Entries in John Maclay (4)


PREVIEW: First Stage Children’s Theater Believes in “Jackie’s Nine”

What exactly is "Jackie’s Nine?" Could this be one of  baseball star Jackie Robinson’s greatest nine inning games? First Stage Children’s Theater looks ahead to summer’s baseball season and the life of Hall of Fame player Jackie Robinson in their final selection at the Todd Wehr Theater Jackie and Me. The April 12 opening of the production’s run coincides with the first weeks of America’s 2013 baseball season and the film debut of 42, a biography named after Jackie Robinson’s iconic number stitched on his Brooklyn Dodgers uniform. To finish this triple hit, April 15 was officially named Jackie Robinson day.

As the first Negro, or African American professional baseball player, Jackie embodied the personal character and athletic skills to become this groundbreaking figure who broke color barriers in professional sports. Robinson paved the way for others including Hank Aaron and Rickie Weeks. Perhaps more than his physical prowess, Robinson lived by what his daughter Sharon wrote about in her book “Jackie’s Nine:” citizenship. commitment, courage, determination, excellence, integrity, justice, persistence and teamwork. 

First Stage Artistic Director Jeff Frank believes that in Jackie and Me the main character Joey Stoshack travels back in time with the help of a baseball card to learn about how Robinson faced the challenges in his life, breaking into major league baseball and white culture with incredible integrity. Joey encounters his own struggles as a white boy dealing with anger, a temper and family insecurity. Meeting Robinson in his own time frame challenges Joey to choose, to choose and live according to Jackie’s nine principles. However, when Jackie travels back into time, Joey appears as a young  black boy to every one who sees him instead of the while, Polish American he is. 

This gives Joey unique insight into Robinson’s life and professional sports on multiple levels, A story that Frank admits, “ shows the best and worst of American life, “ and carries the audience on the same journey, also one of “the immense possibilities in any one life and that dreams do come true.” Frank explains the play speaks to several big league character issues and says, “We all need to look inside and find inner strength to face challenges, now and in the future.” 

In the production Jackie and Me, Joey and Jackie eventually discover a way to make a difference in their respective lives. Frank adds, “While Jackie played a game, an American game, he became a powerful example, and a conduit for change.” Frank continues, “We look back so we can look forward, and see what needs to be done yet.” 

These principles speak to First Stage’s new 2013-2014 season recently announced with the theme “Discover.” In an effort to continually challenge audiences and actors while pushing theatrical boundaries, the company will feature Shrek, The Musical, a theater for young audiences adaptation from the Broadway production.  A reprise of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever followed by a tenth anniversary production of James DeVita’s A Midnight Cry will include selections by Sheri Williams Parnell in the third play from the company's Wisconsin series.  

Afterwards several world premieres appear, a theatrical treat fast becoming a hallmark of First Stage. One world premiere features Wisconsin’s own John Maclay, Lee Becker and James Valcq as composers and writers for the musical Anatole, based on the beloved children’s classic. Another premiere ends the season for mystery fans with the classic tales of Carolyn Keene’s female sleuth in Nancy Drew and the Biggest Case Ever, written by First Stage artistic staff Jeff Frank and John Maclay combined with a score by Milwaukee’s Willy Porter.

And in between, the First Step series features A Cat in the Hat, a production for ages 8 and up at Todd Wehr titled Crash, a zombie holiday production for teenagers, Maul of the Dead, and a collaboration with the Young Company in William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. With this exciting line up, First Stage also embodies Jackie’s nine, a proverbial home run for the season that leads into live theatre performances transcending age classification and then transforming lives. 

Everyone needs adventures to discover, ones with heroes and First Stage addresses these concerns for all those over the age of three, boys and girls, no matter what their ethnicity. Jackie and Me is only the current production that will inspire athletes of either gender with these compelling experiences featuring John Brotherhood and Seth Horne, the young performers who play Joey. Chauncy Thomas, last seen in Don’t Tell Me i Can’t Fly, inhabits Jackie Robinson for a story that requires the young performers to be on stage almost the entire play, often narrating the story while Jackie mentors the young Joey.  

In his career, Jackie embraced baseball and brave nobility, a true sense of character with integrity to transform a country’s thinking on integrating professional sports. Frank reiterates First Stage strives to accomplish this with each production, in this current season and in 2013-2014, with theater as magical to compete with any sport. He concludes when he says, “The arts have the power to change people, so they think more deeply, so a person can change their perspective and ultimately their actions.” 

First Stage Children’s Theater presents Jackie and Me at the Todd Wehr Theater in the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts in sponsorship with the Brewer Community Foundation. April 12 through May 5. Sharon Robinson’s Book “Jackie’s Nine” will be on sale in the theater lobby. Help First Stage have a Grand Slam year and subscribe with season tickets for 2013-2014, which may be purchased at a discount through June 30. For tickets or information please call 414.273.7206 or click the First Stage link to the left.       by Peggy Sue Dunigan




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




Who’s afraid of slimy worms, spooky spiders, and working red ants? In a production filled with powerful insect energy and performed by First Stage Children’s Theater, no one in their audience. First Stage dispels any misgivings about these crawly creatures in their colorful musical Diary of a Worm, a Spider and a Fly that opened last weekend. 

Joan Cushing adapts the popular picture books by Doreen Cronin and Harry Bliss for small theatergoers with musical melodies of Boogie Woogie, Busby Berkeley dance arrangements and contemporary rap. The story opens as three friends, Worm, Spider and Fly Girl, write any worries in their diary the day before school begins. Their classroom beautifully orchestrated by Beth Mulkerron playing teacher Mrs. McBee. 

Throughout the school year, Worm (Thomas Mazza), Spider (Isaiah Reynolds) and Fly Girl (Alison Pogoreic) learn about their innate insect characteristics while dreaming big  dreams for their lives. The audience hears interesting arachnid and insect facts along with the class, the seats also filled with a chattering butterly (Emily Riesterer) and seven ants from the Boogie Woogie cast. Did anyone know a fly’s wings beat 220 times a minute, or a spider molts his skin (an exoskeleton) when his skin becomes too tight? Or a worm has several aortic muscles that represent five hearts? 

Pogoreic soars when her transparent wings flip up as she pulls a cord to sing “Fly Girl,"a song about her ambitions to become a superhero. In “Bye, Bye, Baby,” Spider offers a funny number performed by Reynolds that expresses his difficulty in growing up when his skin molts. Even the song “Time Out” finds this friendly trio lamenting a parent’s punishment while they wait out misbehaving, or as they say: “Jail for kids, or another word for doing time.” 

In one scene, an entire cast boogie woogies and gitterbugs to Simon Eichinger’s choreography. Which literally fills the stage with gleeful amusement on Scenic Designer Martin McClendon’s stage, strobe lit with vibrant hues and filled with oversized pencils, straws and lego blocks. Worm peaks through dirt holes in the stage floor, trying to understand his self worth as a creature without wings like Fly Girl or fabulous legs like Spider. 

By the last day of school, Mrs. McBee affectionately teaches the class (and a willing audience) to appreciate each creature's distinct abilities and characteristics. Mazza’s wonderful, shy worm patiently solves the problems to dancing and realizes he’s already “doing big, big things for the earth.” 

Big things usually happen at the Todd Wehr Theatre under John Maclay’s thoughtful direction. Tiny tykes were thrilled to see these bugs sing on stage while adults in the audience laughed when catching the book’s sophisticated humor. The stylish production paves the way for the First Stage selection that opens next season in October, Big, the musical. In the meantime be inspired and instructed by this cadre of ants, flies, spiders or worms. First Stage chases away any fears for those once afraid of creepy creatures and wanting to dreams big dreams all their own. 

First Stage Children’s Theater presents Diary of a Worm, a Spider and a Fly at Todd Wehr Theater in the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts through May 13. Subscriptions are now available for the 2012-2013 season. For further information or tickets please call: 414.267.2961 or click the link to the left.  by Peggy Sue Dunigan