Sunday, December 2, 2012


Stages Theatre Company's 2012 Production of Madeline's Christmas
l. to r.: Georgia Conlin as Kate, Kacie Riddle as Madeline, and Macailah Maxwell as Isabelle
Photo by Bruce Challgren of
In an old house in ParisThat was covered with vines
Lived twelve little girls
In two straight lines.
They left the house at half-past nine
In two straight lines, in rain or shine.
The smallest one was MADELINE.

Madeline’s Christmas by Ludwig Bemelmans, was originally written as a special book insert in the 1956 Christmas edition of McCall’s. The book was published in 1985. In 2003, composer Shirley Mier and I were fortunate enough to be asked to adapt this classic tale of the beloved and ever spunky Madeline for the Stages Theatre Company. This year the production has come back "home" to Stages Theatre Company under the direction of Artistic Director, Sandy Boren-Barrett.

Stages Theatre Company's 2007 production of Madeline's Christmas
Photo: Bruce Challgren
I have told a lot of people that adapting this story into a musical was a labor of love. It truly was. Like many young girls, I grew up reading the Madeline books, and I read them to my own daughters as well. Creating the world in which Madeline, the twelve little girls, Miss Clavel, Mrs. Murphy, and the rug merchant (I named him Harsha), live was magical.

Part of the agreement for me to be able to adapt Ludwig Bemelmans’ book was to stay true to his original story. The play needed final approval by Barbara Bemelmans, Ludwig’s daughter. And this approval happened after Shirley and I had put countless hours into the script, lyrics, and music. Lucky for us, Barbara gave it the thumbs up. She even gave me some feedback as to what she felt her father would and wouldn’t have written in certain scenes. She told me that it was very important that the “twelve little girls” always show respect, especially to Miss Clavel. She even gave me some suggestions for names of the girls. I will always be grateful to her for helping me to forward the script in that way.
Stages Theatre Company's 2007 production of Madeline's Christmas
Photo: Bruce Challgren

As with any adaptation, there were questions that I needed to answer for the audience. Why did everyone but Madeline get sick? There isn’t any explanation in the book. I decided that Madeline was the only one who remembered to wear her scarf when they go on their morning walk. Being a mom and raising my girls in a cold climate, I thought this might help a few parents while trying to encourage their children to dress warmly. ;-)

I also wanted the twelve little girls to be different from one another. On the page they are somewhat like a Greek chorus with their collective “boo hoo’s” and precise straight lines. To give them individuality, I gave them all names and different traits. The more challenging parts of the story occur when the magician makes the dishes move by themselves, and when all of the girls fly on magic carpets to go home for Christmas. One of the great things about being a playwright is that you can write things like: “Plates magically move on cupboard.” “Girls fly on magic carpets by the Eiffel tower.” Then the director and tech crew have meetings to decide how to make those magical elements work!

The first production of Madeline's Christmas was at Stages Theatre Company in 2004. Since that production, it has been published by Dramatic Publishing Company, and has been seen in over 80 theatres nationwide.
Thank you to the following theatres who are producing it this year!
Stages Theatre Company Hopkins, MN
Children's Christian Theatre, Garland, TX
The Van Meter Theater of Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, KY
The Phipps Center for the Arts, Hudson, WI
Lynn Meadows Discovery Center, Gulfport, MS
Newnam Theatre Company, Newnam, G
Horizon Theatre Company, Atlanta, GA
Topeka Civic Theatre & Academy, Topeka, KS
The Spartanburg Youth Theatre, Spartanburg, SC
Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Charleston Stage, Charleston, SC
Theatre of Western Springs, Western Springs, IL
Theatre IV, Richmond, VA
Omaha Theater Company, Omaha, NE
Sutter Street Theatre, Folsom, CA

Stages Theatre Company's 2007 production of Madeline's Christmas
Photo: Bruce Challgren
Playwright Jennifer Kirkeby and Composer Shirley Mier
I wish you all the Happiest of Holidays, a very Merry Christmas, and a joyful and healthy New Year!  
If you are interested in more information about Madeline's Christmas, or to see some of my other plays, please visit Dramatic Publishing. In the keyword search click on "title", then type in: Madeline's Christmas. To see other titles, go to keyword search, click on "author's last name" and type in Kirkeby.
To read an excerpt of Madeline's Christmas:
you can read exerpt once you've entered Madeline's Christmas in the keyword search.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Seth Skogerboe
I met Seth when he played the part of my son in the my musical adaptation LLAMA LLAMA RED PAJAMA at Stages Theatre Company. It was clear right from the start that he wasn't an ordinary 14-year old. He's tenacious, smart and very funny. We talked a lot about books. He  gave several of us in the cast reading lists. I was intrigued and later discovered that he has his own blog where he reviews books. I thought it would be great to find out what makes Seth tick. What he loves about books.

JK: Tell us a little about yourself. Have you always enjoyed reading? Why?

SS: My name is Seth, and I'm a fourteen-year-old homeschooler with five younger brothers. (The appropriate response here is, "Woah. WOAH. WOAH!") I love old books, new pens, music, theatre, and Thai food. In that order. I have enjoyed reading, in particular, since I was six. Why? That's when I learned how to read. :-)

JK: What are your favorite books?

SS: That is like asking me which is my favorite limb. However, some books that I have *particularly enjoyed* are as follows: My Bible. (First comes truth. Always.) The Narnia Series, by C.S. Lewis. (If I did have to pick a favorite limb...) Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein. (Sister for Sale!) The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster. (The world's strangest logician.) Also, anything by Dr. Seuss. Brilliant.

JK: What is your book review blog called? What made you decide to start a book review blog?

SS: I started my book review blog, The Embarrassed Zebra :: In Black and White and Read All Over, when my book reviews began to take over my other blog, Muse:: Born of a Wandering Mind. :-) I needed a place where I could just write about books.

JK: What are some things a book must offer in order for you to want to read it?

SS: Truth. Variety. Good voice. (In contrast, imagine a story from a toddler. "And then the moon came and then there was food andthenandthenandthen..." etc. It needs to be written well.) A point. ("Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing." -Benjamin Franklin. I say, compromise, and write something worth doing. I don’t want to read a story about nothing.)

JK: What type of book makes you NOT want to read it? Why?

SS: Basically, anything grievously lacking any of the above qualities.

JK: Since this blog will be read by other writers, what kind of books would you like to see more of?

SS: Epic adventures. Rescues. Books that make people remember "that other great book they read." :-) Battles fought and won, dragons slain. Heroes that the readers love, villains that the readers fear. That is what I look for in a story.

JK: What topics interest you?

SS: Fiction, fantastic creatures, allegory, Christianity, authors. Writing about reading. Reading about writing.

JK: Do you feel that boys are well represented in recent literature?

SS: Sometimes, I wish actual guys were more like the characters. Sometimes, I wish the characters would be more like actual guys. I wish that boys had the will for sacrifice like Harry Potter, but that books in general would recognize that guys aren't all just book-despising athletes. :-D See what I mean?

JK: Absolutely. What was your favorite picture book? Why?

SS: Dr. Seuss' The Sleep Book. The beauty of the fantastic images he created through use of color, proportion, and creativity was near equal to the beauty of his words. It wasn't just a pretty picture, there was meaning to every image.

JK: You were recently in LLAMA LLAMA RED PAJAMA by Anna Dewdney at Stages Theatre Company. What was that experience like?

SS: It was a blast. There was dancing, there was spitting, there were actors- we all had a great time. :-)

JK: How do you think theatre can inspire?

SS: Same way any book can- through story. Giving people something to care about.

JK: Where do you see yourself in ten years?

SS: At a writing desk, listening to a movie soundtrack, with a kiddo on my lap and a notebook in my hand. But who knows. I'll be where God wants me.

JK: Who is the best playwright you ever worked with? (JOKE!)

SS: Well, there was this one back in third grade... (JOKE!) :-D

Thank you, Seth! Be sure to check out Seth’s blog:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Behind the Scenes Month

Jennifer Kirkeby & Seth Skokerboe
I am honored to be a part of Beth Stilborn's blog, By Word of Beth during her Behind the Scenes Month! She has so much wonderful information about writing and the arts.

Please visit her blog:


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Liebster Blog Award - Spreading the Love

During the month of February, I have had the honor of receiving two Liebster Blog awards!

My gratitude goes to fellow 12 X 12 in 2012 participant Beth Stilborn at and author Sarah Frances Hardy at Thank you Beth and Sarah!

“Liebster is a German word, meaning dearest or beloved, but it can also mean favorite. The idea behind the Liebster Blog Award is that it is given to bloggers who have less than 200 followers in order to create new connections and bring attention to these wonderful blogs!”

The requirements are simple: Add the award to your blog (simply save the logo above to your desktop, then add it to your blog). Thank the giver with a link back to them. Pass the award along to five other bloggers, and let them know they’ve been given an award by leaving a comment on their blog. Hope that your followers will spread the love to the blogs you’ve spotlighted.

Here are five random things about me:

1. The first thing I remember writing was choreography to Swan Lake. Then I would perform my dance for my family. My mom loved it. My brothers didn't.

2. I'm ambidextrous. I think it's a result of trying to please my teacher who kept trying to get me to switch to writing with my right hand and staying true to myself.

3. I love theatre. I just finished performing the 44th show of the musical that I adapted of Anna Dewdney's  book, LLAMA LLAMA RED PAJAMA.

4. I have 2 Schnoodles. I can't imagine life without animals. Especially these two:

Snickers and Sadie
5. Humor is as important as food to me.

And now the best part of any blog award — giving it to someone else! Please visit these bloggers, and if you like what you see on their blogs, click to follow!

1. Dana Carey

2. Laura Purdie Salas

3. Lisa Bullard

4. Renee LaTulippe

5. Jennifer Bertman

Friday, February 3, 2012

Anna Dewdney's Visit

Anna Dewdney & Jennifer Kirkeby
Stages Theatre Company had the pleasure of a visit from Anna Dewdney, the very popular author and illustrator of LLAMA LLAMA RED PAJAMA. The cast was very excited to meet her! She saw our musical adaptation twice and signed her book for many thrilled audience members.

Anna talking to the cast prior to the show
Baby Llamas in their bedrooms
Mama Llamas
Artistic Director Sandy Boren-Barret, Playwright and Mama Llama, Jennifer Kirkeby
Author and Illustrator of LLAMA LLAMA RED PAJAMA, Anna Dewdney
Anna Dewdney and the Cast of LLAMA LLAMA RED PAJAMA at Stages Theatre Company
Since we opened on January 13th, we have been averaging ten shows a week. By the time we close on February 12th, approximately 22,000 people will have seen this show. It has been an honor and a privilege to be a part of this fun production. It is particularly rewarding to hear parents thank us for bringing their child's favorite book to life. I love to talk to kids about books when we greet them in our receiving line after the show. Thanks for the visit, Anna, and we look forward to reading more LLAMA books!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

From the Page to the Stage: a few tips on how I adapt a picture book into a musical

At Stages Theatre Company on opening night of LLAMA LLAMA RED PAJAMA
I am frequently asked how I take a picture book of say 200 words or so, and turn it into an hour musical. I have a few secrets that I'd like to share.
The book author has already done a lot of the work. They have developed a character, a problem, and an ending. So I begin there.
In the case of Anna Dewdney's LLAMA LLAMA RED PAJAMA, Artistic Director Sandy Boren-Barrett had the idea of having six baby llamas and six mama llamas instead of just one each. Each character has a unique and clear personality. The individual mamas only relate to their own babies, so in essence there are six stories tied together with wonderful musical numbers composed by Shirley Mier.
Then my imagination gets to unleash. One of the babies is a drama llama, another loves to golf, one likes to do magic tricks, Billy is the next "tap-dancing sensation!", one baby plays soccer, and another is an avid reader.
As a result, each baby establishes what they do immediately. They have conversations with their stuffed baby llamas. Once they're tucked in bed, they come up with crazy ideas as to why their mamas aren't coming back to check on them.
"She probably joined the circus." "I'll be she went to outer space!" "She probably joined "Dancing With The Stars." "She went to Hollywood to be on "Are You Smarter Than A Llama?" "I'll bet she went up the beanstalk!"
And yes, I did word play. How could I resist having one of the mama llamas who happens to be a clean freak say: "I'd better clean up in case Obama Llama stops by." Or: "Pick up your dolly, llama." I just couldn't help myself.
Then the audience watches these vignettes come to life through the magic of theatre. It's just enough to keep the young ones engaged and the parents chuckling. What parent doesn't relate to trying to get their child to bed? And how creative do kids get in trying to have their parents return?
There are wonderful musical numbers such as: "I Don't Want to Go to Bed", "Llama Lullaby", "All Alone", "The Humming Song", "What is Mama Llama Doing?" and "Stomp and Pout, Jump and Shout".
I try very hard to stay true to the original author's intent although clearly much is added in the creation of a musical. But I think a lot of the process is wonderful for a picture book author. For example:
  1. Try writing your story only with dialogue. How does it change things?
  2. Try asking: "What if?" Let your character fly to outer space if they feel like it. You can always bring them back later.
  3. Don't limit the dialogue to just the characters. What if the stuffed animal talked to your character? What if their pet spoke to them? The lamp? What would they say, and how would your character respond?
  4. Try different settings for your story. How would it change if your character was in a boat in the middle of the ocean? In a tree? In another country?
  5. DON'T CENSOR YOURSELF! This is a big one for me and a lot of writers. You know that voice that is always telling you: "That is ridiculous. A chicken can't waltz!" Well, guess what? In my world they can! Have fun. The real work begins in the rewrites anyway. 
Jennifer Kirkeby is a published playwright, actress and teaching artist. Her adaptation of Ludwig Bemelmans' MADELINE'S CHRISTMAS (Dramatic Publishing Company) has been performed in more than 45 theatres nationwide. She's the mama of two beautiful girls who were masters of avoiding bedtime when they were little.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

llama llama red pajama: make-up day!

LLAMA LLAMA RED PAJAMA opens this Friday at Stages Theatre Company! We have all been working very hard. I thought it would be fun for you to see some before and after photos of the actors. Please be sure and scroll down to the bottom for more info. Enjoy!


Seth in make-up

Seth in costume and make-up
Clare in costume and make-up
Grant in make-up

Grant in make-up and costume

Maddie in make-up

Maddie in costume and make-up

Nikki in make-up

Nikki in costume and make-up


Jill in make-up

Jill in costume and make-up


Emma in make-up

Emma in costume and make-up

Joanna in costume and make-up

Michelle in make-up

Michelle in costume and make-up

Keegan in costume


Alaina in make-up

Alaina in costume and make-up


Lizzie in make-up
Jill, Joanna & Gretchen

Gretchen in costume and make-up


Jennifer in make-up

Jennifer in costume

Llama Llama Red Pajama by award-winning Author Anna Dewdney premieres at Stages Theatre Company (STC) Jan. 13 at the Hopkins Center for the Arts. This musical production, adapted by Playwright Jennifer Kirkeby and music by Shirley Mier, is perfect for all ages and runs under an hour in length.

The script features six adult female actors portraying different mama llamas, and six youth actors portraying different baby llamas. “Each of the baby llamas has their own bedtime rituals. The audience will instantly relate to The Common issue of trying to get their children to go to bed. They will be introduced to Carey the actress, Holly who plays soccer, Lonnie the magician, Joey who loves to play golf, Billy “The Next Tap Dancing Sensation!”, and Lana who would rather read than go to sleep,” says Kirkeby.

Upcoming events for “Llama Llama Red Pajama” include an appearance by Author Anna Dewdney at the Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul on Saturday, Jan. 28 beginning at 10:30 a.m.; a book signing with Dewdney following the Sunday, Jan. 29 afternoon performance at Stages Theatre Company (annual fundraiser, Snowball) and at the Mall of America on Tuesday, Feb. 7 for Toddler Tuesday with sample performances at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m.

Llama Llama Red Pajama begins Jan. 13 and ends Feb. 12 and tickets can be purchased by visiting for performance dates and times, or by calling the Box Office at (952) 979-1111, Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for children (ages 5 to 17) and seniors (60+). Lap passes are available for free (ages 0 to 2) and $5 (ages 3 to 4).

Stages Theatre Company was founded in 1984 and since then has grown to become one of the largest professional theatres for young audiences in the country. We engage young artists with themes relevant to their lives and involve them in creating magical works featuring young people in meaningful roles. Through theatrical productions, workshops, conservatory classes and other outreach programs, Stages Theatre Company annually serves more than 130,000 young people and their families.


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