By Mary Boyle
When my children were young, we heard the story about a little girl named Alex who had cancer. Alex spent most of her young life with doctors and in hospitals; she knew that they needed money to fund research to help find a cure, so she decided to help them. Because she was just very young, the way she decided to help them was by having a lemonade stand. While it may seem a futile gesture, word about Alex's lemonade stand grew fast. Alex made a lofty goal: to raise one million dollars for childhood cancer research. Her and her family hosted the first Lemonade Days, where people from across the country held lemonade stands to help the cause, and in 2004 they did it: they raised one million dollars. Shortly afterwards, Alex passed away. She was only 8 years old.
After my children heard that story, they wanted to hold a lemonade stand for Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation, so we held a stand of our own during Lemonade Days for two years in a row, and it was a great experience. When people hear Alex's story, they are inspired to help, so I was very excited to hear that author, actor, and Resident Playwright at First Stage, James DeVita, had written a play about Alex, which is making its World Premier here in Milwaukee. The play is called THE AMAZING LEMONADE GIRL, and it is as amazing and powerful as the little girl who inspired it.
DeVita, a core member at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, has been seen on many a Milwaukee stage, and so has his writing; in fact, his brilliant play, A MIDNIGHT CRY, was also a World Premier with First Stage in 2014. Both plays are a testament to what Youth Theatre can be: stirring, emotional and fearlessly tackling tough subjects, such as slavery and death. While this topic, on the outside, may seem too heavy for a young audience, I would argue that it does exactly what live theatre was designed to do: to create empathy; to help guide audiences through these tough emotions by allowing them to experience those emotions through the characters on the stage. Please don't think that you need to have a child with cancer, to know a child with cancer, or to have any close contact with cancer to benefit from seeing this play; while people in those situations will very likely find this play to be therapeutic, this is a play for everyone.
Directed by Molly Rhode, THE AMAZING LEMONADE GIRL features an adult cast of three of Milwaukee's favorites, including Rick Pendzich and Karen Estrada, who were just recently in The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors with First Stage, and James Carrington, who families may remember as Gerald the Elephant from Elephant & Piggie's "We Are In A Play!" with First Stage First Steps. The role of Alex is double cast and played by Pietja Dusek in the Blue Cast and Maia Scherman, of Grafton, in the Purple Cast. There are two other young performers in each cast, including Andrew Kindler and Nala Patel, who is from Mequon, in the Blue Cast and Sanaiah Hibbler and Liam Jeninga in the Purple Cast.
I cannot lie: you are going to want to bring tissues with you for this one. This play will break your heart, but you must let it, because we think we already know the story of Alexandra Flynn Scott and we think it's all bad, but that isn't true. Near the beginning of the play, the actor who plays Alex explains that everyone has a story and all stories have the good and the bad; telling all the good or all the bad doesn't do the story justice. There is a lot of bad in the beginning of Alex's story, but her story didn't end when she left this place – her story is still being told: with every play, with every lemonade stand, with every child who has been helped by the research that ALSF has funded. The story just keeps getting better. Best of all, anyone can be a part of it.
THE AMAZING LEMONADE GIRL runs through May 15th at Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater, located at 929 N. Water Street in Milwaukee. Tickets start at $21 and may be purchased at firststage.org or through the Marcus Center Box Office, in person at 929 N. Water Street in downtown Milwaukee, or by phone at (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.
Special events for THE AMAZING LEMONADE GIRL
Pay What You Choose Performance: Friday, April 29, 2022 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. firststage.org/events-tickets/tickets-offers/pay-what-you-choose/
ASL Interpreted Performance: Sunday, May 15, 2022 at 4:00 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. firststage.org/plan-your-visit/accessibility/sign-language-interpreted-performances/
Sensory Friendly Performance: Saturday, April 30, 2022 at 4 p.m.
A Sensory Friendly Performance with accommodations for families with children on the autism spectrum will take place on Saturday, April 30 at 4 p.m. Sensory accommodations include lower sound, house lights up, a quiet area staffed by an educator experienced with the care of students on the autism spectrum and other developmental differences, and more. Tickets for Sensory Friendly Performances are $10. Order by phone at (414) 267-2961, weekdays 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. to reserve tickets. To learn more visit: firststage.org/plan-your-visit/sensory-friendly-performances/.
About First Stage
First Stage is one of the nation’s leading theaters for young people and families. First Stage touches hearts, engages minds and transforms lives by creating extraordinary theater experiences through professional theater productions that inspire, enlighten and entertain. Its Theater Academy, the nation’s largest high-impact theater training program for young people, fosters life skills through stage skills and serves nearly 2,000 students each year. As Wisconsin’s leader in arts-integrated education in schools, First Stage’s dynamic Theater in Education programs promote literacy, character building and experiential learning throughout the curriculum, serving over 20,000 students each year. First Stage was selected to participate in the Partners in Education program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (2012) and was the recipient of the Milwaukee Business Journal’s Eureka Award, recognizing creativity and innovation in business, education and the arts for its Next Steps program for students on the autism spectrum (2013, 2015). First Stage is a member of TYA/USA, the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, the Wisconsin Alliance for Arts Education, Milwaukee Arts Partners and is a cornerstone member of the United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF). firststage.org