Dominic Mullings Wins Essay Competition

Still, no plans for a New York transfer have been announced, and the commercial producers, who put money into the Children’s Theater production, have not yet reached out to Broadway theater owners.

“I have no doubt that this is a show that will appeal to New York audiences,” said Isaac Robert Hurwitz, an executive with Fox Stage Productions, which — with Broadway producer Kevin McCollum — holds the stage rights to the “Wimpy Kid” books. “It’s a matter of getting the show in the shape it needs to be in, and then to determine the best way to get it in front of as many people as possible.”

The seed of the musical was planted three years ago, when Mr. McCollum and Fox announced a partnership to develop for the stage promising titles from the studio’s 4,500-film catalog.

Children’s Theater Company, which won a Tony Award as the nation’s outstanding regional theater in 2003, had been mulling a stage version of “Wimpy Kid” for this, its 50th anniversary season. The nonprofit theater’s producer, Jennifer Collins Ritter — who had worked with both Mr. McCollum and Mr. Hurwitz in New York — reached out to the new commercial partnership.

Mr. McCollum’s Broadway credits include “Something Rotten!” and “In the Heights.” But he also ran the nonprofit Ordway Center for the Performing Arts across the Mississippi River in St. Paul during the late 1990s, making him familiar with the work of Children’s Theater. He and Mr. Hurwitz, a founder of the New York Musical Theater Festival, have had a close hand in shaping the show.

Consider: Four days before the cast assembled for the first rehearsal in Minneapolis, “Wimpy Kid” still did not have a working script.

Ms. Rockwell gathered Mr. Hurwitz and Mr. Kinney into a church conference room in Chicago, where she is based. With the composing team and Kevin Del Aguila, who wrote the book, they pounded out a rehearsal draft over the course of a day, then headed north to begin rehearsals.

“Kevin and I read all the parts, and Mike and Alan sang everything at the piano,” recalled Ms. Rockwell. “It was very Comden and Green.”

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” which Mr. McCollum somewhat grandiosely describes as “a classic hero’s journey with an unreliable narrator,” centers on Greg Heffley, an ordinary kid trying to navigate the perils of middle school.

He’s hardly a wholly sympathetic character: Though Greg suffers the neglect at home typical of a middle child (sandwiched between the headbanger Rodrick and the spoiled toddler Manny), he thinks nothing of denigrating, ignoring or even injuring his profoundly dorky best friend, Rowley.

Greg’s adventures fill 10 books that have sold more than 164 million copies, and three feature films (with a fourth in development). The musical borrows much of its material and structure from the first novel, which chronicles Greg’s determined but hapless efforts to climb his school’s popularity ladder.

But Mr. Kinney said the relationship between Greg and Rowley in the stage play actually gave him insights into his characters.

Because Greg occupies the lowest rung of the family pecking order, Mr. Kinney said, “it gives you permission to like Greg when his mistreats Rowley, because Greg feels like he has to be above somebody. That was something I hadn’t understood was necessary to root for this character, who is kind of a crummy friend: You take Rodrick and Manny away, and now Greg’s just a jerk.”

“Wimpy Kid” is not the company’s first venture into commercial theater. In 2002, Children’s Theater hosted a production of “A Year With Frog and Toad,” which has enjoyed a successful life around the country despite fizzling on Broadway. That project came to the theater prepackaged, with a finished draft, a completed creative team and a New York cast.

With “Wimpy Kid,” the Minneapolis theater was more fully engaged in the process, helping select the cast and creative team. Enhancement money allowed the theater to expand its budget beyond the $750,000 to $1 million it typically spends on musicals.

By new-play development standards, “Wimpy Kid” progressed relatively quickly, but not without detours. Last summer, the original writing team of the composer-lyricist Joe Iconis and book-writer Joe Tracz was replaced, amicably and because of scheduling conflicts, according to Mr. McCollum. (The original creative team did not return a request for comment.)

Both the nonprofit theater and the commercial producers had to make compromises. Mr. McCollum and Mr. Hurwitz, for instance, are accustomed to a dozen or more preview performances to fine-tune a new work before the critics show up. Children’s Theater’s schedule allows for three previews.

The theater is also committed to using its own company and local actors. Though Twin Cities performers filled out most of the 20-plus-member “Wimpy Kid” cast, Ms. Rockwell chose the Chicago-area actor Ricky Falbo as Greg and David Rosenthal (who appeared in the Broadway production of “Matilda”) as Rowley.

Life for “Wimpy Kid” beyond Minneapolis would be healthy for the Children’s Theater, said Peter Brosius, its artistic director. But it would also advance the cause of multigenerational theaters like his own.

Such shows, he said, “help people reimagine their notions of what theater for families can be. It lifts the boats of all theaters who do this kind of work.”

Mr. Kinney, who will see the publication of “Double Down,” the 11th book in the series, this November, is pleased with how his characters have evolved for the stage. Given the various incarnations of the characters that now live off the page, many creative hands have shaped Greg, Rowley and company, he acknowledges.

“What’s so exciting to me about this play is that the work this team has done is better than my own work,’’ he said. “I can see that my work inspired it, and I’ll take credit for that part of it. But it’s a wonderful feeling as a writer when someone can go one better than what you’ve done.”

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