PSA: First Stage Presents Tolkien’s The Hobbit!

I dropped the ball on this one, it opens TONIGHT!

Milwaukee, WI – January 18, 2022 – First Stage’s next offering in the new year is a thrilling production of THE HOBBIT, based on the book The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien and adapted for the stage by Greg Banks and directed by Artistic Director Jeff Frank. An unlikely hero, Bilbo Baggins, would much rather be sitting in their cozy Hobbit Hole with a cup of tea and a plate of bacon and eggs. However, they somehow find themselves on a magically mystical adventure. Staged with speed and surprises, audiences will be delighted as things change before their eyes.
Discover what happens as Bilbo travels on an epic journey over freezing mountains and through a frightening forest, meeting all sorts of fierce creatures – some who want to eat them, others who turn into dear friends. This will be a theatrical experience not to be missed!

THE HOBBIT runs February 3 – March 5, 2023 in the newly remodeled Goodman Mainstage Hall at Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, located at 325 W. Walnut Street in downtown Milwaukee. Tickets are $25. Tickets are available online at or through the First Stage Box Office at (414) 267-2961. Performance runtime is approximately 90 minutes, which includes a brief intermission. Suggested for families with young people ages 8+

From Artistic Director/Director Jeff Frank: “Five actors. One musician. Thirty-two characters. Ninety minutes. One epic tale brought magically to life on a theatrical adventure unlike anything seen before at First Stage! I love the fast-paced, energetic adaptation by Greg Banks with actors switching characters at the drop of a hat or the donning of a costume piece. He has distilled the adventure to its essential elements and the audience is quickly swept up along with Bilbo. The intimate nature of the Goodman Mainstage Hall with the audience surrounding the stage, invites them to join Bilbo’s adventure. I envision the production set in the broken down, war-ravaged remains of a library. When reason has left us and greed and a lust for power have taken over – the pillars of society have crumbled – knowledge, truth, self-growth, empathy and understanding that our stories have provided us have been lost and must be looked to again. Bilbo shows us that courage is about taking on a challenge despite our fears and reminds us what it means to be a friend. They are the hero we all long to be.

There are a number of special events that you might be interested in, a Pay What You Choose performance on Friday February 10th and a Sensory Friendly performance on Saturday February 18th. For more information on these events, the play itself, and ticket information, please click HERE!

First Stage’s Carmela Full Of Wishes

One of the remarkable things for me in 2022 was getting acquainted with First Stage. I learned about children’s characters that I had only heard of before that. I learned a lot about children and family dynamics and social culture. And I saw a lot of great theater that I didn’t know was out there…put on by and put on for young people. And I was continually amazed by the effect that theater had on young people when the characters and stories were tailored to their interests. As a child of the Howdy Doody and Captain Kangaroo eras, that shouldn’t have been a surprise, but I forget.

And so the story continues in 2023, with Carmela Full of Wishes!

The play is adapted by Alvaro Saar Rios from the book by Matt de la Pena. And our story revolves around Carmela, who just this day is celebrating her seventh birthday, and her family and her community. We meet Mami who presents Carmela with pancakes with chocolate chips and a candle…but the chocolate chips were supposed to be a surprise…until Big Brother blurted out the secret. And then a gift of bangles and bracelets that make a distinctive and joyous clatter when Carmela shakes her wrists. I can’t imagine a seven year old who wouldn’t love those! But one unique gift is Carmela is now old enough to accompany her brother on errands for Mami…and here the adventure begins!

Isabella Dixon-Ruiz and Steven Cuevas Ruiz in CARMELA FULL OF WISHES. First Stage, 2023. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

And here we have to credit scenic designer Reginia Garcia for an exquistically colorful set that works overtime as Carmela’s house, a local bodega, neighbor’s homes, and city and community locales! And director Michelle Lopez-Rios makes sure Carmela and Big Brother get their steps in for the day as they traverse and circle the stage to complete their errands. But you give up the sense of dizzy and soon realize that they have been given a fair amount of responsibility and agency throughout the neighborhood!

Karen Estrada, Thomas Bastardo, and Isabel Scardino in CARMELA FULL OF WISHES. First Stage, 2023. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

And we get to know a lot more about the environment of a seven year old…both the physical one she is sharing with Big Brother and the one that she is working out in her mind and emotions. And Big Brother reacts just like a big brother most of the time. A bit domineering and not wanting to show affection for little sister. A very real life sibling dynamic.

Isabella Dixon-Ruiz and Parker Muñoz in CARMELA FULL OF WISHES. First Stage, 2023. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

But this is really about Carmela and the wishes…and some discoveries about her life, happiness, sorrows, and all. I won’t give away too much, but those wishes are the real journey and she shares them with the audience as she tries them out in her imagination, sometimes in asides and sometimes in direct presentations…clearly aloud because Big Brother warns her to quit talking to herself. But only Carmela is aware of the world outside of the stage.

Isabel Scardino in CARMELA FULL OF WISHES. First Stage, 2023. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

In her journey, she learns about wishes and birthday candles and then the precious dandelion she protects and matter of factly bounces her ideas for wishes off of. And we see a young person who is hopeful, curious, aware, and highly imaginative…and a bit aware of the magic all around her and inside of her!

Isabella Dixon-Ruiz in CARMELA FULL OF WISHES. First Stage, 2023. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

As always, First Stage has two casts for the younger actors in their presentations. I have included photos from each cast that were provided by First Stage.

Carmela Full of Wishes runs until February 12, 2023 at The Todd Wehr Theater at the Marcus Center. Most of the times are weekend matinees at 1 PM and 3:30 PM and run time is 70 minutes plus a short intermission. Recommended for an audience of 3 and up and I can attest that younger children loved this show.

Click here for more information or to purchase tickets

Extra Credit Reading. the Playbill! and the Enrichment Guide!

Parker Muñoz and Isabel Scardino in CARMELA FULL OF WISHES. First Stage, 2023. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

PSA: First Stage Starts 2023 With: Carmela Full Of Wishes!

From our friends at First Stage:

Milwaukee’s First Stage, one of the nation’s leading theaters for young people and families, begins the new year with CARMELA FULL OF WISHES, adapted by First Stage Resident Playwright Alvaro Saar Rios, (ON THE WINGS OF A MARIPOSA/ LUCHADORA!), from the popular book by award-winning children’s author Matt de la Peña, with illustrations by Christian Robinson. In this beautiful adaptation, audiences will discover that it is Carmela’s birthday, and her wish has already come true – she’s finally old enough to join her big brother as he does the family errands! As they travel through the neighborhood, Carmela finds a lone dandelion growing in the pavement. Before she can blow its puffy white fluff away, her brother tells her she must make a wish. If only she can think of just the right wish to make! Delight in this moving ode to family, to dreamers and to finding hope in the most unexpected places. Sponsored by PNC. 

From Director Michelle Lopez-Rios: “In CARMELA FULL OF WISHES, we take a big journey with Carmela on her birthday. Like the book, the play delivers a world that stimulates all the senses. The imaginative set, costume, sound and lighting designs of the production will play a vital role in bringing this world to life. There are fields of bright orange marigolds, tastes of paletas (popsicles), smells of fresh laundry and the beauty of life by the sea. As she tags along to run errands with her Big Brother, we travel through the vibrant community that is their home. We watch as Carmela dreams up the perfect wish for her birthday and reveals what life is like for her family. 

Family is at the heart of this journey. Mami starts off the day with chocolate pancakes and a charge for Big Brother to take care of his sister. Carmela and her brother bicker, tease each other as they make their way through the list of things to do and complicated conversations. We learn about their undocumented father and how her Big Brother is filling his shoes. We ache with her as she longs for her dad to be home and her family to be complete. It is a story that is familiar to too many youth in Milwaukee as they carry the weight of tremendous hardships in their daily life.  

It is hard to understand a world that would separate a six-year-old from her Papi. It is a world where all the adults she knows work so hard, including her Mami. It is a world that forces her brother to grow up quickly and help her navigate tough questions. The story is necessary because it explores the difficult issue of immigration from the point of view of a child trying to understand why her father cannot be home with his family. It is a story that we all need to know and understand. As Carmela dashes along the streets on her worn green scooter taking in the world around her, we witness the deep and endless love of this family, and we feel the resilience of hope.” 

CARMELA FULL OF WISHES runs January 20 – February 12, 2023 at the Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater, located at 929 N. Water Street in downtown Milwaukee. Tickets are $28 and can be purchased in person at the Marcus Center Box Office at 929 N. Water Street, by phone at (414) 273-7206 or online at Performance runtime is approximately 70 minutes, which includes a brief intermission. Suggested for families with young people ages 3+. 

More information and to order tickets…click here!! There are some special event days as well, like pay what you can or sign language interpretative days. So click the link above to check those out!