NewArts Chosen To Debut Updated ‘Wimpy Kid’ Zoomsical This Summer
UPDATE: This feature was updated at 9:30 am on April 30 to remove incorrect presentation dates that also appeared in the print edition.
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Only select few actors, singers, and dancers get an opportunity to debut the latest reimagining of a new musical theater project, but anyone participating in this summer’s NewArts production of Diary of a Wimpy Kid The Musical! will get that chance.
Newtown-based NewArts, which provides students with a mastery experience in the performing arts for children of all levels and aptitudes, has announced that auditions for this unique “Zoomsical” virtual theater experience will take place May 6-8, according to artistic director Michael Unger.
Using an "intentional oxymoron," Unger told The Newtown Bee, "We were figuring out what to do for another virtual summer [production], and I always like to bring our students as many once-in-a-lifetime experiences as possible.”
“NewArts allows us to do some very special and unique things in terms of the way they support the child — way beyond ‘Hey, let’s be in a show.’ Any theater experience can be great, but we also avail them to [sic] the ARC experience,” he added, referring to the theater company’s “Awareness. Resilience. Confidence.” character development program. ARC promotes character strengths, confidence, and emotional regulation in youth and young adults ages 6 to 19.
Having directed 12 shows to date — mainly what the artistic director saw were the ultimate dozen to bring to NewArts — Unger said he had been having some trouble qualifying which musical would be number 13 for the summer of 2021. It was his wife, the actress Janet Metz, who reminded him that she did an off Broadway show with Alan Schmuckler, who wrote the Diary of a Wimpy Kid musical, and suggested her husband give him a call.
“So I spoke with Alan, and I asked him what was up with the musical, since it had already had a very successful run in Minneapolis five or six years ago,” Unger said.
‘A Nice Collaboration’
Since that time, Wimpy Kid has been the subject of multiple workshops, revisions, and readings. Unger said Schmuckler was looking for a pilot program to ready the latest version for licensing to amateur and student theater troupes.
“So I said we’re looking for a show, and wouldn’t it be a nice collaboration for us to do that for you, and he agreed to talk with the team owning the rights,” he said.
As a result of that suggestion, Broadway Licensing, and Alchemation agreed to have NewArts pilot the “Zoomsical” version of the musical for virtual viewing platforms. While the show is also being licensed for live stage performances, Unger said the pair of agencies agreed to utilize the NewArts version as a means of promoting this new licensed version of the show.
“That way they would have our Zoomsical production as a template for others to see the material, and maybe get some more ideas about [further development] of the production,” the NewArts director said.
The production is based on the popular series of books by Jeff Kinney, with the theatrical book by Kevin Del Aguila, and featuring music and lyrics by Schmuckler and Michael Mahler.
Unger said that, "unlike most of the other NewArts productions, the main character is not exactly the heroic type of most of the shows we’ve done."
“The books are great, and it’s a good way to get kids who like cartoons to read more. But the lesson in this musical is kind of taught backwards,” he said. “The protagonist is an anti-hero whose only concern is his own status, while the sort-of misfits who surround him become successful. It shows you if your goals are for misguided reasons, like status, it’s not going to work.”
Adapting the show to Zoom presents some challenges, as the action occurs in numerous locations and there are large ensemble songs and dances. Unger is planning to record the action and then edit and compile the scenes into a finished product for patrons to watch online.
‘Fabulous And Fun’
“What really excites me as a piece for NewArts is that the score is so fabulous and fun — it’s super smart, very, very tuneful, energetic, and like the Wimpy Kid books and movies, it’s laugh-out-loud funny,” he said. “And when we make this virtual version, we’re not apologizing for the things we can’t do. Instead, we’re embracing this new format.”
Those auditioning should prepare a one-minute monologue, poem, or reading from a book, and a one-minute cut of a song to be performed acapella.
Unger said rehearsals will be held weekdays, June 21-July 9 (excluding July 4), 9 am-1 pm, as part of this summer’s program. The finshished and edited production will be scheduled to run this fall, he added.
Longtime NewArts collaborator Jeff Saver will serve as music director, Maryrose Kristopik is the associate music director, NewArts veteran Eric Svejcar will help with musical preparation, and Jennifer Paulson Lee will return to the company as choreographer.
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