It’s not always the case that a play lives up to either its title or its billing, but First Stage, as you might expect, does just that with "Goosebumps," which opened over the weekend.
The full title of the play is "Goosebumps: Phantom of the Auditorium: The Musical," based on a book by R. L. Stine, who wrote a series of novels for children that have sold over 30 million copies worldwide.
The musical was yet another world premiere for First Stage and was written by John Maclay, who wrote the book, and Danny Abosch, who wrote the music. The two combined to write some of the best and most interesting lyrics I’ve heard in a long time.
Under the stunning direction and choreography of Niffer Clarke, the story is a play within a play.
A high school drama class is going to stage a play under the thoughtful and hopeful direction of Mrs. Walker (a marvelously disguised Carrie Hitchcock). The story of the play is about a phantom who prowls the halls of the school auditorium. There are eight students (in the Chill cast which I saw Saturday) who have various roles in the production, headlined by Brooke Rodgers (Chantae Miller) and Zeke Matthews (Jake Koch) who is really the phantom.
Or so they would have us believe.
The stage is set with the opening number with all the actors (except one) on the stage.
"You feel a flash of fear,
You think is someone here?
You tell yourself you know that you’re alone.
But then you feel a sudden jolt, your skin starts to revolt,
Your fear beings to grow and then before you even know it, you’ve got
You’re covered head to toe in Goosebumps!"
Before we get too far along here, I want to mention Chris Klopatek, the other adult actor in the play and one of my favorites in this city. I can’t reveal anything about him or his character or what role he plays in the events of the day. But he is wonderful as usual.
The thing that makes this whole effort so satisfying is that it is truly a mystery with step laid upon step, clear enough for children and intense enough for adults. First Stage is somehow, every single time, to be a children’s theater that stages performances that capture the attention and imagination of entire families. It’s a rare and precious gift they give each time to the city.
All of the young people in the cast that I saw were enthusiastic and special entertainers.
Clarke, another one of my favorites, has directed a show that flows with just the right pace – frantic here, tender and relaxed there. She takes us on a roller coaster of a ride right along with the moments in the story.
Maclay, who is the associate artistic director and artistic director of the Young Company at First Stage, has adapted a story for the stage that's compelling and that weaves a tapestry of mystery with a healthy and realistic dose of kids being, well, kids. This work is another example of how creative and capable First Stage is.
And the relationship with Abosch, whom Maclay calls "a genius" is one that will hopefully spawn more and more works at First Stage.
Note should also be taken of Miller, who plays the lead in the stage play. She is a sophomore at Lake County Lutheran School and is a member of the Milwaukee Rep’s Professional Training Institute. She has a magnetic quality on the stage and is an actor I hope to see much more of in the near future.
Goosebumps runs through Nov. 13.
Production Credits: Director and Choreographer, Niffer Clarke; Composer and Music Director, Danny Abosch, Scenic Designer, Martin McClendon; Lighting Designer, Nick Belley; Costume Designer, Misti Bradford; Sound Designer, Matt Whitmore; Stage Manager, Melissa L. Wanke; Calling Stage Manager, Carrie Taylor; Assistant Stage Manager, Cassidy Williams.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
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