BWW Review: First Stage GOOSEBUMPS THE MUSICAL World Premieres TYA Chills and Thrills
In a world premiere commissioned by First Stage and Oregon Children's Theatre, R.L. Stein's famous "Goosebumps" series comes to stage life in Milwaukee at the Todd Wehr Theater. First Stage Associate Artistic Director John Maclay and the award winning Danny Abosch wrote the original book, lyrics and music to Goosebumps The Musical: Phantom of the Auditorium from one of more than his 62 books Stein wrote between 1992-1997. Stein's youthful horror fiction, often believed to be the second best selling children's series of all time, was created as he says so "Children could use their own wit and imagination to escape the scary circumstances."
In this production, First Stage spooks their audiences with a few chills and thrills, written in the title lyrics, through ten original songs, directed and choreographed by Niffer Clarke. Clarke finds the personal warmth in a cast which includes veteran actors Carrie Hitchcock playing the determined teacher, Ms. Walker, and Chris Klopatek disguised as the night janitor, together with two alternating age appropriate casts named the Chills or Thrills.
The accomplished Chantae Miler and Jake Koch of the "Chills" cast reimagine the two main characters, Brooke and Zeke, students who vie for the starring roles Esmeralda and the masked man in the school musical titled "The Phantom." While the story varies from the iconic "Phantom of the Opera," Stein's plot twists into a more accessible story and adds another student, Tina, played by a vivacious Mallorey Wallace. Tina has been regulated to a stage technician instead of a leading lady, and becomes unhappy, especially singing "Understudy Buddy," while testing the patience of Brian, a newcomer to the school played by Cole Winston. Brian becomes only one mysterious element in the school's upcoming "Phantom" production. Who is the true phantom haunting the school and keeps telling the students to stay away from his "home sweet home?"
With scenes from the musical often swirling with smoke that eventually leads to secret passages, the vintage stage designed by Martin McClendon set the perfect backdrop for the scary play within a play. In the ghost haunted school, the talented young actors ensemble dances and sings to songs titled "The Legend," "Watch Your Step." and "Whodunit?" while deciding if Ms. Walker will produce the play after the phantom appears several times. Generations ago a student disappeared during rehearsals for this exact same play and the production needed to be canceled. In 90 minutes with an intermission, the play uncovers two mysteries and ends with a twist, an unexpected finale...an delightful invitation to fill a soul with a little fright.
As the first of several world premieres in First Stage's 30th anniversary season, the company sends goosebumps through audiences on edge sitting in their seats with an exciting and entertaining production tinged with humor. Phantom of the Auditorium continues the company's tradition of transforming beloved children's literature to First Stage, first rate Theater for Young Audiences- a real treasure besides theatergoers hoping for a few chills and thrills to carry them through the fall season.
First Stage presents the World Premiere Goosebumps the Musical in the Todd Wehr Theater at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts through November 13. For further information, performance schedule or tickets, please call:414.273.7206 or www.firststage.org.