By Mary Boyle
Judy Moody is an unusual girl: she has a cat named Mouse, a brother named Stink, and one of her hobbies is collecting scabs. Nonetheless, this eccentric third grader has been a favorite character in the world of children's books ever since author Megan McDonald and illustrator Peter H. Reynolds brought her to life eighteen years ago. Now, through a collaboration of seven children's theatres throughout the country, Judy and her family have been brought to life on the stage, and they're making their World Premiere here in Milwaukee at First Stage in Judy Moody & Stink: The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt.
Adapted to the stage by Allison Gregory, who has written several plays based on books for young children, the play is actually a combination of both the book McDonald wrote that shares the name of the play, as well as her first book in the series, Judy Moody. Beginning this past October, and going through February of 2019, the seven collaborating theatres will each take a turn unveiling their production; First Stage is 5th in the series. Perhaps nobody is more excited about it than the author, herself.
“I’m thrilled readers will get to see my books make the leap from page to stage,” McDonald, creator of the Judy Moody & Stink series, said. “Judy Moody has been to Antarctica, the Freedom Trail, Artichoke Island and college. She has gone around the world in eight (and a half) days. But never before has she been on stage!”
Driected by Jeff Frank, the Artistic Director of First Stage, the play features several adult actors who are very familiar to First Stage and Milwaukee theatre audiences: Todd Denning and Kay Allmand play Judy and Stink's parents, and Bo Johnson is delightful as Scurvy Sam. Justin Lee, who is this season's Artistic Fellow at First Stage, was recently in Antarctica, WI and The Cat in the Hat, and returns to the stage to play Mr. Todd, Judy's third grade teacher.
The youth performers are double cast:
In the Porcupine Cast, Eloise Field from Oconomowoc, who played Annie in Annie at Skylight Music Theatre this past season, plays Judy, and Thatcher Jacobs of Fox Point plays Stink. They are accompanied by Abby Schaufler (as Smart Girl) from Milwaukee, Liam Jeninga (as Tall Boy) from Delavan, and Benny Skwierawski (as Rocky) from Shorewood, along with Rachel Young from Greendale, Zephaniah Ponder from Brookfield, Zaire Key from Milwaukee, Evie Patrick from Whitefish Bay, Gianna Zampino from Milwaukee, Henry Dizard from Wauwatosa, Yan Luis Lebron from Milwaukee, Katie Buettner from Whitefish Bay, Lauren Edwards from Greenfield, and Bethany Martin from River Hills rounding out the ensemble.
In the Turtle Cast, Judy is played by Hope Stiverson of Nashota, while Stink is played by Abram Nelson of Whitefish Bay, along with Abby Hanna (as Smart Girl) from Franklin, Saul Ramirez (as Tall Boy) from Milwaukee, and Trygve Gundersen (as Rocky) from Madison. The rest of the ensemble is Hannah Fedor from New Berlin, Ezekiel (Zeke) Harris from Milwaukee, Elena Harms from Whitefish Bay, Lina Singh from Bayside, Sarai Santiago from Milwaukee, Ryan Vanselow from New Berlin, Oliver Kelley from Germantown, Phoebe Mann from Wauwatosa, Ellora Rangel from Germantown, and Sanaiah Hibbler from Oak Creek.
Being a fan of the books isn't necessary to enjoy this production; Judy, Stink, and their parents are fun and quirky, but still very relatable characters who exhibit typical sibling and parent-child behaviors that anyone can empathize with. Judy's entry into third grade, and her worries about new things and not fitting in, is something familiar to most children. Judy's frustration with her parents, teacher, and little brother sometimes makes her roar, but we all need to roar, sometimes. Most importantly, Judy's love for her family, and theirs for her, is what makes everything turn out right, and that's a message we can all stand to hear.
Judy Moody & Stink: The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt runs through June 3rd at the Todd Wehr Theater, located behind the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts at 929 N. Water Street in downtown Milwaukee. Tickets can be purchased at www.firststage.org, in person at the Marcus Center box office, 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.
Group Sales – Groups of 10 or more receive 15% off main floor, regular single ticket prices on most First Stage performances at the Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater. Call (414) 267-2964 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Pay What You Choose performance: Tuesday, May 8, 2018 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.
ASL Interpreted Performance: Sunday, June 3 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.
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 over 2,100 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 with autism (2013, 2015). First Stage is a member of TYA/USA, the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, the Wisconsin Alliance for Arts Education, Theatre Wisconsin, Milwaukee Arts Partners, and is a cornerstone member of the United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF).