Friday, August 29, 2014

Living the Moment: Teen Intensive

The Advance Performance Intensive for teens was terrific! Such a talented crew and such varied work they presented, scenes from "Asleep on the Wind" by Ellen Byron, "Blithe Spirit" by Noel Coward,  "The Women of Lockerbie" by Deborah Brevoort, "Lovers" by Brian Friel, and "The Case of the Crushed Petunias" by Tennessee Williams.

Musical Intensive: Helen on 86th Street

The 2-week Musical Intensive class performed "Helen on 86th St" on Friday August 15 AND playwright Nicole Kempskie and composer Robby Stamper came to see the show!

Circus Spendida at WFT

Our summer students (7-9 yrs. old) have prepared the mini-musical, CIRCUS SPLENDIDA.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Background for Helen on 86th St. THE TROJAN WAR

The ancient Greek story of the war between Greece and Troy is an epic of love, revenge, sorrow and bloodshed. But this quick overview will help in the background of WFT Musical Performance Intensive, "Helen on 86th St."

When the goddess of Discord made trouble by throwing a golden apple labeled 'to the fairest' into the midst of a party of gods and goddesses, three goddesses all rushed to claim it.  Paris, a prince of Troy, is asked to settle the argument: just who is the fairest?  Each goddess tempted him with a bribe.  The first, Hera, offered him a wide empire.  The second, Athena, offered him glory in war.  Lastly, Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, offered him the most beautiful woman in the world. This last offer he could not resist. And who is this beauty? Helen.

The most beautiful woman in the world, Helen, was married to king, Menelaos.  Since Aphrodite had promised Helen to Paris, she made Paris journey to Greece and made sure he was irresistible to Helen.  So Helen ran away with Paris to Troy, leaving her husband behind.  Not such a good move.
To reclaim his wife, Menelaos took his troops to Troy, led by his brother Agamemnon, and the greatest warrior in all of Greece, Achilles.  Troy fought back and after nine years the war waged on.  Agamemnon and Achilles fought (over another woman) and Achilles was determined to punish Agamemnon, so he refused to fight.  Without Achilles things went badly for the Greeks.  Achilles' best friend Patroklos persuaded Achilles to let him lead the troops himself and in Achilles armor, Patroklos fought brilliantly but was killed by Hector, the Trojan champion, and one of Paris's brothers.
Achilles was full of sorrow and rage. Now he wanted to rejoin the battle to avenge his friend's death, but he had no armor. He begged his mother, the sea-goddess Thetis, to get him some new armor made by the smith god.  Equipped with new armor, Achilles raged through the battle looking for Hector.  Finally the two great warriors met. Each was supported by a god.  As Achilles rushed forward, his goddess Athena stood behind him. As Hector fell, the god Apollo was forced to leave him.
Even though he had killed Hector, Achilles was not yet fated to die. He still had time to fight the Amazons, fierce female warriors who were on the side of the Trojans.  The Amazons fought hard and killed many Greeks, but when their brave queen, Penthesilea, came face to face with Achilles, she had met her match.
Paris was desperate to avenge his brother's murder.  He managed to fire an arrow into the one area of weakness that Achilles had - in the heel of his foot.  Achilles was killed just as his mother had foreseen.  However, Paris himself died in battle soon after.
The war had now gone on for ten years.  To win, the Greeks knew they had to somehow get their troops inside the city of Troy.  They came up with a clever plan.  They made a huge hollow wooden horse, filled it with their best warriors and left it outside the city, then they pretended to sail away. Thinking it would bring them luck, the Trojans brought the horse inside.  After nightfall, the Greeks hidden in the horse sneaked out and opened the gates to the rest of the army.

When the Greeks got inside the city, they began killing people wildly.  To make sure that none of Hector's family lived to avenge his death, they even killed his old father Priam, the king of Troy, and his baby son Astyanax.
Menelaos found Helen.  He drew his sword to kill her because of all the trouble she had caused, but the goddess Aphrodite protected her, and when Menelaos looked at Helen, he was so overwhelmed with her beauty that his sword fell to the ground. And so the war ended.


Drama and Teen Education

Why pre-college teens should study drama.

The arts, including drama, are not just another area of study for teenagers; the arts can change the lens through which teaching and learning happen across the academic curriculum. A drama-and-movement-based approach, especially when combined with multiple intelligences theory and practice (all of us are smart in many different ways), enhances skills that are highly prized in the workplace: critical thinking; collaboration; improvisation; empathy; and outside-the-box problem-solving. Learning public presentation skills, for example, can enable teens to shine in college interviews – an oral version of their college essays. The business community seeks college graduates who can work creatively and productively in small groups. Training in improvisation allows for calm, clear, creative thought and action under pressure. Drama education develops all of a student's intelligences and heightens their awareness of themselves, others, and the world around them. And that's a good preparation for college and beyond!

Why study drama and movement at Wheelock Family Theatre?

You'll receive individualized attention to help you build on your strengths and give you the confidence and self-awareness you need to face your challenges. WFT's professional teaching artists include Boston's finest actors and directors. Our small class size, with a 10:1 adult/student ratio or lower, ensures that we can provide you with high quality, customized training in all aspects of performance. Teachers who have come to know you will help you select specific classes to continue developing your skills and honing your craft. Equally as important, WFT is truly a diverse family that celebrates differences and warmly welcomes all. It's a place where you will make friends and become part of a supportive community, both at WFT and in Boston's theatre community. At Wheelock, you are challenged to take your work seriously, but not yourselves.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

2014 - 2015 Season!

Announcing Wheelock Family Theatre’s 2014-2015 Season

of Professional, Affordable Theatre for Every Generation



October 17 – November 16, 2014

A new musical written and directed by Andrew Barbato

Based on the book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll

Musical Director: Robert L. Rucinski. Composer: Lesley DeSantis. Orchestration: Garrett Taylor. Choreographer: Carla Martinez. Scenic design: Matthew T. Lazure. Costume design: Lisa Simpson. Props Design: Marjorie Lusignan. Sound design: Roger Moore.


This new adaptation sends us on a fantastical coming of age adventure. Alice, relying on her wit and empathy, must negotiate the seemingly arbitrary rules of polite society; the tea parties, the poetry recitals, the croquet matches, and the important dates with royalty. In this distorted adult world of Wonderland, will Alice retain her dreams when pressured by the capricious nature of conformity?




January 30 – February 22, 2015

Written by Steven Bogart and Wendy Lement

Directed by Steven Bogart

Based on the book “The Adventures of Pinocchio” by Carlo Colladi

Musical director/Composer: Mary Bichner. Choreographer: Patricia Manalo Bochnak. Scenic design: Cristina Todesco. Lighting Design: David Wilson. Costume design: Miranda Hoffman. Sound design: Roger Moore. Props & Puppet design: Marjorie Lusignan. Puppet Coach: Roxanna Myhrum.* .  

An original adaption, influenced by Japanese traditions of Kabuki, Noh, and Bunraku puppetry, Pinocchio will surprise and delight audiences of all ages. Mystical creatures, live musicians, and gymnastic choreography make the magical transformation of an animated puppet to a real boy, a dynamic and deeply moving experience. Despite being lured away from his loving home by promises of instant fame, fast money, and a life of fun and leisure, the impetuous Pinocchio must learn what is truly important in life.



March 13 – 22, 2015

Directed by Wendy Lement and Kristin Johnson.

Written by Suzan L. Zeder – PART TWO OF THE WARE TRILOGY, produced with Emerson Stage (Mother Hicks) and Central Square Theatre (The Edge of Peace)

Composer: Peter Stewart. Choreographer: Patricia Manalo Bochnak. Scenic design: Janie Howland. Lighting design: Annie Weigand. Costume design: Lisa Simpson. Props design: Marjorie Lusignan. Sound design: Roger Moore.


This bilingual play—performed in American Sign Language and spoken English—is the second play in Zeder’s critically acclaimed Ware Trilogy; which will be produced in its entirety in collaboration with Emerson Stage and Central Square Theatre.  The Taste of Sunrise takes place in the mind and memory of Tuc, who journeys through his childhood from the fever dream that took his hearing, to the language of nature that he shares with his father, to the deaf school where his mind explodes with the discovery of sign language. Tuc meets the mysterious Nell Hicks, who heals with herbs and singing spells; Roscoe, who gives Tuc his name-sign and cultural identity; and Maizie, a wild child of deaf parents with a head full of movie palace dreams. After the death of his father, Tuc navigates the perilous path of love, loss, and language to weave a family out of wishes. An ensemble of Deaf and hearing directors, designers, and actors explore the cultural complexities of deafness with humor and compassion.



April 17 – May 24, 2015

Directed by Shelley Bolman

Book and Lyrics by David Lindsay Abaire. Music by Jeanine Tesori. Based on the Dreamworks film “Shrek”.

Musical director: Matthew Stern. Choreographer: Patricia Manalo Bochnak. Scenic design: Matthew T. Lazure. Costume design: Charles G. Baldwin & Lisa Simpson. Props & Puppet Design: Marjorie Lusignan. Puppet Coach: Roxanna Myhru in collaboration with Puppet Showplace Theatre. Sound design: Roger Moore.


The 2008 Broadway smash about a horrible ogre, a feisty princess and a garrulous donkey,  Shrek the Musical simultaneously subverts and fulfills fairy-tale expectations. With wit and a mischievous humor, we follow our misanthropic, green hero as he learns about the power of friendship and the magical nature of love; all while thwarting a dastardly villain. Based on the irreverent book by William Steig and the award-winning animated film by DreamWorks, this singing, dancing extravaganza explores the relative nature of beauty, the beguiling myth of “happily-ever-after”, and the importance of accepting yourself for who you really are.


Wheelock Family Theatre is a professional, non-profit theatre associated with Actor’s Equity, the union of professional actors and stage managers. Located on the campus of Wheelock College, Wheelock Family Theatre seeks to improve the lives of children and families through the shared experience of live theatre.

Friday, April 18, 2014

"Wheelock’s ‘Mountain’ a vivid adaptation" -states the Boston Globe!

The Boston Globe: Friday April 18

Wheelock’s ‘Mountain’ a vivid adaptation

By Terry Byrne

Grace Lin’s captivating “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon” is a potent blend of fantasy, Chinese folklore, and heroic adventure. On the Wheelock Family Theatre stage, the book’s theatrical adaptation combines vivid imagery with simple storytelling for an enchanting journey from Fruitless Mountain to the village of Bright Moonlight and back again.

Lin’s chapter book, which is geared to readers ages 8 to 12, weaves multiple traditional Chinese themes and characters into the main story line, which focuses on young Minli (Caroline Workman) and her quest to improve her family’s fortune. While managing all of the stories might create staging challenges, director Jane Staab and her production team make some very low-tech choices that have a powerful dramatic impact.

Choreographer Laurel Conrad and costume designer Melissa Miller collaborate on particularly winning costumes and movement that suggest the wind and rain and a silvery and graceful Old Man of the Moon, not to mention a greedy pack of monkeys.

Adapter Jeannine Coulombe uses selective narration to link the different stories, and Staab takes advantage of the opportunity to position various members of her ensemble in different areas of the stage to deliver key transitions and bits of exposition. The effect is one of constant movement, making it easy for the audience to follow Minli from her desperately poor home to the sky where the Jade Dragon and her children control the rain.

At the heart of “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon” is the power of storytelling. The play opens with children gathering around a storyteller, asking for the chance to play different roles in the tales. The storyteller soon morphs into Minli’s father, Ba (Michael Tow), whose tales feed Minli’s imagination even when there’s little rice to feed the family.

Minli’s Ma (Grace Napier) scoffs at Ba’s impractical stories and bemoans the family’s lack of money, inspiring Minli to spend one of the only two coins she has on a goldfish the seller promises will bring good fortune.

Following the fish’s instructions, Minli heads out on a quest to find the Old Man of the Moon who knows the secret of good fortune and ties everyone’s destiny together with string. Along the way, Minli meets a variety of characters, including an orphan boy (Sebastian Wood), a vindictive Magistrate Tiger (Bill Mootos), and most importantly, a flightless dragon (Stewart Evan Smith) who becomes Minli’s ally and best friend.

While the collection of folk tales spans time and space, and the parade of characters can feel a bit confusing at times, especially for the younger audience members, Workman and Smith’s chemistry helps to keep the audience focused. As the flightless dragon, Smith is endlessly enthusiastic, giggling with delight at whatever he and Minli encounter, and the friendship between the young girl and the dragon unfolds naturally and believably.

Matthew T. Lazure’s tiered moonlit set and Dewey Dellay’s atmospheric music help make the many transitions easy to follow.

While the book focused primarily on Minli’s quest, the stage adaptation opens up to the many people whose lives Minli touches. “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon” celebrates the importance of family, from Ma and Ba to the larger communities Minli encounters.

Terry Byrne can be reached at

Caroline Workman as Minli and Stewart Evan Smith as the flightless dragon in “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon” at Wheelock Family Theatre.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon in the Boston Globe

In ‘Mountain,’ a girl’s quest, and an author’s

By Joel Brown  Globe Correspondent   April 10, 2014


As a girl in upstate New York, Grace Lin rejected her Chinese heritage.

“There were no other Asian or minority families that lived in the area,” says Lin, whose parents emigrated from Taiwan. “I kind of decided early on that I was just going to pretend that I wasn’t Chinese. I was going to pretend that I was Caucasian, like everybody was in my class. I did such a good job of that that I really did forget most of the time that I was Chinese. I used to walk down the street and see my reflection in a store window and be like, ‘Oh, there’s a Chinese girl. Wait, that’s me.’ 

Growing up in Cambridge years later, Caroline Workman embraced her own mother’s Chinese heritage. And one of her favorite books was “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon,” a novel for young readers based on Chinese folk tales, written and illustrated . . . by Grace Lin.

It all comes full circle beginning Friday, when Workman, 14, stars in a stage adaptation of “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon” at Wheelock Family Theatre, a New England premiere that runs through May 11.

“I loved the story, and I was so excited to see what it would look like onstage, whether I was in it or not,” says Workman.

Lin will spend much of this weekend at Wheelock, where she will receive the Wheel Award for commitment to children and families and changing lives through art. “It’s a really neat thing,” says Lin, who counts 15 books in print that she both wrote and illustrated, “because you spend so much time alone in your studio or your writing room, and you kind of put your work out into the universe and you don’t really know if it goes anywhere.

“And then to know there’s a whole production being made of something that came from nothing, that just came from your imagination, is a really cool feeling,” says Lin, who moved from Somerville to Northampton last year.

The book and play tell the story of a girl named Minli (played by Workman) who, inspired by her father’s folk tales, sets off on an adventure-filled quest to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how she can change her family’s fortunes.

“What she learns on the journey is: The good fortune we seek to begin with isn’t the good fortune we find, but we do find what really matters,” says director Jane Staab.

“I love that Minli is so kind and so smart,” says Workman. “She puts the puzzle pieces together, and she thinks of what to do to go over an obstacle. She’s so quick-witted.”

Lin says she used to get angry when her parents tried to teach her about Chinese culture “because I felt like all they were trying to do was remind me how different I was from my classmates.” But eventually she changed her mind, and “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon” in part resulted from one of her mother’s early efforts to connect her to her roots.

“One day she went out and got about six to 12 Chinese fairy tale books that had been translated to English, and she put them on the bookshelf in the living room and just left them there. She knew if she gave them to me I’d get mad.

“She was really smart. I did end up reading every single one of them,” Lin says. “But I remember feeling like these books weren’t that great. The translation was kind of rough, there wasn’t a lot of detail, everything was kind of flat, and the illustrations were really kind of crude. I think it kind of reinforced the idea that my Asian heritage was kind of inferior to these Western things, like ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘Cinderella.’ 

Many years later, she regretted not knowing more about her heritage and spent a lot of time trying to recapture what she had missed, including travels to China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. “All of a sudden those fairy tales came back to me. I’d see them in the landscape around me.”

She started making up her own stories about them, and “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon,” published in 2009, was the end result. Workman and her mother attended Lin book signings, and a print of Lin’s art hangs in Workman’s room.

“Where the Mountain Meets the Moon” will be Staab’s last show at Wheelock, at least for a while. After 33 years at the theater, as cofounder, casting director, business manager and artistic director, she is retiring in June. Going forward, the theater will be run by producer Wendy Lement and assistant producer Shelley Bolman, who have been in their jobs since Staab’s cofounder Susan Kosoff retired in 2012.

“There’s no particular reason, it’s just I turned 70, you know?” says Staab. “But I don’t believe I’m done with the creative side of my life. I sure hope not.”

Workman is a busy young actor and dancer whose resume includes a stint in “Billy Elliot” on Broadway. She says she’s excited to work once again with Staab, who also acted in or directed the other three shows she’s been in at Wheelock.

“Caroline is a special talent. We’ve seen her grow up in this theater,” Staab says. “I think we’ve brought her and her acting to a place she can be thrilled with.”

To this day, Lin says, she doesn’t speak Chinese well and cannot write it. Workman, though, is excited for next fall when she’ll be a freshman at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, where one of her classes will be Mandarin Chinese.

Joel Brown can be reached at

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon rehearsal photos

Pictured: Caroline Workman plays Minli, Stewart Evan Smith is the Dragon, Chip Phillips is the Old Man of the Moon. Bottom photo: Director Jane Staab and choreographer Laurel Conrad work the performers through their paces.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Wheelock’s ‘Hairspray’ has its own twists and shouts - by Sheila Barth

Spoiler alert: Wheelock Family Theatre’s rollicking production of multi-ward winning, two-act “Hairspray, The Broadway Musical,” is more than a feel-good, happy-go-lucky rock ‘n’ roll fest. Like the original production, which ran almost seven years on Broadway, this version tackles a few heavier issues, but with a subtle approach.

The musical is a fabulous romp back to 1962, in slow-to-integrate Baltimore, Md., when rock ‘n’ roll, bouffant hairdos, TV dance parties, sock hops, and – unfortunately – racism and societal put-downs ruled. The musical also tackles conformity, bullying, and a rapidly-changing society, as rock ‘n’ roll skyrocketed off the charts, and its “race,” “colored,” or “n…..” music horrified conservative white parents.

Any teen who didn’t look, dress, and sound like each other, especially those who were heavyset, plain-looking, geeky, African-American, individualistic, gay, and God-knows-what else, were jeered at and shunned.  “Hairspray” touts the idea that being different can be a good thing.

Wheelock director Susan Kosoff ventures further into controversy by casting lovable star Jenna Lea Scott in lead role of chubby, teen-age, activist heroine, Tracy Turnblad. With her infectious, fresh-faced effervescence and giggly exuberance, Scott’s ideal here.

Like Scott, who was born in South Korea and adopted by Caucasian American parents, Tracy is also adopted from Asia by American odd couple, Wilbur and Edna Turnblad, of Baltimore. And they’re more odd than you think. Wilber is the affable owner of the Har-de-Har Hideway Hut joke shop, while his agoraphobic, hefty “wife,” Edna, is a cross-dressing male, who’s ashamed of being overweight. To earn money, stay-at-home Edna does other people’s ironing and laundry, but had hoped to someday become a fashion designer. Veteran actors Robert Saoud as Edna and Peter A. Carey as Wilbur are a delightful duo, especially in “You’re Timeless to Me,” the show’s biggest hit number.

Harmoniously accompanied by Music Director Matthew Stern and his merry musicmakers, “Hairspray’s” large, energetic cast embraces and welcomes theatergoers, with Laurel Conrad’s energetic choreography, dancing in the aisles and onstage, swinging, swaying, and singing “Good Morning, Baltimore,” then introduces us to “The Nicest Kids in Town,” all-white cast of Corny Collin’s TV dance show. As Collins, Mark Linehan is duly unctuous.

But Amber Von Tussle, spoiled, teen-aged daughter of show manager Velma Von Tussle, isn’t nice. She’s catty, cruel, egotistical, and a chip-off-the-old block, like her mother, Velma, who proudly touts her former beauty title, in “Miss Baltimore Crabs” . Popular star Aimee Doherty as Velma and Jane Bernhard as her carbon copy daughter are marvelously mean and downright despicable.

While Tracy is a big, frontline activist, gathering support and crossing race lines to integrate the show, her overly-protected pal, Penny Pingleton, creates her own chaos by falling for African-American super dancer, Seaweed J. Stubbs, (lanky John Allen), son of Baltimore’s black music radio superstar, Motormouth Maybelle (Gamalia Pharms). Tyla Colier as Seaweed’s younger sister, Little Inez, also shines.

But Jennifer Beth Glick as Penny, is a perpetual scene stealer, with her gum-cracking, slump-shouldered, squeaky obeisance to her bigoted mother, Prudy, and her metamorphosis as a glittery “checkerboard chick” .

North Shore favorite actress, Cheryl McMahon, is also outstanding in her roles as Prudy Pingleton, big size fashion entrepreneur Madame Pinky, and a mean-spirited gym teacher, who encourages her students to abuse their special education and African-American counterparts in a vicious game of scatter dodge ball.

The three moms, Turnblad, VonTussle, and Pingleton, and their daughters shine in their contrasting triptych number, “Mama, I’m A Big Girl Now”.

Although Michael Nortardonato as Link Larkin, Amber’s narcissistic boyfriend and TV dance party idol, sings and dances well, he does not ignite enough romantic sparks with his newfound love, Tracy. However, her dreamy rendition of “I Can Hear the Bells” is riotous.

Treat the family to Wheelock’s funny, rollicking “Hairspray”. From start to finish, they welcome you to those turbulent ‘60s, making sure you don’t miss the beat, dancing and singing in the aisles with them.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Girls Scouts attend HAIRSPRAY

Junior troop 71198 from St Raphael School in Medford recently went to see the Wheelock Family Theatre production of " Hairspray" that was advertised in the GS Catalog. This was one of the best shows we have ever seen! It rivaled Broadway! Kudos to GSEM for advertising and letting troops know about this amazing production. This show portrayed many of the values we teach in Girl Scouts. Tolerance, Acceptance, Being true to yourself....  It was so awesome to see how well our 9-yr olds related to this story line.
And the cast and crew were so terrific after the show, signing autographs, answering questions and we even got a back stage tour!
Thank you GSEM for letting our troop know about this wonderful show! An experience our troop will not forget!

Amy-Jayne McCabe and Dee Fagan- Co-leaders St Raphael School, Troop 71198 Medford, MA.

Audience Comments HAIRSPRAY!

In the 10 years that I have now been in Boston and attending the WFT shows each year, this production of Hairspray is the best ever! I have loved all of your shows over the years, but this production just blew me away. The beautiful harmonies (and talented belting solos) were spot on; the dancing was superb and fit the period so well (as did the costumes); and the frozen tableaux images and dancing in the audience really captivated the crowd and drew us in.

My students LOVED it! They can't wait to write their formal "professional" critiques in tomorrow's classes with me (their academic assignment after going on the trip). And just kept talking about the show right thru lunch and back at school.

AND several want to come BACK to bring their families! (One chaperone even remarked that even though he was there with his daughters today with us, he wants to get tickets to see it again on the weekend!) And when our 8th graders heard we went to see the show (and didn't take them -- they went last year when they were 7th graders to see Oliver, as is the tradition to take our 7th graders to a WFT show each year)... several said, "fine! We're going ourselves this weekend on own, since you didn't take us." Awesome! There was such a buzz from our 7th graders that other grade levels want to go, too!

It was heartwarming to overhear some of our students saying that it was great to see a show that was not "all white." Our school population is roughly 70% African & Caribbean American and they really appreciated a show that told a story that many could connect to and to their families. It has made for great discussions already. Thank you for that.

 -Meegan Turet
Academy of the Pacific Rim
Hyde Park, MA

HAIRSPRAY, after our first student matinee... a comment from the audience...

Wow! Wheelock Family Theatre’s performance of Hairspray is wonderful! I felt so proud of Wheelock and what it offers to the community in quality live theater.  Today I attended a school performance with a full auditorium of middle and high school students from Boston area schools who seemed to love the show as much as I did.  What a great message Hairspray offers on inclusion amidst great music, dancing, and amazing vocals. The whole auditorium seemed to be in synch with rapt attention, laughs, hoots and affirmations!  Great work Wheelock Family Theatre!

Stephanie Cox Suarez

Associate Professor, Special Education