SULLIVAN -- For 60 years, The Little Theatre on the Square has been bringing Broadway shows to Central Illinois.
But this week, the Little is presenting in its Theatre for Young Audiences a world premiere production called “SuperKids.” Making this show even more unique is that it was written by Therese Supple Kincade, the Little’s associate artistic director and the director for the Theatre for Young Audiences, and her daughter, Annie Kincade. The music and lyrics are by Andy Hudson, a frequent musician and performer at the Little. All three are longtime Charleston residents.
“SuperKids” deals with bullying and some kids have “powers” they use to help their friends.
Kincade said youngsters love super heroes. So she thought she would write a show where the school-age kids are the super heroes.
Alex (played by Bobby Becher) has a super power in which he can stop and rewind time. Kristin (Lexie Wolfe) can change people’s moods while Louis (James Garrett Hill) can get people to tell the truth.
“I asked Annie to help me write it. She's a fabulous writer who is presently working on a novel for young adults,” the proud mother said.
Because Annie lives in Ohio, they started last fall talking about the basic idea and then did all of their writing on a computer site. They wrote and edited whenever they could.
“Our ‘voice’ and sense of humor are very similar,” Kincade said. “We talked a lot on the phone and texted whenever we could. The story headed in a number of different directions before we settled on this final draft. The music helped us continue to develop the characters.”
That’s where Andy Hudson came in.
While Kincade knew Hudson for many years, he began working at The Little Theatre in 2013 as assistant music director after graduating from college. That meant that in addition to working on the main stage musicals in the evenings, he also served as music director for Kincade who was directing some of the Theatre for Young Audiences shows.
“We have probably worked on more than a dozen shows together, including his middle school and high school days in Charleston.”
She and Andy wrote “The Adventures of Robyn Hood” for The Little Theatre two years ago.
“He's a very gifted writer, musician and lyricist. In our version, Robyn Hood is female,” Kincade said. “I figured, Robyn was the master of disguise, maybe she was a woman all along and that part of the tale got lost in translation!”
The two women came up with the concept for “SuperKids” and then would leave a place where they thought a song was needed.
“Andy (now in Rochester, N.Y.) was working at The Little Theatre last fall into the winter. (He was musical director and Kincade was director of “White Christmas.”)
“So in between rehearsals and voice lessons and such, he wrote this fabulous music. I had asked him to come up with different styles of music for the songs and he did. Then he would come back and tell us maybe this character needs a song. Or this relationship needs to be clearer. It was a true collaboration in that way,” she said.
Just as Robyn Hood had a female lead, so “SuperKids” has an unusual starring role. Kristin, one of the three super heroes, is in a wheelchair.
“I also think in 2018, we should be writing characters that are diverse and varied. They could be ethnically diverse, it really doesn't matter. We decided one of the SuperKids would be a child who happens to use a wheelchair.
“I like the fact that our Kristin is in a wheelchair and we never address it in the show. It's just the way she gets around.”
In “SuperKids,” school is out for “12 glorious weeks” of summer. The three “SuperKids” want to “forget what’s boring and do some exploring,” but the bully, Boomer (Jeffrey Keller), picks on the new kid in the neighborhood.
Sam (Shannon McEldowney) has just moved to town from Oregon and isn’t happy about leaving her friends and neighborhood for a new city just as summer is starting.
Even though the “SuperKids” try to involve her, Sam just wants to read books and play video games by herself.
Boomer is the best athlete in the neighborhood and loves to win in any games the kids play. He ridicules Sam, and the others, for not being as good as he is at baseball.
“In our version, what's great is most of the characters stand up to him, call him out on his behavior and, of course, they all make friends in the end,” Kincade said. “It's sweet, it's funny and these kids use their super powers to help their friends. What's better than that?”
Along the way, the other kids, including Boomer, discover they also have special “powers.”
Kincade credited the actors for helping develop the characters.
“It was a really fun process!"
There were quite a few youngsters in the audience with parents and grandparents the day I attended. And there were a lot of smiles on faces throughout the show which lasts about 50 minutes.
Sarah Philabaum is choreographer and Christopher Weisenborn serves as musical director for this show that is directed by Kincade. Additional performances are at 10:30 a.m. daily through Saturday.