I came into The Amazing Lemonade Girl with few expectations. At this point, the show had only run a few times in Milwaukee, where the script and show were making world premiers. And while I didn’t know much going in, I left feeling the need to shout from the rooftops that this is a must-see for families, First Stage fans and theatergoers alike.
The play follows the true story of Alexandra Flynn Scott, a bright, fun and sunny young girl who was diagnosed with cancer before the age of one. With a lemonade stand she was able to raise millions of dollars (and counting) for pediatric cancer research, saving hundreds of lives.
But her story is about more than the money that she raised or her diagnosis.
“I am Alexandra Scott, not the sickness that I got,” she says in the play. Later adding: “Sometimes sick kids, we don’t want to be an inspiration, we want to be kids.”
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While the subject matter can be somber, the sharp – and often funny – writing keeps you smiling. The script, written by James DeVita and directed by Molly Rhode, carefully balances the story’s sad details (a cancer diagnosis, lack of funding for research and a family that has to uproot their whole lives to get this sweet girl care) with the happy (a new friend, raising money for research and a lemonade stand that’s getting international attention). Alexandra rightly compares it to a roller coaster, and First Stage cleverly included a light *ding* sound effect for every time something positive happens.
The cast is outstanding, too, and down-right lovable. Their energetic line delivery livens up the more difficult moments. Alexandra, both the narrator and protagonist, is played by the talented Pietja Duskek. The supporting ensemble plays multiple characters, including her family, doctors, friends, customers and news reporters. Those ensemble members included youth actors Nala Patel and Andrew Kindler as well as adult performers Rick Pendzich, James Corrington and Karen Estrada.
Despite multiple on-stage character changes and fast-paced outfit swaps, this cast never missed a beat. Plus, the bright costumes make you feel like you’re part of Disney’s Inside Out.
As I watched Alex’s story unfold, I laughed, I cried and then I laughed and cried some more. Beyond the colorful characters, the story has many insightful messages about the uphill battle faced by people affected by pediatric cancer – and that goes well beyond just the child who is diagnosed. We see Alex’s parents bear long weekly road trips to get her the proper treatment (because the nearby hospital doesn’t have access to the experimental drugs), her brother grapple with fear, jealousy and guilt, and a doctor scold a reporter saying: “Children don’t lose their battle with cancer, we do.”
First Stage, though a children’s theater company, always brings something to the table for the adults in the audience. I left this show with a new understanding of what the problem is an how I can help (hint: consider donating to Alex’s foundation).
The show is running through May 15 at the Todd Wehr Theater. You can find tickets on First Stage’s website. The show is just 70 minutes with no intermission, which is perfect if you’re bringing the kiddos.
I saw the blue cast’s iteration, but I trust First Stage’s purple team to put on a show just as heartwarming, charming and funny. Add it to your list of must-see productions this spring.