First Stage Encourages Big Dreams in Enchanting Seussical


Twenty-five years producing outstanding Milwaukee theater and still counting….First Stage Children’s Theater opens its silver anniversary season with the return of Seussical, an uplifting musical to steal the audience’s hearts. Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens wrote the book, lyrics and music that reprises on the Todd Wehr Stage with direction by a welcome Milwaukee face, Tony Clements. Clements envisioned a completely new cast dressed in Brandon Kirkham’s sherbet colored costumes reminiscent of the 1920’ and 30’s that invites a carnival ambiance.

Anyone who remembers First Stage’s previous Seussical production will find this equally exhilarating, perhaps even more so as the story shines through on Keith Pitts’ sparse set designed similar to a main circus ring with fanciful lanterns hanging from the ceiling. In the story orchestrated by the mischievous Cat in the Hat (Jackson Evans), the beloved Dr. Seuss tales are combined and focus on Horton the Elephant (Rick Pendzich), who saves the tiny Who’s from extinction. All because JoJo Who (Cole Hines, Red Fish Cast) speaks ups, befriends Horton and becomes someone who cares for the all alone in the world elephant.

Every cast member enlivens the Seuss characters with exuberance changing the imaginary into the believable. Several performance scenes mesmerize with the spectacular singing by Sour Kangaroo (Amy Hillner) and Mayzie, the bird,(Rana Roman) along with the lovely ballads by the delicate Gertrude (Amber Nicole Dilger), a bird with only one feather for her tail. Her love songs to Horton add touching romance.  

Pendzich’s Horton proves without a doubt he’s 100 percent dependable, and Hines charms as the child centerpiece to this production. Bright feathered skirts twirl on the bird girl chorus of Karen Estrada, Beth Mulkerron and Young Performer Kamilah Lay, an important back drop to the antics on stage while Evans' lanky Cat seamlessly steers the story to its happy conclusion. An accomplished ensemble of Whos effortlessly perform Jessica Redish’s energizing choreography.

However, Seuessical’s music provides more than merely entertainment when the first song asks JoJo to think, wonder and dream by opening your mind. While current executive boardroom discussions question why contemporary society faces a creativity crisis, IBM's recent survey of CEOs identified creativity as the #1 leadership competency in the future. Dr. Seuss dares the child and adult to think outside the box, think big and keep thinking no matter how foolish those ideas might seem. 

Other more tender lyrics encourage a world where the disenfranchised, especially children, may be overlooked to realize “that a person is a person no matter how small.” Everyone, even those unseen Whos, deserve to be listened to and respected so “that one small voice in the universe will find a true friend, someone who believes in me.” 

Congratulations to First Stage for believing in this power of creativity and theater to transform the lives of children, an essential skill in the 21st century. If by chance one missed the Seuessical pefromances the first time in Milwaukee, be sure to catch the 2011 version This charming, delightful and completely enchanting Seussical will stand out as one of the company's premiere productions in the next 25 years to come.   

First Stage presents Suessical at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts on the Todd Wehr Theater Stage through October 16. For information or tickets call: 414.273.7206 or click the link to the left. 


Preview: First Stage 25th Anniversary Season Appeals to All Ages


Milwaukee might remember that First Stage Children’s Theater represents the second largest theater company in the city. An elite status established throughout the metro area that adds untold excitement to this Friday when First Stage opens their 25th Anniversary season. A season inviting every age, from 2 to 92 to experience their theatrical treats in the coming months through 2012. 

The spectacular season begins September 16 when the company reprises their sell out production Seussical, a tribute to the beloved Dr. Seuss’s poetic words and wisdom. Longtime Artistic Director Jeff Frank fondly recalls the past performances but mentions while revisiting the past, First Stage will be presenting all new production cast, direction, staging and costumes for 2011.

Tony Clements will direct the eccentric cast of Seuss characters, which includes several little Whos and the infamous Cat in the Hat. His candy colored circus theme inspired by the 1920’s and 1930’s will place the Cat in the Hat as a ringmaster, narrating the book and score that combines several stories anyone can appreciate. It's an anniversary opening night that Frank believes, "Will celebrate the past accomplishments yet look to the future in children’s theater.”  

This mission will be accomplished with First Stage’s second selection coming in October, Don’t’ Tell Me i Can’t Fly. The premiere play opened at Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center to rave reviews and draws material from the girlhood of Milwaukee artist Della Wells. The poignant story relates how struggles and trials encourage internal strength so any individual can pursue their dreams.

Don’t Tell Me i Can’t Fly inaugurates an innovative endeavor by First Stage titled “The Wisconsin Cycle.” This series of plays in development theatrically connect to the home state although several are only in the beginning stages of the process. Frank explains that a former First Stage production, A Midnight Cry (2003) will return to their stage for this theme.

Playwright John Daly works on one production with a working title, To The Promised Land, a story about an African American girl whose brother was killed in America’s tense racial decades in the last half of the 20th century. The play will also interweave this childhood with that of Milwaukee's Golda Meir in an effort to focus on finding peace within an individual life, the surrounding community and ultimately, the world.

Another play with only a bare bones structure to the script will relive the glory days of Milwaukee’s Bronzeville in the 1930’s to 1950’s when great culture and music flourished.  Familiar and iconic personalities such as Dizzy Gillespie stayed in a family’s home when playing the clubs, unable to stay in the city’s hotels because of racial segregation. There’s plenty more to come from other playwrights in future seasons as this series unfolds over time. 

December brings the return of a well known comical little girl with Junie B in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells. Confronted by growing up at holiday time,  this wonderful tale illustrates the power in sacrificial giving. Frank relates while seemingly a simple theme, the play speaks to, “What we give, why we give and what giving all really means.” 

The 2012 half of the season presents the classic A Wrinkle in Time and the directorial debut of Milwaukee actor Mark Metcalf. The new adaptation will 'tesseract,’ or travel the audience through time with interesting technical and choreographic skills while considering fractured family units as only Madeleine L’Engle can write and imagine them. In a First Stage premiere, the much loved Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory brings Roald Dahl's sophisticated story geared to anyone who craves chocolate to the Todd Wehr stage. 

Finally, political satirist Joan Cushing develops Diary of a Worm, a Spider and a Fly for the over three set, although Cushing's clever take on these preschool stories entertains adults as well. One First Steps Series production, Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus, will happen at the Milwaukee Center for Youth Arts to humor the tiniest audiences to enjoying live theater instead of IPads. 

“Not everyone loves every play,” Jeff Frank relates, “But every play in our season is loved by someone.” Everyon will find something to love in this intriguing season that enchants the youngest audience yet will be “rich enough in character, texture and intelligence” to engage adults and stir that childlike wonder in their own hearts. An opportunity to have a transcendent experience at the theater, so necessary in today’s tragedy filled world. It's one golden chance to be treasured because Frank claims this might be a person’s very first introduction to the theater and comes with a great responsibility by the company to make it worthwhile. A welcome challenge that Frank and First Stage anticipates with delight when the 25th anniversary begins with Seussical this Friday night. 

Join the celebration with season tickets to First Stage while experiencing the joy of awe, laughter and wonder that stirs the imagination, even for adults, at the Todd Wehr Theater in the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. For tickets: 414.273.7206 or 888.612.3500 or click the link to the left.






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