From our friends at First Stage comes this announcement about their third season of their AMPLIFY BIPOC PLAY SERIES! (-Featuring three play readings by BIPOC playwrights Shá Cage, José Casas and Idris Goodwin-)
First Stage, one of the nation’s leading theaters for young people and families, is delighted to announce the third season of their Amplify BIPOC Play Series beginning August 13, 2022. In support of First Stage’s ongoing commitment to the development of new work, with an intentional focus on lifting voices of underrepresented playwrights and artists, this season’s Amplify Series will be presented as readings of three new plays, to be held at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center and other community locations. A talkback will follow each reading, allowing audiences opportunities to share their voices with the playwright and artists – helping shape the development of the plays and potential future productions at First Stage. Commented First StageArtistic Director Jeff Frank, “We’re excited to continue our investment in new play development and in lifting up the voices of underrepresented artists. We also look forward to engaging our audiences in conversation about the work as we consider selections for future seasons.”
The Amplify Series launched virtually in the spring of 2021 during the pandemic and featured the world premiere virtual productions of COPPER HORNS IN WATER by First Stage alum Ty Defoe and UNMUTED by First Stage Resident Playwright Alvaro Saar Rios and composer Deborah Wicks La Puma. A second Amplify Series was offered virtually in the fall of 2021 and included the world premiere virtual productions of HOW TO ACTUALLY GRADUATE IN A VIRTUAL WORLD by Nikkole Salter, STEP KIDS by Tyrone L. Robinson and Postell Pringle and THE TALE OF LA LLORONA AS TOLD BY CONSUELO CHAVEZ by José Casas. These virtual productions were all well received, both critically and with audiences, and reflected First Stage’s commitment to commissioning work by Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) whose voices offer the organization an opportunity to expand its artistic horizons and develop its audience’s perspective. All productions were offered for free to viewing and in-person audiences.
Saturday, August 13, 2022 at 1 p.m. & 3:30 p.m.Milwaukee Youth Arts Center Sunday August 14, 2002 at 1 p.m. Location TBD
“It doesn’t matter what you look like, what your size is, what your color is. You can be anything you want to, but you do have to work at it,” says Annie Easley’s mother to her young daughter. In the 1950s and ’60s, the black women of NASA fought against racial and gender discrimination for a place on the leading edge of math, science and technology. Be inspired as we tell the stories of how these women were influenced as young girls to eventually make critical contributions that launched U.S. astronauts into space and returned them safely back to Earth. For families with young people ages 7 and up.
FRANKIE: THE UNTOLD STORY OF A GURL FRANKENSTEIN By José Casas Originally Commissioned by Florida Studio Theatre
Saturday October 15, 2022 at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m Milwaukee Youth Arts Center Sunday October 16, 2022 at 3:30 p.m. Location TBD
Inspired by Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, playwright JoséCasas transforms this timeless story through the prism of Francesca Frankenstein, a brilliant young girl who, in her quest for a friend, plans a one-of-a-kind project for the school science fair. Original, thought-provoking, and filled with humor and heart, discover what happens when Francesca’s project literally comes to life in this bilingual play. For families with young people ages 10 and up.
THE FORGOTTEN GIRL By India Hill Brown Adapted by Idris Goodwin Directed by Jon Royal
Thursday, March 30, 2023 at 7 p.m. Milwaukee Youth Arts Center
On a cold winter night, Iris and her best friend, Daniel, play in the freshly fallen snow in the woods when they stumble upon the gravestone of a young girl, Avery Moore. Strange things begin to happen, and Iris and Daniel research the area to find answers. They learn of their town’s history of segregation and become determined to restore Avery’s grave and pay proper respect for her and others buried there. A ghostly tale with a historical twist, this empowering tale that examines the connection of past and present, friendship and forgiveness. For families with young people ages 10 and up.
This past season was my first experience with First Stage. And I was more than pleasantly surprised by the quality of the plays presented and the youthful cast members and the skills and enthusiasm that they bring to the stage in every performance.
So I am more than happy to publish their schedule for the 2022/2023 season and recommend them to our readers:
Milwaukee, WI – May 17, 2022 – First Stage, one of the nation’s leading theaters for young people and families, is excited to announce their 2022/23 season. The full season kicks off in October at the Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater with the fun world premiere musical ARTHUR AND FRIENDS MAKE A MUSICAL! written by First Stage Resident PlaywrightJohn Maclay (THE LEGEND OF ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS), with music and lyrics by Brett Ryback. Then in November, RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER™: THE MUSICAL returns to the Todd Wehr to get audiences young and old into the holiday spirit. The new year begins with a loving ode to family, CARMELA FULL OF WISHES, an adaption by First Stage Resident Playwright Alvaro SaarRios (ON THE WINGS OF A MARIPOSA) and based on the book by Matt de La Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson.(LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET, another play adapted from a Matt de La Peña book, is currently running at Milwaukee Youth Arts Center through June 12, 2022.) In March, the delightfully quirky and hopeful THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL newly adapted for Young Audiences comes to the Todd Wehr, a production bursting at the seams with optimism and loaded with songs from popular musicians like Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend and Panic! At The Disco, to name a few. The final production at the Todd Wehr will be Bob Marley’s THREE LITTLE BIRDS, a timeless tale of peace and love filled with music from the legendary reggae artist.
First Stage has scheduled a variety of offerings in the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center’s newly remodeled theater-in-the-round Goodman Mainstage Hall. Opening in early February 2023 will be the THE HOBBIT, an energetic adaptation by Greg Banks and based on the book The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Directed by Jeff Frank, the play follows Bilbo Baggins on an epic magical journey showing us that courage is about taking on a challenge despite our fears while also reminding us of what it is to be a true friend.
First Stage’s award-winning Young Company will also present two Performance Projects at Milwaukee Youth Arts Center beginning with William Shakespeare’s enchanting comedy A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM in December. That will be followed by a production in March of LITTLE WOMEN, by Kate Hamill, adapted from the celebrated coming-of-age novel by Louisa May Alcott. The final Young Company presentation for the 2022/23 season will be the fully mounted world premiere production of THE GRACIOUS SISTERS, by First Stage Resident Playwright Alice Austen (GIRLS IN THE BOAT), and freely adapted from The Eumenides, by Aeschylus. It is an exploration of the balance of a desire for vengeance and the need for grace. This play is part of World Premiere Wisconsin, a statewide festival celebrating new plays and musicals.
FIRST STAGE’S 2022/23 SEASON OF PLAYS
ARTHUR AND FRIENDS MAKE A MUSICAL! Book and Lyrics by John Maclay, Music and Lyrics by Brett Ryback Adapted from the books and characters created by Marc Brown
Directed and Choreographed by Khalia Davis Music Direction by Brett Ryback
October 7 – November 6, 2022 Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater
Sponsored by Children’s Wisconsin
Big things are happening at Lakewood Elementary School! Mr. Ratburn’s class is asked to write and perform a big show for all of Elwood City. Everyone is so excited! Everyone, except for Arthur. What should he do? Arthur feels more nervous as the big performance gets closer and closer. With the help of his family and friends Buster, Brain, Francine, Muffy – and even little sister D.W. – Arthur learns the importance of being his best, unique self. All aboard for an incredibly fun ride with this world premiere musical! Suggested for families with young people ages 5+.
From Director Khalia Davis:“Arthur was such a beloved part of my childhood so to get the opportunity to celebrate the legacy of the books and television series by expanding the world into a fun, family-friendly musical, is a dream! I am most excited for audiences to see their favorite characters in new, timely stories that maintain the beautiful essence and spirit of the work.”
RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER™: THE MUSICAL
Based on the animated television special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and the stage production directed and conceived by Jeff Frank and First Stage.
Script adaptation by Robert Penola. Arrangements and orchestrations by Timothy Splain.
Sponsored by Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren and Associated Bank.
And if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows! The beloved TV classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer soars off the screen and returns to our stage this holiday season. From fleeing the Abominable Snow Monster to saving Christmas, join Rudolph and his friends, Hermey the Elf and Yukon Cornelius, as their adventures teach us that what makes you different can be what makes you special. Don’t miss this wonderful holiday tradition that speaks to the little misfit in all of us. Suggested for families with young people ages 4+.
FromJeff: “This joyful holiday tale will once again come to life at the Todd Wehr courtesy of some clever staging, the remarkable design work of Brandon Kirkham and our incredible production department who crafted this piece with such care and detail. Rudolph, Hermey and the Toys remind us all that there is a place for everyone. There really is no such thing as a misfit – just a world that needs to learn to welcome people as they are. No one should have to worry about covering up who they are to seek acceptance. After all – it turns out that even the Bumble is misunderstood. From the incredible music of Johnny Marks, to the adventures with the Bumble, to the lovable inhabitants of the Island of Misfit Toys, to the hilarious antics of Yukon Cornelius, to the heartwarming storytelling of Sam the Snowman – Rudolph has something for the entire family to celebrate this holiday season.”
CARMELA FULL OF WISHES Adapted by Alvaro Saar Rios From the book by Matt de la Peña, Illustrated by Christian Robinson Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
“Carmela Full of Wishes” was Co-Commissioned by and received its World Premiere Productions at Chicago Children’s Theatre, Jacqueline Russell, Artistic Director;
and The Rose Theatre of Nebraska, Matt Gutschick, Artistic Director
Directed by Michelle Lopez-Rios
January 20 – February 12, 2023 Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater
Sponsored by PNC.
It’s 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 has to 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. Suggested for families with young people ages 3+.
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. . . . 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.”
THE HOBBIT Based on The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien Licensed by Middle-earth Enterprises Adapted for the Stage by Greg Banks Produced by special arrangement with Plays for New Audiences
Directed by Jeff Frank
February 3 – March 5, 2023 Goodman Mainstage Hall, Milwaukee Youth Arts Center
Our 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, you’ll be delighted as things change before your very eyes. Discover what happens as Bilbo travels on an epic journey over freezing mountains and a frightening forest, meeting all sorts of fierce creatures – some who want to eat them, others who turn into dear friends. Suggested for families with young people ages 8+.
From Jeff: “5 actors. 1 musician. 32 characters. 90 minutes. 1 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.”
THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL for Young Audiences
Based on the series by Stephen Hillenberg
Book by Kyle Jarrow
Original songs by Yolanda Adams, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Sara Bareilles, Jonathan Coulton, Alexander Ebert of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, The Flaming Lips, Lady A, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Panic! At the Disco, Plain White T’s, They Might Be Giants and T.I., and songs by David Bowie, Tom Kenny and Andy Paley
Additional lyrics are by Jonathan Coulton, with additional music by Tom Kitt
The musical production was conceived by Tina Landau
Directed by Tommy Novak
Choreographed by Katelin Zelon
March 3 – April 2, 2023 Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater
Sponsored by the Molitor Foundation
Are you ready, kids? Dive into the undersea town of Bikini Bottom with SpongeBob and his quirky circle of friends and neighbors – Patrick, Sandy, Squidward, Mr. Krabs and even Plankton – in this dynamic stage musical with songs from music’s most legendary artists. Chaos erupts when SpongeBob and all of Bikini Bottom face the total annihilation at the threat of Mt. Humongous. Just when all hope seems lost, a most unexpected hero rises up and takes center stage. The power of optimism really can save the world! Suggested for families with young people ages 6+.
From Director Tommy Novak: “‘Who lives in a pineapple under the Sea?’ SPONGEBOB SQUARE PANTS!!!!!” The thing about SpongeBob is that he is a simple sponge with a huge heroic heart. When the world is a horrible, miserable place, we need optimism and positivity that only SpongeBob can bring to the any situation. SpongeBob is the biggest example of “I can’t is not in my vocabulary.” There is no task too large or too scary. Any task can be accomplished with teamwork and a community of support. This show reminds us that we are a community responsible for working together and taking care of each other. Today is a gift and tomorrow is not promised so live each day as if it is your last with a full heart of kindness, joy and laughter.”
Bob Marley’s THREE LITTLE BIRDS Based on a story by Cedella Marley Music and Lyrics by Bob Marley Adapted for the stage by Michael J. Bobbitt
Arrangements, Orchestrations, Additional Musical & Lyrics by John L. Cornelius II Directed by Samantha D. Montgomery Choreographed by Sonya Thompson of Ko-Thi Dance Company April 21 – May 21, 2023 Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater
Ziggy’s afraid to leave the house. He’s too busy worrying about tropical storms, evil spirits, and the sneaky, hair-grabbing trickster, Duppy. With the help of his feathered friends, Ziggy will learn that “every little thing is gonna be all right!” With music from the legendary reggae artist, get jammin’ with this timeless tale of peace and love. Suggested for families with young people ages 3+.
FromDirector Samantha Montgomery: “Ziggy is fearful about what might happen to him and this restricts him from living and enjoying the adventures of life. This play, Bob Marley’s THREE LITTLE BIRDS, adapted for the stage by Michael J. Bobbitt, encourages us to enjoy the adventures of life by not allowing our fears to stifle us. Instead, we must rebuild ourselves and overcome our fears by finding the strength within ourselves to make bravery our only choice.”
FIRST STAGE YOUNG COMPANY PRESENTATIONS
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM By William Shakespeare
December 9 – 18, 2022 Goodman Mainstage Hall, Milwaukee Youth Arts Center
Sponsored by UPAF
Follow the misadventures of fairies, nobles, and craftsmen through the forests of Athens over the course of one magical evening. Love triangles, mistaken identities and alarming transformations are abound in Shakespeare’s most enchanting comedy. Suggested for families with young people ages 11+.
From Director of the Young CompanyMatt Daniels: “A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM is one of Shakespeare’s most enduring and popular plays for a reason. It is full of fun, fantasy, mischief and beautiful language, making it a perfect fit for our award-winning Young Company. I first encountered this play as an actor when I was in high school, and it left an indelible mark, setting me on a path to a life rich in Shakespeare’s work. I trust it will be the same for these seasoned young artists.”
LITTLE WOMEN By Kate Hamill Adapted from the novel by Louisa May Alcott
March 24 – April 2, 2023 Goodman Mainstage Hall, Milwaukee Youth Arts Center
Sponsored by UPAF
Jo March isn’t your typical Victorian lady. She’s ruthless and headstrong, and destined to be a great American novelist. As Jo and her sisters grow up in the middle of the Civil War, they strive to be brave, intelligent and imaginative young women, while reconciling their own ambitions with society’s expectations. Alcott’s celebrated coming-of-age novel comes to stage in this modern and relevant adaptation. Suggested for families with young people ages 12+.
From Matt: “Kate Hamill’s adaptation of this essential American story manages to be startlingly modern even as it explores a long-gone era. This play is about whip-smart, resilient, sparkling young women looking to make their mark on a world that may not be ready for them. Sounds like an ideal match for YC’s excellent performers! This version of the story is intimate, beautiful and surprising, just as Alcott’s novel is to anyone who picks it up for the first time.”
THE GRACIOUS SISTERS By Alice Austen
World Premiere A free adaptation of The Eumenides, by Aeschylus
Directed by Matt Daniels
May 5 – 21, 2023 Goodman Mainstage Hall, Milwaukee Youth Arts Center
Sponsored by UPAF.
When archaeological intern Alice falls down an ancient Greek rabbit hole, she discovers the aftermath of a violent murder, with the goddesses of vengeance, or “Furies,” chasing down the accused to exact bloody retribution. Athena, the goddess of wisdom (and war), persuades the Furies that the accused should have a fair trial before a jury. When the jury is divided in a split decision, all must come to terms with the balance of a desire for vengeance, and the need for grace. Suggested for families with young people ages 13+.
From Matt: “I love ancient Greek plays almost as much as I love Shakespeare, so the opportunity to partner with one of First Stage’s playwrights in residence to bring one of these pieces into our modern age was too good to pass up. After her amazing work on GIRLS IN THE BOAT, I knew Alice Austen was the ultimate fit for creating a play for our young people that highlights their unique blend of curiosity and determinism. Especially as we all traverse this incredibly unstable era of modern history.”
This play is part of World Premiere Wisconsin, a statewide festival celebrating new plays and musicals.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM and LITTLE WOMEN are Young Company Performance Projects. These actor-driven presentations use elemental production values, enhancing the connection of actor to audience, allowing the words of the play to come alive in exciting ways. These award-winning students will showcase their graduate level skills with full-length material, from Shakespeare to American classics to pieces commissioned specially for them.
First Stage offers three ways to purchase tickets for its 2022/23 season. The All-Access Membership will give families the opportunity to purchase tickets at 25% off regular single ticket prices, receive discounts on Theater Academy classes, invitations to special Preview Events and more. The cost of the All-Access Membership is $75 per household and are on sale now. Families can also purchase the traditional Family Package, which offers a 30% discount off regular single ticket prices when building a season package of three or more plays. Family Packages are also now on sale. Single tickets to First Stage’s 2022/23 season will go on sale August 1, 2022.
I suggest reading through these offerings and select those that fit your family age groups and plan your outings to First Stage. From my personal experience and observations while attending shows this past season, children are simply enthralled with these plays and ask some pretty pertinent and aware questions during the talk backs that follow many of the shows. And as an adult, I too was entertained! No reason to feel this is only a kids thing!!
and once more: For additional information about the 2022/23 season, please visit to firststage.org/ or call (414) 267-2961.
P.S. Amplify Reading Series
Understanding the power of connection that young people feel when they see themselves and their stories on stage, First Stage is excited to begin the next phase of the Amplify series featuring new and developing work from traditionally underrepresented playwrights and directors whose voices offer an opportunity to expand First Stage’s artistic horizons and develop its audience’s perspective. During the 2022/23 season, the focus shifts from producing short plays to presenting readings of three plays in various stages of development. The Amplify Reading Series gives First Stage a chance to explore new work that is being considered for a full production while also engaging the community in discussion about the process of developing new plays. Please note: Dates and title are still being finalized for the Amplify Reading Series. Please visit firststage.org/ for the latest updates.
This is whimsy. This can get silly. This is un-ADULT-erated fun. The staging and lighting and music here will be a real treat for the intended younger audience. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a relevant story here…we are going somewhere…where there is so much to learn. Pitter patter.
Director Johamy Morales must just have had a ball putting this play together and filling out the characters and movement and action in Last Stop On Market Street. And despite the word stop in the title, there is no STOP in the action as the story unfolds over the 55 minutes presentation (without intermission). And Last Stop On Market Street is being presented at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center (325 W. Walnut, Milwaukee, WI) in the round in their delightfully intimate theater. So no child will be more than a row or two from the action. No one will miss anything!!
And my goodness, hats off to the technical team at First Stage. They certainly engage everyone’s imagination with their creative use of color, costumes, props, and sets. On the face of it, many of these things verge on the minimal but the audience is never left in doubt about where we are or who the characters are. So subtle while being so descriptive (I have been amazed by this all season, but it is even more apparent in Last Stop On Market Street).
And as in all of their other plays, First Stage is using two casts to give as many young actors a chance to perform as possible. I saw the Rain cast on a lovely Mothers Day morning. The other cast is the Bubbles cast. The photos here were supplied by First Stage and I will use images from both casts.
But our story revolves around CJ and his Nana as they travel to church and later across town to the last stop on Market Street. CJ has a solo at church and has a frog in his throat, although to my eyes, more like butterflies, but as most any young performer we can easily relate to the anxiety. But from there we follow CJ through some adventures, both real and imagined, that are obvious focal points in any young persons growth in awareness and experience. A lot of questions get asked, some of them answered directly, but most by observation. And that’s the true nature of the Last Stop On Market Street. Learning through experience, questioning, and observation. Quite a miraculous journey in just those 55 minutes.
The stand out performer here is Samantha D. Montgomery as Nana. She just nails it as a loving caring mentor and teacher for the inquisitive CJ. From the sparkle in her eye and in her voice to the patience she shows…she’s just the woman you’d want for your Nana! And there’s just a sense of awareness of her own mischief underlying her knowledge!
And those 55 minutes are filled with a lot of action in the form of street activity, dancing, singing, and just watching as the actors move in and out from the stage in seemingly constant motion (making handy use of three different entrance ramps to access the central stage). But pay close attention to costume changes…many actors (particularly the adult actors) are playing multiple roles, and the clever costumes help define the character and their role in our story.
This play is aimed at First Stage’s younger audiences: their recommendation is for families with children 3 to 7 and older. More information on the play, First Stage, and tickets can be found here! The play runs from now through June 12, 2022.
Bottom line, the young audience in attendance when I was there were very involved with the play and the story. And they asked some very inspired and relevant questions during the talk back with the actors as play’s end.