Skip to main content Skip to footer site map
Review: CARMELA FULL OF WISHES Charms Little Ones at First Stage

Review: CARMELA FULL OF WISHES Charms Little Ones at First Stage

A Colorful Play for Children 3+

Now playing at Milwaukee's First Stage is Carmela Full of Wishes, a play based on the picture book by Matt de la Peña and adapted by Alvaro Saar Rios. Directed by Michelle Lopez-Rios, it's a show geared toward ages 3+, which was particularly exciting for me. My young niece is just shy of three years old, but I decided to take my chances and make Carmela her first-ever theater experience. Spoiler: she did great, but more on that later.

Carmela Full of Wishes is the story of a simple day in the life of our protagonist, Carmela. But the day in question is actually Carmela's 7th birthday! And her birthday wish has already come true: she's finally old enough to join her big brother as he runs the family errands in their neighborhood. En route to visiting the laundromat, bodega, key shop, and more, Carmela finds a lone dandelion sprouting from the sidewalk. Her brother tells her to make a wish before blowing the fluff away. During the entirety of their little journey, Carmela imagines the different things she might wish for. Which will she ultimately choose?

Upon entering the theater, we're greeted with colorful, energetic set design by Regina Garcia. Striking primary colors swirl from the stage floor to the walls with a telephone wire suspended above, from which dangle a pair of bright red Converse sneakers. It was fun to point out the various points of interest in the set and see what my niece also spotted. She liked the painted doors best.

There are two young casts for Carmela Full of Wishes: the Nieves Cast and the Paletas Cast. We enjoyed the Paletas Cast this past Saturday afternoon. Making her First Stage debut is sixth grader Isabella Dixon-Ruiz as Carmela. She charms from the get-go and, as our primary narrator, confidently keeps things running smoothly -- from her lines to her scooter skills.

Carmela's costume, designed by Jazmin Aurora Medina, is particularly eye-catching: overalls, but embellished with stenciled pink and purple butterflies and shiny flared bell bottoms that even my niece called out in delight. with her hair done up in a pair of space buns, her whole look completes Carmela's wishful, sunshiny personality.

The other lead youth performer in this play is Carmela's Big Brother, played in the Paletas cast by 15 year-old Steven Cuevas Ruiz, who is also making his first stage debut. I particularly like his artist bio in the online show program: "This is my first show here, and I have loved every second of it. It is hard work, but it pays off in the long run." Cheers to Ruiz -- his hard work is indeed paying off!

My favorite Big Brother moment from Ruiz is during Carmela's dream sequence: she imagines Big Brother is actually over-the-top nice to her, rather than always giving her a hard time. It's a cute scene that snagged lots of laughs.

In the adult cast, we see First Stage favorites Karen Estrada as Mami and Parker Muñoz as Papi. Estrada is a particular delight, not only playing Mami with larger-than-life, huggable warmth, but a handful of other small parts like an old woman and the bodega owner who has misplaced her cat. Each of these small moments really let Estrada's natural good humor shine. Also note: the fluffy cat puppet, designed by Danielle Jordan, is a total crowd pleaser. As for Muñoz, he gives us a heartfelt Papi in a touching dream-sequence song and dance with his little Carmela.

Other show highlights come from props and staging choices. From a field of orange flowers dancing around Carmela to conversations with her fuzzy dandelion to a flurry of bubbles representing hundreds wishes, these moments of stage magic are just that: magical.

And the seemingly ordinary -- laundry day, grocery shopping -- speak to young kids in a surprisingly special way. These are tasks any child can relate to and even get excited to participate in, once old enough. At least, I know my little niece sees the allure in things like washing machines, just like Carmela. In short, this story nicely blurs big imagination and the simple realities of daily life in a way that's sure to resonate with lots of children.

On to the crux: How did a child of almost-three do at Carmela Full of Wishes? She sat nicely on my lap, mostly observing quietly, perking up at times, and saying "meow!" aloud when she first saw the cat puppet. The show itself is about an hour long with one intermission -- the perfect pacing. At the end, I asked if she had fun, and I got back a big grin and giggle in response. A successful first theater outing? I'd say so. All thanks to First Stage and Carmela Full of Wishes.



Next Narrative Monologue Competition Milwaukee Regionals to Take Place This Month at Milwa Photo
Milwaukee Rep will host the second annual Next Narrative Monologue Competition a new, national program for high school students featuring the work of contemporary Black playwrights created by Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company. 

Skylight Music Theatre Announces Summer Education Programs for Young Theatre Artists Photo
Skylight Music Theatre has announced its 2023 summer education programming for youth in 4th-12th grades interested in performance, technical theatre, and creative writing.

August Wilsons SEVEN GUITARS to Open at Milwaukee Repertory Theater in March Photo
Milwaukee Repertory Theater will present August Wilson’s Seven Guitars, March 7 – April 2, 2023, in the Quadracci Powerhouse.

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Comes to Marcus Performing Arts Center Photo
The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO) with Wynton Marsalis will be presenting Middle East Meditations with internationally-renowned Iraqi oud musician, Naseer Shamma, one night only at the Marcus Performing Arts Center. Part of the 2022/23 MPAC Presents: Jazz Series, the performance will take place February 2 at 7:30pm.


From This Author - Kelsey Lawler

  Kelsey Lawler is a copywriter by day and zealot for local theater by night. She earned her BA in Writing Intensive English from Marquette University in 2009, and has been working as an edito... (read more about this author)


Review: CARMELA FULL OF WISHES Charms Little Ones at First StageReview: CARMELA FULL OF WISHES Charms Little Ones at First Stage
January 23, 2023

Many show highlights come from props and staging choices. From a field of orange flowers dancing around Carmela to conversations with her fuzzy dandelion to a flurry of bubbles representing hundreds wishes, these moments of stage magic are just that: magical.

Review: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is a 'Merry War' from Start to Finish at the MILWAUKEE REPReview: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is a 'Merry War' from Start to Finish at the MILWAUKEE REP
January 17, 2023

Love and laughter are just what a Wisconsin winter needs, and just what the Milwaukee Rep is serving. They have something insanely special with this updated adaptation of a Shakespearean rom-com classic. For me, this is a Rep season favorite that will be tough to top. 

Review: MY FAIR LADY Charms Fans at the MARCUS CENTERReview: MY FAIR LADY Charms Fans at the MARCUS CENTER
January 4, 2023

What did our critic think of MY FAIR LADY at MARCUS CENTER? There's a loverly bit of old-school musical theater at Milwaukee's Marcus Center this week. My Fair Lady returns, and fans of the original show and film starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison will no doubt adore this production. There's something comforting about a classic Broadway show delivering on its tried and true promises. For My Fair Lady, it's strong vocals, captivating characters, sumptuous costumes, richly-designed sets, a toe-tapper here, a chuckle there. All are present in this touring Lincoln Center Theater Production, directed by Bartlett Sher.

Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL Remains a Gift to be Treasured at the MILWAUKEE REPReview: A CHRISTMAS CAROL Remains a Gift to be Treasured at the MILWAUKEE REP
December 5, 2022

What did our critic think of A CHRISTMAS CAROL at MILWAUKEE REPERTORY THEATER? For almost 50 years, the Milwaukee Rep's A Christmas Carol has been a beloved holiday tradition in Milwaukee. Freshly adapted by Rep Artistic Director Mark Clements in 2016, the eye-popping spectacle delivers holiday magic and festive feelings to melt even the iciest of hearts. But there's a repetitive risk in tradition -- the inherent potential of sameness and boredom with doing the same thing year after year. Can a show, even one as impressive as A Christmas Carol, keep the flame alive?

Review: LES MISERABLES Stuns Once More at the Marcus CenterReview: LES MISERABLES Stuns Once More at the Marcus Center
December 1, 2022

Seen by 130 million people in 53 countries and 22 languages, 'Les Miserables' stands the test of time and jukebox musical trends. Magnificent performances, dazzling sets and staging, soaring orchestrations -- these make the show timeless, breathtaking, and powerful as ever.