Diary of a Wimpy Kid is coming to Children’s Theatre Company this spring! The cast and crew and production team are thrilled to bring this beloved book to life. Turning a modern-day classic into a dynamic musical takes a special team.
We have the privilege of introducing you to some of the masterminds behind the show: director Rachel Rockwell and music directors Alan Schmuckler and Michael Mahler.
Tell us about your family and where you are from.
ALAN SCHMUCKLER: I’m the oldest of two brothers, we both live in New York, and our parents live in New Jersey.
MICHAEL MAHLER: I live in Chicago but I grew up in Minnetonka. No kids – I live with my wife, actor Dara Cameron, and our antisocial chin-pin Julian.
RACHEL ROCKWELL: I am from Chicago (originally Indiana). I have one son, Jake, who is 11 and about to enter middle school. My husband, Garth, is a sound designer, and we reside in Berwyn, IL with Jake (who is a fifth grader). We travel all over the country together doing shows and having adventures. They visited me for spring break this year and Jake loved Minneapolis so much, he is coming back on two weeks for the opening!
What is your favorite part of the show?
ALAN SCHMUCKLER: There’s a rap followed by a mini-opera at the end of act one that’s a pretty fun sequence.
MICHAEL MAHLER: As a writer, my favorite part has been watching the delight on the actors’ faces when they learn each new song, each new dance, each new scene. It’s really gratifying to feel like this piece is speaking to our cast, which is made up of so many varying ages. They’re really taking on this story and making these characters their own. I can’t wait for their joy to be shared with our audiences!
RACHEL ROCKWELL:I have many, but I think my favorite is when the boys discover how to take advantage of Mom’s clever monetary system that leads into a fantasy number.
What is your favorite song?
ALAN SCHMUCKLER: I think the opening number is pretty fun!
MICHAEL MAHLER: The one we are working on at the moment! I’m proud of all the songs in this show – and I’m really glad they span such a wide variety of styles and feels. They are as varied and as energetic as the experience of middle school.
RACHEL ROCKWELL: I actually have a favorite section of a huge musical sequence. It’s when the highschoolers coach up to Greg and Rowley near the end of the show. It makes me laugh until I cry every time. And I have seen it A LOT!
Have you worked at CTC in the past?
ALAN SCHMUCKLER: Nope this is my first time.
MICHAEL MAHLER: Never, but I grew up nearby and saw many shows here as a child. I’m thrilled to get to work at a theatre that I enjoyed so much as a youth.
RACHEL ROCKWELL: No, but I have always wanted to. I do lots of family theatre, but it mostly for theaters who do that as secondary focus. To work in a place like CTC, where it is the main focus, with such talented theatre artists, is a dream come true. I don’t want to leave!
What is your history on stage?
ALAN SCHMUCKLER: I grew up acting and playing piano, and started writing when I was in college.
MICHAEL MAHLER: Like I said, I grew up in Minnetonka, and as a young actor I did many shows and workshops at Stages Theatre Company in Hopkins. I studied theatre and music at Northwestern University and have made a career in Chicago as a composer/lyricist/actor/music director ever since. I’ve gotten to work at many theaters around the world in many different capacities, recently contributing additional lyrics to Cameron Mackintosh’s Broadway-bound revival of Miss Saigon.
RACHEL ROCKWELL: I was a performer for 20 years and did lots of regional theatre, national tours and performed on Broadway. The last 10 years of my career have been focused on directing, choreographing and developing and writing new works for the stage.
How long have you been working on the show before opening night?
ALAN SCHMUCKLER: We started in August of 2015 and it’s been a sprint to the finish ever since.
RACHEL ROCKWELL: I will have been with this project for almost 2 years!
Are there any scary parts in the show?
ALAN SCHMUCKLER: There’s an exciting dash for candy on Halloween that involves a spooky vampire, a zombie, a witch, and a disturbed middle schooler in a bunny rabbit costume. And there’s the deeper existential fear of losing your best friend. Otherwise we’re in fun but un-terrifying territory.
MICHAEL MAHLER: There’s a pretty horrifying piece of moldy cheese that figures prominently in the story.
RACHEL ROCKWELL: Halloween is a little spooky, but it’s more funny than scary. Same with the teenagers at the end. I think learning that it’s okay to be a little afraid in a large group helps kids learn how to deal with it in a healthy way, but our dramatic moments are more humorous than scary.
What has been the most challenging part of the production?
MICHAEL MAHLER: It’s a really fully packed show – the experience of middle school is pretty relentless, and we’ve tried to be true to that on stage. Which means the music and choreography has all been challenging on a technical level, but our actors are real pros and have risen to the challenge time and time again. They’re knocking it out of the park.
RACHEL ROCKWELL: It’s a very tight timeline to bring a new work to stage when so much of the heavy lifting is with our student actors. As hard as we work there never seems to be enough time, but they are rock stars!
What has been the most rewarding part?
ALAN SCHMUCKLER: Seeing our talented young cast take what we’ve written and own it. They bring the story to life in a way that’s super exciting whether you’re a fan of the books or coming at it fresh.
MICHAEL MAHLER: Seeing our actors rise to the challenge of the piece and succeed time and time again.
RACHEL ROCKWELL: Seeing the kids exceed their own expectations. They really have been pros. I love watching them help each other and acknowledging each other’s accomplishments. They are a great team and support system for each other. As a mom, it makes me cry a little, I have to admit.
Who is your favorite character and why?
MICHAEL MAHLER: I think all of us have a little Greg Heffley in us – we’re all “wimpy” in our way, scheming our schemes. But we all also have the potential for heroism and self-sacrifice. Every day we scramble to survive and find our place in the “middle” of our own worlds, and hope that once in a while we manage to do the right thing.
RACHEL ROCKWELL: Who is your favorite character and why? As the director, I have to find love for them all, but I actually think Rowley is. He is so secure in who he is, and is a loving and loyal friend. That quality in anyone is admirable, but it is particularly inspiring in an eleven year old boy.
I know nothing about this book. I have a couple of daughters who have loved the stories, but I myself never read them. Is this show a good show to see if you have never read the book?
ALAN SCHMUCKLER: Absolutely! We came at the material having not been exposed to it before and we’ve all fallen in love with it. We’ve built a story out of the books that we think everyone from 6 to 106 will respond to and enjoy. We introduce you to the characters and take them on a journey similar to the books, but also unique and fresh and theatrical.
MICHAEL MAHLER: I think it’ll be a delight for people who know these stories and characters, but completely accessible and enjoyable for people who are strangers to the Wimpy world – it isn’t hard to fall in love with Greg Heffley, Rowley Jefferson, and the colorful characters that surround them.
RACHEL ROCKWELL: If you have, are or ever will attend middle school- this is a show for you. I think it is a great show to see with your kids. It reminds parents of the challenges kids face, and gives kids and parents an opportunity to share their experiences. It addresses a lot of very real, very formative experiences in a hilarious and touching way.
Children’s Theatre Company is a fantastic sponsor of our Monster Bash. Thank you CTC.
*Photos courtesy of Children’s Theatre Company.