An exciting new play from First Stage in Milwaukee for young people 6 and up!!

First Stage is excited to announce that next up in their 2022/23 season will be THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL FOR YOUNG AUDIENCES, based on the iconic animated Nickelodeon series by Stephen Hillenberg, with book by Kyle Jarrow.  SpongeBob fans young and old will delight in seeing their favorite characters come to life on stage! The production features original songs by an array of legendary musicians including Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Panic! At the Disco and David Bowie, to name a few.

The musical production was conceived by Tina Landau and will be directed by Tommy Novak, (recently seen at First Stage’s production of RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER™ as Sam the Snowman), choreographed by noted choreographer Katelin Zelon, with Musical Direction by area favorite Paul Helm. Milwaukee families will get to dive deep 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. 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. First Stage audiences will discover that the power of optimism really can save the world! 

THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL FOR YOUNG AUDIENCES runs March 3 – April 2, 2023, at the Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater, located at 929 N. Water Street in downtown Milwaukee. Tickets start at $32 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 75 minutes plus intermission. Suggested for families with young people ages 6+. 

From Director Tommy Novak: “‘Who lives in a pineapple under the Sea?’ SPONGEBOB SQUARE PANTS!!!” I am super excited to be working on THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL FOR YOUNG AUDIENCES at First Stage. 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. Although we sometimes see the darkness of the future, SpongeBob is here to remind all of us that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and they will help us to find the flashlight to get us through it. They always see the bright side of the situation; help to motivate us with humor, relentless positivity and an absurd silliness. SpongeBob is the biggest example of “I can’t is not is 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. Only when we put our collective brains and hearts to a task will we succeed. The world we live in is NOW. Don’t stress about the future and leave the Past behind you. 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. “MAKE IT YOUR BEST DAY EVER!” 

Tickets start at $32 – Tickets may be purchased at or through the Marcus Center Box Office, in person at 929 N. Water Street in downtown Milwaukee or by phone (414) 273-7206 or toll free at (888) 612-3500. The number for TDD (for deaf and hard of hearing patrons) is (414) 273-3080. 

And there are a number of special performances that you should be aware of:

Pay What You Choose Performance: Friday, March 10, 2023 at 7:00 p.m. 

Pay What You Choose tickets are available on a first come, first served basis with a minimum suggested donation of $5 per person. Doors open at 6:00 p.m. on the day of the performance. Patrons are encouraged to arrive early. Tickets may also be reserved in advance by phone at (414) 267-2961, weekdays 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. For more information, please visit: 

Sensory Friendly Performance: Saturday, March 18, 2023 at 3:30 p.m.  

A Sensory Friendly Performance with accommodations for families with children on the autism spectrum will take place on Saturday, March 18, 2023 at 3:30 p.m. Sensory accommodations include a quiet area staffed by an experienced educator, lower sound, house lights up and more. Tickets for Sensory Friendly Performances are $10. Order online or by phone at (414) 267-2961, weekdays 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. to reserve tickets. To learn more visit:

ASL Interpreted Performance: Sunday, April 2, 2023 at 3:30 p.m. 

This performance will be sign language interpreted for patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing. Assistive listening devices are also available at the Todd Wehr Theater. To learn more, please visit: 

For more information, please visit or call (414) 267-2961. 

The Hobbit at First Stage: Bilbo’s Big Adventure!

For everyone already familiar with The Hobbit via either J.R.R. Tolkien’s book or the various videos or movies will certainly wonder how First Stage is going to present the entire story in 90 minutes. But they manage to do so with just four adult actors and one youth actor and they will amaze you. But this will take every fiber of your imagination to keep up with the transitions and character changes!

For those youngsters who don’t know the story yet, they will be mesmerized by the continuous action and the story telling and the music. How do I know that? Well usually there is some low level chatter from young people during most First Stage presentations, either from the excitement of theater or questions about the action addressed to their parents. But at this past Saturday’s matinee, despite a larger than normal audience, it was very very quiet! (so side note: don’t hesitate to order tickets because this is a very popular play)

Shammen McCune (Gandalf) and Leo Madson (Bilbo Baggins) in THE HOBBIT. First Stage, 2023. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

One of the strengths of First Stage is the maximum effect they work from their sets and costuming. And it is on peak display here. The Goodman Mainstage Hall is a very cozy theater in the round and no one is more than four rows away from the action. So making the most of the stage with minimal furnishings and props is a key part of their presentation…and they are superb here. A few chairs, tables, and books…some ladders and superb lighting…and a few costume additions bring the multitude of characters to life. And your proximity to the action means you will understand every line and every action and will be able to transition with the character changes. And that will be important! So real props to the team that put together these scenic elements for The Hobbit!

Leo Madson, Matt Daniels, and Elyse Edelman in THE HOBBIT. First Stage, 2023. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

But Director Jeff Frank has mastered the challenge of telling the story with just four adult actors who play ALL of the roles other than Bilbo Baggins, our hero! Matt Daniels plays Thorin, king of the dwarves, Jamey Feshold and Elyse Edelman play dwarves, and Shammen McCue plays Gandalf the wizard. And all four play trolls, elves, wolves, and goblins depending on the demands of the story…you simply have to watch for a number of changes in costuming and devices and attitude or postures to keep up (as we see the changes from dwarven miner’s helmets to goblin steampunk goggles to straw wolven masks to elven ears and back). They certainly have adapted and thrown themselves into all of these roles and the transitions are clear and believable. It works far better that my description! (one costume note…there is a bit of amusement when the trolls, clad in bubble wrap, take to slapping each other, as the occasional familiar pop is heard when the bubble wrap gives up)

Matt Daniels (front), Jake Badovski, Shammen McCune, Angel Rivera, and Elyse Edelman in THE HOBBIT. First Stage, 2023. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

And of course there is the dragon…Smaug who is also represented by the adult members of the ensemble with flags and lighting and although this representation clearly brings out the sense of danger and foreboding that a dragon represents, it isn’t scary for young people!

Angel Rivera, Matt Daniels, Jake Badovski, and Shammen McCune in THE HOBBIT. First Stage, 2023. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

And then there is the hero of our adventure, Mr. Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit gentleman of comfort. As always, First Stage uses two youth casts in their presentations. So depending on which performance you attend you will either see Leo Madson or Angel Rivera in the title role. And as you can imagine this is a very challenging role. Of course Bilbo has to go from the disbelieving homebody to a reluctant adventurer to the action hero of the story and eventually to the wise and self-effacing hobbit on his return home! I saw Leo Madson in this role and he gave us every reason to believe in Bilbo Baggins the hero despite the characters own misgivings. I certainly look forward see him perform in future plays.

Angel Rivera and Matt Daniels in THE HOBBIT. First Stage, 2023. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

And there is one other role that must not be overlooked…despite this not being an acting role on stage. But Natalie Ford provided musical accompaniment and a number of related sound effects throughout the performance. Her guitar work in particular supports the various songs the ensemble sings during their treks across the land. And I suspect it was Natalie producing the ting that alerted the audience to Bilbo’s placing the ring on his finger…and later removing it again.

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+

Extra credit reading includes the program, found here!

And one other fun fact. At the end of each performance the actors hold a brief talk back where audience members can ask questions about the play or theater. So be ready to raise a hand if you have a question. A highlight on Saturday was a young questioner who wanted to know how old you had to be to start taking lessons at First Stage. And one of the actors volunteered that they had started as a five year old! AND the young questioner excitedly blurted out that he WAS FIVE! Some real fun!!!

Leo Madson

Angel Rivera

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!