'American Girl Live' brings positive message to Byham Theater
Creators of a new touring musical production are hoping that their young audiences love the stage show as much as the popular dolls on which they are based.
“American Girl Live” is an original 90-minute musical that celebrates the power of girls and the strength of friendship, two messages that define the American Girl line of dolls first released in 1986 by Pleasant Company, now a subsidiary of Mattel Inc.
More than 32 million American Girl dolls and 157 million books about their adventures have been sold through the company’s catalog, retail stores and website since 1986, according to the company website.
The stage show was created by Sandy Rustin, writer and lyricist; Meg Zervoulis, composer, and Emilie Renier, choreographer. It’s directed by Gina Rattan, who also directs the current national tour of “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.”
Pittsburgh Cultural Trust will present four performances of the musical Feb. 9 and 10 as part of its Cohen and Grigsby Trust Presents Series at the Byham Theater.
Camp American Girl
The show, set at Camp American Girl, features five campers, their counselor and their American Girl friends. The girls each have to overcome fears and obstacles along the way, relying on advice delivered by the American Girl dolls they each brought to camp.
The girls each play two roles in the show, a camper and one of the American Girl dolls that help another camper with her obstacle or fear.
The cast includes Jenna Bruce of Rochester, N.Y. as Rebecca; Ashley Diane, a native of Texas as Luciana; Laila E. Drew of Philadelphia as Melody; Shelby Lysette Miguel of New York City as Nanea, Monica Poston of New York, originally from Los Alamos, New Mexico, as Julie and Kelsey Elaine Pressnall of New York as Maryellen.
Bruce portrays Rebecca Rubin, who according to the doll’s story, is growing up in New York City in 1914 and loves acting.
“Rebecca is aspiring to be on stage,” Bruce said. “She’s very outgoing and knows what she wants.” The song she performs in the show is titled “Dance with Me.”
First big gig
The young actor who has been active in musical performances since age 4 said that “American Girl Live” “is my first big gig and it’s so awesome.” Like the doll she represents, Bruce said she definitely wants to do more musicals – maybe even Broadway.
Choreographer Emilie Renier, who assisted with choreography for “Cinderella,” said the dance numbers in the “American Girl Live” show feature a variety of music that corresponds to the eras of the different dolls’ stories – from ragtime and doo wop to ‘70s and rock.
“Everyone has at least one song in the show that is their shining moment,” she said.
“There’s also a huge focus on supporting each other as females, which our creative team believes in. I feel good that there’s a show out there with such a positive message.”
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.