Raue’s school for arts to stage ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ musical in Crystal Lake

Youth to star with professional actors in bringing new show to venue

Students, teamed with professional adult actors and crew, rehearse “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Musical,” a show so new that Raue Center School For The Arts is one of the very first venues to produce it. 2024

Raue Center School For The Arts in Crystal Lake is about to present a two-hour look at the life of 11-year-old Greg Heffley, who’s seeking friendship, acceptance and popularity in his middle school in the musical “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” showcasing a dramatic and humorous look at Greg’s academic year.

An adaptation of the first “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” book and some of the second (“Rodrick Rules”), the musical’s book is by Kevin Del Aguila, with hip-hop, pop-rock, gospel music and lyrics by Michael Mahler and Alan Schmuckler.

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Musical” is so new that Broadway Licensing said RCSA is one of the very first venues to produce “Diary.”

Rob Scharlow directs - "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Musical" coming to Raue Center in 2024, presented by Raue Center School For The Arts.

Director Rob Scharlow said he selected “Diary” as the RCSA’s first “big” two-hour show because “the middle school crisis is such an incredible story and, frankly, because I love the ‘Wimpy Kid’ books.”

There were a few major challenges. The musical team was still working on perfecting the show – almost up to RCSA’s auditions. There also was the vocal challenge of casting unchanged voices with the students. And you might call the “Cheese Touch” song somewhat of a challenge; it is an iconic moment, central to the plot. Not only is there an outrageous dance number about the discarded cheese on the playground, choreographed by Mollie Peery, but there was a technical issue in how to bring the cursed cheese onto the stage, as it traditionally is raised up through the stage floor. The situation was resolved by scenic designers Chris Tumblin and Lisa Giebler, as well as lighting designer Ryan Meadow. The collaborative team also is joined by stage manager Jessie Higgins and assistant director Amelia Bowen.

Scharlow said the musical contains lots of subtle inspiration from other shows. For example, “All About the Mom Bucks” (aka mom’s monetary reward system) features a tribute to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s coveted $96,000 lottery ticket from “In the Heights.”

There are helpful connections; the costumer, Michelle Tibble, is good friends with the musical’s composer Michael Mahler, who plans a future Zoom call with the cast. The cast of 26 is filled with a combination of RCSA students and non-Equity, professional actors.

Scharlow proudly states, “It’s a wonderful mix of experienced students, professional actors and some students that have never done a show before. I really wanted to give our RCSA students the experience of working closely with professionals and vice versa. You can always learn a little something no matter who you are.”

The executive director and artistic director of the Raue, Richard Kuranda, agrees that RCSA and “Diary” have an amazing roster of experienced teachers and students.

Students, teamed with professional adult actors and crew, rehearse “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Musical,” a show so new that Raue Center School For The Arts is one of the very first venues to produce it. 2024

Scharlow is also excited to have seven weeks of rehearsal for “Diary,” as opposed to the two or two and a half he was used to when employed by New York’s theater immersive Stagedoor Manor. At the very first rehearsal, the “Diary” staff held a full cast and parent meeting, where Scharlow told them “not to be frightened,” and outlined what rehearsals would involve.

The character Greg Heffley (aka the Wimpy Kid) first appeared online in 2004, arriving in book form in 2007. Author Jeff Kinney now has 19 books and counting, with over 290 million copies sold to date, plus several films.

The character of Greg is onstage throughout the musical, which necessitates vulnerability, charm and comic timing – all found in RCSA student Logan Allison. His character will face bullies, parents, the viciousness of dodgeball, and what exactly that food is in his Halloween trick-or-treat bag. He’ll survive middle school with the help of his cheerful pal, Rowley, played by Mason Houltram.

Scharlow himself appears in the musical in the role of Greg’s dad, and says the cast is an “amazing” group of performers. Their energy and desire to learn and succeed are evident in the rehearsal room.

“Each cast member is bringing something completely different to the table based on their experience or maybe even the lack of experience,” Scharlow said. “But that’s why RCSA is so important – to provide communication with a program that can help our performers grow in confidence, empathy, creativity, communication and allowing people to be themselves.”

As RCSA’s director of education since September 2023, Scharlow has been “nonstop busy,” and enjoys the constant interaction with the public, specifically parents and students. Besides planning classes and enlisting teachers for both the RCSA youth and adult classes, he’s been collaboratively involved in Raue’s marketing of community events, most recently a job fair at Prairie Ridge High School and a breakfast with the school district. (There will be a special performance of “Diary” for schools at 11 a.m. April 19.)

Scharlow also is finalizing plans for the Raue’s summer camp for 7- to 13-year-olds, which will culminate in a production of Disney’s “Moana Jr.,” and a five-week high school workshop, which will present a production of the “Mean Girls” musical. Raue’s “Diary” musical director, James Mablin, was part of the original team that developed the high school version of “Mean Girls.”

Scharlow’s mantra is well known at RCSA: “It’s not what you’re capable of – it’s what you’re capable of becoming.” Under Scharlow and company’s guidance, RCSA truly is capable of becoming a great opportunity.

• Regina Belt-Daniels happily survived her middle school experience and, when not writing reviews for Shaw Local News Network, can be found backstage or onstage in a theater somewhere.

IF YOU GO

• WHAT: “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Musical” by Raue Center School For The Arts

• WHERE: Raue Center For The Arts, 26 N. Williams St., Crystal Lake

• WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, April 18-19; 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, April 20

• COST: $25; $17.50 for RaueNOW members; $10 and $7 for students, respectively

• INFORMATION: 815-356-9212, boxoffice@rauecenter.org, rauecenter.org