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

Diary Of A Wimpy Kid, The Musical at First Stage

Did you ever dream that you fell asleep doing your homework and awaken inside of your spiral bound notebook surrounded by your own scrawls and doodles? Probably not but that is the wonderland presented to us by Scenic Designer, Casey Price! A wondrous floor and back drop and proscenium defined by college ruled blue lines, red margin delimiters, and the aforementioned doodles greet us as we enter the theater. And the theme is elaborately maintained as the blue ruled motif appears across household appliances, school lockers, and nearly every other stage prop in sight. What absolute fun!

And Diary of a Wimpy Kid is probably the most musicy musical that I have seen this season. The story is told almost exclusively through song and dance, rapidly moving from solo to small group to ensemble pieces that kept the children in the audience mesmerized. Look away a moment and you will miss something…something wonderful!

So that brings me to the amazing work by Director Julie Woods-Robinson, Music Director Paula Tillen, Choreographer Molly Rhode, and again Scenic Designer Casey Price. This is a non-stop wonder, and the cast covers a lot of ground and moves a lot of props and furnishings, on top of the singing and dancing. Yet everything moves smoothly and subtly and brings the story to life! You will be amazed on how often the stage transforms from home, to yard, to class room, to kitchen, to school yard, to bedroom, to best friends room, and back and back again throughout this sixty minute presentation (there is a short intermission midway).

As I said, the children in the audience were mesmerized by this musical. Literally edge of their seats in many cases and despite the majority of the audience being youngsters, I seldom heard the usual exclamations that I often experience at other First Stage plays. And quite frankly I was feeling it more than usual as well. This is recommended for children ages 5-6, 7-9 & 10-12 and of course teens and adults.

And as I’ve said the singing and choreography are truly amazing here. But let’s get into the story a bit. Greg Heffley is the Wimpy Kid of record and feels the outsider in both his family and school. The middle child at home he’s the brunt of teasing by his older brother and a bit unseen since his parents are doting on his younger brother. Such is often the dynamics in a family and it is handled very well here. And then Greg gets to move up to middle school and hopes to reset his place in his peer group with new friends, new experiences, and a new environment. It doesn’t always go too well. So we get to share in his disappointments but trust me, later there will be some victories to savor as well. The spoken dialogue here is often between Greg and his friends in one on one conversations but more often, Greg explains directly to the audience what is happening, or how he feels, or fills us in on a little of the back story. You won’t miss anything if you keep your eyes and ears open.

PRP_4446: Ryan Stepanski in DIARY OF A WIMPY KID THE MUSICAL. Greg Heffley in the Cheese Cast
First Stage, 2024. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

The play relies on the first book in The Wimpy Kid series for most of the story, but some bits are from later books in the series. Do you have to be familiar with The Wimpy Kid stories to enjoy the play? Oh heavens no, the story is told clearly, there are no insider plots, and there is plenty of humor peppered throughout the dialogue and songs that everyone will be laughing out loud. And yes there is plenty of applause after the big numbers. But those of us who have read the series will get a kick out of some of the stories and gags maybe a bit more and we will be eagerly anticipating some of the events about to be dramatized. But dare I bring up the cheese?

Harper Fornstedt in DIARY OF A WIMPY KID THE MUSICAL. Greg Heffley in the Middle Cast.
First Stage, 2024. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

Just in case you wonder, the first ensemble piece that opens Act II after the intermission, Animal Heart, is my favorite. Other than just the joyous fun, it is also a bit of a send up of Euro-pop stylistic conventions! Go William Swoboda as Joshie (also Rodrick Heffley as part of the Cheese Cast), a very credible Euro-pop star indeed!

And also part of the Cheese cast, Ryan Stepanski elicited all of the appropriate smiles, shrugs, sighs, exclamations, and excitement inhabited in the Wimpy Kid! Great job.

Stage, 2024. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

Now if you aren’t familiar with First Stage’s staging techniques, they use two full cast of young people. So I experienced the Cheese Cast and the alternates are known as the Middle Cast. So depending on which show you attend, you may see a different cast than I experienced…but your experience will be just as enchanting. So you may want to check the cast list if you are hoping to see a particular actor before ordering tickets.

Stage, 2024. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

Now, this hadn’t crossed my mind until Saturday as I was heading home…but Diary of a Wimpy Kid has sixteen youth characters on stage…so with two casts, that’s thirty two young performers that need to be costumed. And I bet the chances of the actors in each role being the same size is slim to none…so how does Costume Designer Jason Orlenko keep their wits about them and get this all done?? Plus the two adult actors who play multiple roles…right? Wow, just wow.

And two notes: Greg Heffley, Wimpy Kid or no, had the best black high tops on stage…I was a little jealous, or the 12 year old in me was at least.

AND: Greg wants you to know, IT’S NOT A DIARY, IT’S A JOURNAL!!

Karen Estrada (bottom left), Harper Fornstedt (center), Becket Patterson
(left), Todd Denning (center), Alex Radtke (right) in DIARY OF A WIMPY KID THE
MUSICAL. First Stage, 2024. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Musical runs through May 5, 2024 at the Todd Wehr Theater in the Marcus Performing Arts Center. More information and ticket information can be found here!

Extra credit reading? The Program! and Enrichment Guide

Throwback Thursdays: Leading Up To Our Fourth Anniversary!

Our fourth anniversary is coming on on March 21, 2024. So to get ready for the celebration, I am going to us the Throwback Thursday trend to repost our most popular items from the past on the various social media platforms that I use. So watch for them on Facebook, X, Post, Instagram, Threads, and LinkedIn. But in case you want to take an early peek at them, here’s they are: (in no particular order)

Double Double Toil and Trouble Yields UWM’s Theater Department’s Gripping Presentation Of Macbeth!

American Players Theatre Closes 2023 Season With David Auburn’s Proof!

Milwaukee’s Kith & Kin Theatre Collective Presents Pulitzer Prize Winner: Next To Normal!

Ghostlight Theatre: Green Day’s Musical Based On American Idiot!

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time at Lake Country Playhouse!

Lake Country Players present : Cabaret!!

Renee Cox: Yo Mama’s Pieta: In Memoriam Of All Those Recently Lost…

A Tale Of Two Cities: Notre Dame Cathedral and Hagia Sophia

Can We Conserve Time Based Media in the 21st and 22nd Centuries?

First Stage’s Young Company Presents Shakespeare’s Henry IV (Part 1)