizzazz while Rána Roman flies through the forest as the exotic and at first glance selfish Cucú bird. Each give their character an exciting human personality. Christal Wagner and Alberto J. Cambra come from Danceworks’ to enhance the ensemble with their considerable skills. Young performers Haley Carter (of the Paws Cast) became the main mole Topo, who walks through every story with a sensitive heart, while Javier Pabon (Julio’s son) sparked his skunk with enthusiastic style.

Pale blue costumes with tie dyed borders designed by Andrea Bouck beautifully allow the actors/dancers freedom that also imparts an ethereal, magical atmosphere to this forest folk tale. Yet, elegant headdresses, sashes and vests create a unique animal character the audience can differentiate and have fun with. 

The charming collaboration reflects over 18 months of discussion to bring this full on sensory experience to these little ones, which as Rosas says, “Envelopes the audience in an environment, where you believe, hear and see things.” Part of that charm Ehlert writes about and Rosa believes, “Involves lovable characters, who then go on big journeys, take big risks and form great friendships.”

In this first rate world premiere adaptation of Ehlert, the production brings an introductory experience of dance and live performance to these young future theatergoers in the most professional manner. More of an interpretative modern dance combined with lyrical poetry and prose, the First Stage production enchants any age and proves children’s theater remains essential to education and entertainment. Offering a promise of hope to these tiny individuals in the making while hugs and smiles during the performance are extras to any First Stage First Steps production. Each can be enjoyed liberally before, during or after this entrancing Mole Hill Stories.  

First Stage Children's Theater presents Lois Ehlert's Mole Hill Stories in a collaboration with Danceworks Performance Company at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center through January 27. A special audiotry performance on January 19 continues the company's commitment to providing entertainment experiences for those on the Autism spectrum. Remember to support First Stage through their 19th Annual Make Believe Ball on Saturday, March 2, 2013. For further information or tickets, please call 414.267.2936 or click the First Stage link to the left.   by Peggy Sue Dunigan