The Hundred Dresses, a new musical now playing at the Royal George Theater, tackles the subject of bullying head on. From the playgrounds to the school hallways The Hundred Dresses is a timeless tale about power of words and finding the courage to stand up to others. Even if it means you stand alone. Chicago Children's Theatre (CCT) is presenting the world premiere of The Hundred Dresses by Ralph Covert and G. Riley Mills, with music by Covert (Disney's Ralph's World). The play is based on the beloved 1944 Newberry Honor book by Eleanor Estes. Sean Graney, who staged CCT's critically acclaimed Hana's Suitcase and Honus and Me, is the director. Performances run through November 1.
The Hundred Dresses is the story of Wanda Petronski; she speaks strangely, has a funny last name, and lives in the wrong part of town. Who would believe she has a closet full of one hundred beautiful dresses? The kids at Franklin Elementary School certainly don't. As the story unfolds, Wanda's friends Maddie Martin and Peggy Hawthorne learn first-hand the danger of stereotypes, bullying and harsh words.
Dorothy Espelage, PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a leading international expert in bullying prevention and a frequent guest on "Oprah," hails this new work as "a story your child won't forget" and "a 'must see' for all families with school-aged children."
"The Hundred Dresses is by far our most ambitious project to date, so we are extremely fortunate to have the combined talents of three immensely talented artists – Ralph Covert, G. Riley Mills and Sean Graney – collaborating on this beautiful and fun new musical," says Jacqueline Russell, artistic director and founder, Chicago Children's Theatre. "Everyone at CCT, from staff to board member takes pride in our strong reputation for creating meaningful and entertaining theater experiences that speak to kids and families about topics that are relevant to their lives. With its strong messages about the dangers of bullying and the power of friendship, The Hundred Dresses perfectly meets the goals of CCT's mission."
Russell and Covert go back 13 years to Old Town School of Folk Music when Russell, then-director of children's programs, first suggested Covert start offering music for children. "I first came across The Hundred Dresses when Storyopolis, a kids' book store and art gallery in L.A. and a big early supporter of Ralph's World, asked me to write some songs for an informal reading to the be held in the store," says Covert. "The reading never happened, but I fell in love with the book while penning the songs. A couple years after that, Jacqui Russell asked G. Riley Mills and me to present some ideas for writing a musical for CCT. We included The Hundred Dresses as one of the possibilities, and when Jacqui heard the songs, she fell in love with the idea as well."
"I first read The Hundred Dresses as an adult, when Ralph gave me a copy, maybe eight years ago" says Mills. "The thing I remember most about my first reading was how the character of Wanda reminded me almost exactly of a similar girl in my own second grade class—a girl who was a little poorer and a little different than the other kids. The way this girl was treated in real life seemed to be exactly the way Wanda was treated in the book. I was blown away. I thought, was there a Wanda in everyone's second grade class? And I started to wonder: if this girl was Wanda, then which of the characters was I?"
"Bullying is as destructive today as it was in 1944 when Estes wrote her book. It impacts everyone," says Graney. "It's our hope this production will raise everyone's awareness of the painful repercussions of bullying. We want to help kids by empowering them with ways they can address and defuse these hurtful, scary situations."
The Hundred Dresses is enjoyed by everyone age 6 and up and runs through November 22 at the Royal George Theatre Mainstage, 1641 N. Halsted St, Chicago. For performance and ticket information, call the Royal George Box Office, 312.988.9000 and or visit www.Ticketmaster.com (service charges apply). Group tickets are also available. For tickets for groups, classes or birthday parties of 10 or more, call GroupTix: 877-4-GRP-TIX (877.447.7849).
ABOUT THE CREATIVE TEAM
Eleanor Estes (1906 - 1988) was an American children's author. She was born in West Haven, Connecticut. as Eleanor Ruth Rosenfield. Originally a librarian, her writing career began following a case of tuberculosis. While recovering, she began writing down some of her childhood memories, which would later turn into full-length children's books. Throughout her life, she wrote 19 children's books and one novel for adults. "Ginger Pye" (1951) won the Newberry Medal, and three of her other books, "The Middle Moffat," "Rufus M.," and "The Hundred Dresses" were chosen as Newberry Honor books. Other awards include the Certificate of Award for Outstanding Contribution to Children's Literature and she was nominated for the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award.
Chicagoans Ralph Covert and G. Riley Mills have collaborated on five previously produced plays, both dramas and musicals, and co-authored two illustrated books for young readers based on the stage productions. They were twice awarded the Joseph Jefferson Citation for Best New Work Sawdust And Spangles (Prop Theatre, 1998) and Streeterville"(TimeLine Theatre Company, 2001). The Flower Thieves, their "rock and roll circus fable," created for The Midnight Circus, was based on a story by Covert and Mills and featured original music by Covert, as does their musical A Nutty Nutcracker Christmas, originally created for Emerald City Theatre. Mills began writing for professional theater at the age of 17. Productions of his work, more than a dozen at this time, have been mounted domestically and as far away as Australia. His extensive acting resume includes Chicago's most prestigious stages; television programs such as "ER," "Early Edition" and "Missing Persons" and lead roles in the films "The Home Coming" and "35 Miles From Normal." Covert has received accolades and fame both as leader of the indie rock band The Bad Examples and as the creator of family rock phenomenon Ralph's World, presently with eight album releases on Disney Sound and more than a dozen popular music videos. He has written commissioned works for Hedwig Dances, The Shedd Aquarium, and Kellogg's.
Sean Graney directed the popular CCT productions of "Hana's Suitcase" (2008) and "Honus and Me" (2007). He is the Artistic Director and Founder of The Hypocrites, where his credits include "Equus" (Non-Equity Jeff Award – Outstanding Direction) and "Machinal" (Non-Equity Jeff Award– Outstanding Direction). Other Chicago credits include "The Elephant Man" (Steppenwolf Theatre Company), "What the Butler Saw" (Court Theatre), and "Edward II" (Chicago Shakespeare Theater). Playwriting credits include "The 4th Graders Present an Unnamed Love-Suicide" (59E59/The Hypocrites/the side project) and "Without" (Goodman New Stages Series). Graney was a participant in the NEA/TCG Career Development Program for Directors (2004–2006) and was named Chicago's Best Avant-Garde Director in 2004 by Chicago Magazine.
Other members of the artistic team include Tommy Rapley (choreographer), Kevin Depinet (scenic design), Jacqueline Firkins (costume design), Heather Gilbert (lighting designer), Michael Griggs (sound design), Kimberly G. Morris (props design) and Mackenzie Brown (stage management). The cast includes Nadriah Bost (Miss Mason), Natalie Berg (Peggy Hawthorne), Kurt Ehrmann (Old Man Svenson/Jan Petronski), Elana Ernst (Cecile Caldwell), Lauren Patten (Wanda Petronski), Geoff Rice (Jack Beggles), Tyler Ravelson (Willie Bounce) and Leslie Ann Shepard (Maddie Martin).
ABOUT CHICAGO CHILDREN'S THEATER
Chicago Children's Theatre aspires to enrich our community through diverse and significant theatrical and educational programming that engages and inspires the child in all of us. Chicago Children's Theatre focuses on the production of first-rate children's theater in Chicago, with top writing, performing and directorial talent and high-quality design and production expertise. Led by Artistic Director Jacqueline Russell, Board Chair Todd Leland and Board President Tom Herman, the company is supported by a dynamic Board of Directors comprised of dedicated individuals from the fields of entertainment, philanthropy and business, and a committed Artistic Council of Chicago-based actors, directors, musicians and designers.
Founded in 2005, Chicago Children's Theatre, a non-profit organization, provides affordable and accessible theater for families and area school children. To enhance the impact of any given production's themes, Chicago Children's Theatre also offers educational materials and programs for families and educators. Beginning with their Inaugural Production of "A Year With Frog and Toad" in 2006, Chicago Children's Theatre continued to produce top-tier theater for families during their 2006-2007 Inaugural Season which included Ray Bradbury's "Dandelion Wine;" "4-ISH;" "Go, Dog. Go!" and "Honus and Me." Productions for CCT's 2007-2008 season included "The Selfish Giant," adapted from the story by Oscar Wilde; "Hana's Suitcase," adapted from the book by Karen Levine; "Esperanza Rising," based on the book by Pam Muñoz Ryan; and the world premiere of "Red Kite/Blue Moon," a major educational theater installation created especially for young people with autism.
For more information about Chicago Children's Theatre visit www.chicagochildrenstheatre.org or call 773.227.0180.
THE HUNDRED DRESSES
Royal George Theatre Mainstage
1641 N. Halsted St.
Through November 22
312.988.9000 or www.Ticketmaster.com