By Mary Boyle
I am an enormous fan of Children's Literature, and one of my very favorite storytellers is Kate DiCamillo, the award-winning author of Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tale of Despereaux (both of which were made into films), among many others. Although it is not one of her best-known books, my very favorite novel by DiCamillo is The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, so I was thrilled to see what First Stage would do with it.
What I love most about DiCamillo's writing is that she doesn't talk down to children, and she doesn't try to soften or sugarcoat the hardness and bitterness of life, which makes her fairy tales relatable and appealing to all ages. The story is perhaps what would happen if you combined The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho; a story of love, but also a story in which the main character must travel far and go through trials and tribulations so that, when he returns home again, he realizes everything he needed was right there, but he wouldn't have ever found it without the lessons he learned on his journey.
Such is the case with Edward, who is an expensive and well-made China rabbit. Being made of China, Edward can't talk, but he has his thoughts, which are eloquently expressed by the amazing Matt Daniels, who was recently seen at First Stage as Snoopy in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Edward was a custom-made gift for a little girl named Abilene Tulane (Young Performers, Marianna Malinkine/Bryn Dresselhuys) from her grandmother, Pellegrina (Karen Estrada). Abilene loves Edward very much but, alas, Edward, who is rather full of himself, is more concerned about how he looks and is handled than how much he is loved, until he is lost. Edward's unintended journey will take him through Depression-Era America, where he will learn some very important lessons about what it means to love, and to be loved.
Fans of the book will be relieved to know that the stage adaptation by Dwayne Hartford is quite true to the story, but you needn't have read the book to appreciate this performance. Only four adult actors (Brian Keys, Matt Daniels, Karen Estrada, and Kat Wodtke) and two young performers (Double Cast: Kamani Graham with Marianna Malinkine and Bradley Nowacek with Bryn Dresselhuys) play all of the characters from the story, and each of them also contributes to the music, which is played live onstage. Directed by John Maclay, with Music Direction by Jeff Schaetzke, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is an enchanting, heart-wrenching, beautiful voyage, and you will be all the better for taking the trip.
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane runs through February 11th at the Todd Wehr Theater, located at 929 N. Water Street in downtown Milwaukee. Tickets may be purchased at www.firststage.org 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.
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).