Escape From Peligro Island, A Create Your Own Adventure Play @ First Stage!

Those of you who have followed my comments on the offerings from Milwaukee’s First Stage Youth Theater know that many of their presentations feature alternating casts. So your experience may differ from mine in significant ways.

But with Escape From Peligro Island, First Stage and Playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer have designed a unique experience into the script for each and every audience. You are guaranteed a different experience to mine. And how do they accomplish that? Well at significant plot points, the audience is offered alternative choices and they get to vote on which path to travel…so each audience member receives a Card Of Destiny as you enter the theater and you can vote for your preferred alternative by holding up your card, showing the Pink side or the Green side. And the cast heads off in the selected direction! So from one performance to the next, you will never get the same show. Escape From Peligro Island is a thing of wonder and adventure! Awesome.

And yes, Escape From Peligro Island, does feature two casts, The Destiny Cast and The Chance cast. The two casts share two adult actors, Matt Daniels and Shammen McCune who play multiple roles and I am guessing those roles differ depending on the election of the audience.

Charlie Cornell as Callaway Brown foreground and Matt Daniels, Photo Courtesy of First Stage, Paul Ruffolo photographer.

The initial story will be basically the same…the one named character is Callaway Brown…and Callaway remains a constant throughout but it is his adventures that we are determining. Almost immediately, while traveling from his mother’s home to visit his father many miles away, Callaway experiences a weirdo in the airport’s waiting area who proves to be an eerie enigma who quickly runs off leaving Callaway with a mysterious box and the wrong airplane ticket…and we make our first decision and launch poor Callaway off on his big adventure.

Now, I can’t actually give the story away because it will travel hither and yon depending on you…but Kruckemeyer must be the eternal youth of legend as Escape From Peligro Island finds all of the cute sayings of youth, pulls great puns out of midair, and presents a myriad of adventures out of our childhood dreams. It sounds so easy and childlike but it is an amazingly complex construction.

One constant feature of First Stage presentations are short talk backs (question and answer periods) after the play where the cast takes turns fielding questions from the youngsters in the audience. Now, one very astute audience member asked the cast how they managed to learn all of the different parts and keep them straight. Yes, indeed, that too was at the forefront of my thoughts as the play came to an end. The cast said it was from four weeks of rehearsal and lots of practice.

Now I don’t know the precise answer exactly, but I am certain it was through some sort of sorcery employed by director Jeff Frank. Besides the variant story lines and two adult actors plus Callaway Brown, there are five other youth actors who work as narrators and vote tabulators and any number of characters dependent on the path being taken. I would have a hard time keeping track of that in my head much less imparting it to twelve different actors. And then to support the action, Scenic Designer Kristin Ellert did a marvelous job providing modular set pieces that too played multiple roles and then there were a few that remained unused…apparently waiting their turn in a parallel universe.

Photo Courtesy of First Stage, Paul Ruffolo photographer.

But oh, wait. There are a number of small puppets or dolls that help us tell the story…I can’t explain exactly what they do or how they are employed because that might spoil some of the story…but the are cute as the dickens…and a clever clever means of advancing the story and supporting the action! Thank you Adriana Hollenbeck!! And First Stage has always set a very high bar when it comes to bright and engaging costuming that contributes to the story telling…and Jazmin Aurora Medina has done an outstanding job here…particularly with the various costumes for Matt Daniels various roles. And Lighting Designer Tim Thistleton also brings his A game with bringing the adventures on Peligro Island to life with the limited palette available at the Goodman.

And there’s a THEME SONG!

I was lucky to get to see this on opening weekend…and it was a very well attended show. And I think a lot of theatergoers will revisit so they can experience another pass into adventure. So don’t put off planning your visit. Escape From Peligro Island runs through June 2, 2024. It is being presented at First Stage’s black box theater in the round, the Goodman Mainstage Hall, at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center! Suggested ages: 5 to adult!t oh

Click HERE for tickets and more information!

And Extra Credit Reading: Playbill with a listing of both casts! and Enrichment Guide

PSA: Milwaukee’s First Stage Announces Their 2024/2025 Season of Plays!!

For those of you who are regular readers, you know that First Stage is Milwaukee’s premier theater organization for young actors and young audiences. But for those of you who are new to AIP or Milwaukee and have young people in your life, you need to know about First Stage!

Each year First Stage presents a large number of plays and musicals at two downtown Milwaukee venues. Large stage musicals featuring young actors and adults in the Todd Wehr Theater at the Marcus Performing Arts Center and serious plays by their Young Company (teen actors) and other more intimate presentations in their black box theater in the round at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center. And they also provide classes and training opportunities for young actors through out the year.

This week they have announced the plays that will be offered in the 2024/2025 season. Here is the link to their new season and there are some discounts available at this time…so plan carefully for next season…and pay attention to the recommended ages…many run the gamut from pre-school to forever but a few are for older age groups.

I am so looking forward to Shakespeare’s The Tempest!!!

Offerings at the Todd Wehr Theater at the Marcus PAC:

And at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center which is just a few blocks north and west of the Marcus:

And if you want more information on any of these plays, click this link and then select the Learn More tab as shown here:

this one sounds like a hit!!!!

First Stage Provides A Stunning: An Enemy Of The People!

Besides the boisterous and invigorating musicals that they present for children of all ages, by children of all ages, at the Marcus Performing Arts Center, First Stage also features their Young Company, young actors of high school age, in their black box theater in the round at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center. The Young Company is ambitious and tackles mature adult plays usually without adult actors involved…and for me…the results are always delicious.

First Stage Young Company Cast in AN ENEMY OF THE
PEOPLE. First Stage, 2024. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

And this time they have taken on Henry Miller’s adaptation of the Ibsen classic, An Enemy Of The People. Although set in late 19th Century Norway, the story has resonance today. After being away for a short time, Dr. Thomas Stockmann returns home and becomes the medical officer at the newly created medicinal baths that will bring fame and economic growth to his small town. His brother, Peter Stockmann is the town’s mayor and head of the committee running the baths. Thomas does a bit of research and discovers that a series of mysterious illnesses that have been inflicting visitors to the baths is the result of pollution and bacteria in the water that are coming from a tannery up the mountain. He is convinced that once he shares his discovery with the town, that they will stand firmly behind him and fix the issue. But he’s being incredibly naive here. Instead, Peter takes up the opposition and through a series of partial lies, innuendo, and subterfuge, undermines Thomas and it doesn’t end well for the doctor or his family.

John Eash-Scott (Center), and cast in AN ENEMY OF THE
PEOPLE. First Stage, 2024. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

Dr. Thomas Stockmann is played by John Eash-Scott with an incredible amount of vigor and determination. Totally sure of himself and totally sure of his position, he forges on in his determination to expose the issues around the baths. And as he rounds up support from the local press and small business men, he becomes ever more sure of himself…and Eash-Scott clearly brings that to life on the stage. And even as his brother starts to bring doubt into his mind, he doubles down, and Eash-Scott brings that all to bouncing life.

William Kastner (Left) and John Eash-Scott in AN ENEMY OF THE
PEOPLE. First Stage, 2024. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

There is certainly a small amount of sibling rivalry here and despite his important position in the town, William Kastner as Mayor Peter Stockmann, makes that plain to see. And it also comes into play as he tries to dissuade he brother from publishing his claims of pollution…is it real civic duty or a bit of envy? And when the brutal bits of open conflict begin, Kastner ramps up Peter’s position of power and clearly becomes the pompous ass that the role requires.

And then there is the press that initially support Dr. Stockmann, but go all in against him when the mayor turns on the heat. Chief among them is editor Hovstad, Elena Marking, who presents the enthusiasm of every young editor about to have the big scoop as they prepare to publish Dr. Stockmann’s report…until they are confronted by Mayor Stockmann, and Marking gives us the unflinching portrayal of the wishy washy turncoat with no feeling or compunction about what is being done. And Hovstad’s change in position is one of the most damaging for Dr. Stockmann, both publicly and personally. And similarly situated is Aslaksen, a town small business leader and publisher of Hovstad’s paper. Madison Jones gives us the properly slippery and slimy turncoat too!

Madison Jones in AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE. First Stage, 2024. Photo
by Paul Ruffolo.

One of the side issues revolves around the doctor’s family…as he pushes on with his quest…he loses sight of how it will affect them all. His wife Catherine is aware of what may happen and voices her fears quite clearly. Maya Thomure plays Catherine and easily moves from the happy and carefree hostess and matriarch, to the concerned and warning helpmate. Her daughter, Petra, is an adult and teacher in the local school and Reiley Fitzsimmons gives us an assured and determined young teacher who is willing to support her father and take up his cause against the town.

John Eash-Scott in AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE. First Stage, 2024.
Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

The First Stage Young Company’s An Enemy Of The People runs through April 28, 2024 at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center. The play runs for two hours plus intermission and is recommended for teens and adults. For more information and to order tickets, click here.

AND, as always, extra credit reading: The Playbill!! and The Enrichment Guide!

This is a Young Company Performance Project — an
actor-driven presentation using elemental production
values. By stripping down to a nearly bare stage, the
connection of actor to audience is enhanced, and
the words of the play come alive in exciting ways,
allowing our award-winning students to showcase
their graduate level skills with full length material,
from Shakespeare to American classics to pieces
commissioned specially for them.

Brinn Hill
Interim Education Director