I was originally supposed to attend the May 1st performance of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Musical but had to reschedule due to Covid. Usually for a Children’s Theatre Company production I would have a child as my companion so that I could get a sense of how the show plays to its target audience. Due to the rescheduling it ended up being my wife and I. The good news was that two of our kids were very into the Jeff Kinney books on which the show is based, so we were very aware of the source material and what appeals to its target audience. Some shows like Annie or Matilda can play on Broadway or the Children’s Theatre Company with equal success, others are best suited for the Children’s and similar venues. Diary of a Wimpy Kid belongs squarely in the later category and that’s perfectly fine. Its humor and storytelling is aimed directly at its target audience, and it hits a bullseye. Middle Schoolers are going to find a lot of what they like about Kinney’s books brought to life and the process experience the joys of live theatre.
Greg Heffley is beginning middle school and as it has happened for kids through the years, this is the point at which his priorities begin to change. It suddenly becomes more important to be popular, what we wear, and who we hang with begins to override just having fun and doing our own thing. The show follows Greg as he tries one plan after another to up his placement on the popularity ranking of his school. His attempts are thwarted over and over again by a multitude of sources. The show bounces around from segment to segment much in the vein of another staple of Children’s Theatre, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. While there is more of an overall story arc than there is in the Peanuts musical, it’s a very episodic show. This probably results in a more attentive audience as each new scene brings a fresh set up or adventure. The book for the musical by Kevin Del Aguila does a nice job of picking out favorite moments from the books series, in that way it’s a nice adaption.
The Music and Lyrics by Michael Mahler and Alan Schmuckler serve the show during its run-time, but like You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, there’s not many songs that stick with you beyond the your time in your seats. The one possible exception is Animal Heart, which gains its own notoriety by refusing to end, but in a very humorous way. The lyrics are full of fun little jokes and as I say work within the show, but they are all too specific to have a life beyond the show itself. Like a production of that Charlie Brown show this production Diary of a Wimpy Kid, as well as future ones, will rise or fall on how well it is designed and directed. Jenn Thompson direction gets how to transition between short scenes that amount to a daily comic strip. Getting between these moments and keeping the show fluid is key and Thompson handles all of that perfectly. The Scenic Design by Scott Davis brilliantly captures the look of the books, using the design of lined journal paper as it’s motive. Carrying the lines paper look even into the cabinets in the Heffley family kitchen. The look of the show also cleverly utilizes projection which was designed by Edward T. Morris again helping to build that connection to the look of the source material.
The cast has alternate performers for the characters of Greg Heffley and his little 3 year old brother Manny. For the performance I saw Greg was played by Patrick McDermott and it was clear from the opening moments that despite his young age, he is at home on stage. There was none of the self consciousness we sometimes see in young performers, Mcdermott’s control of the stage and his singing voice made it clear he was the star. Kamryn Henderson plays Rowley, Greg’s BFFL (Best Friend For Life) is casting that seems ideal. Henderson seems born to play someone who knows how to be, or perhaps doesn’t know how, not to just be himself. For the image sensitive Greg this is a disaster. It’s to both McDermott and Hendersons credit that you empathize with both of them. We recognize Greg’s desire to stifle that which brings negative attention, but we also appreciate the beauty of being able to dance like no one else is around.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Musical is not going to win over adults without children, unless they are adults who grew up on the books. But it’s going to be a great show for those about to enter middle school through high school. There are plenty of laughs for everyone and a very effective look to the show, for the right audience it will be a blast. For more information and to purchase tickets go to http://childrenstheatre.org/wimpy .
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