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.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

llama llama red pajama: from the page to the stage

Stages Theatre Company in Hopkins, Minnesota is getting ready for the world premiere of  LLAMA LLAMA RED PAJAMA. It opens January 13th. It's an exciting time, and I thought that I'd share some of our rehearsals with you.

l. to r. Claire, Maddie, Emma, Alaina and me in our Llama shirts

This photo is from our first night with sound. Getting used to the microphones and sound levels is a very important part of the rehearsal process, as you can imagine.

Director, Sandy Boren-Barret and choreographer, Ann Marie Omeish

Sandy Boren-Barret, the director of the show, and the Artistic Director of Stages Theatre Company, had a great idea for this musical. She envisioned six Mama Llamas and six Baby Llamas. They all have different personalities. For example, one baby loves theatre, another plays soccer, one is a magician, and another loves to golf. The audience will get to see each Mama Llama try to get her Baby Llama to go to bed, and the funny things that the Baby Llamas try to do to stay up.

It was a lot of fun coming up with different excuses as to why the Baby Llamas don't want to go to bed. This is a picture of Grant. He plays Billy, "The Next Tap Dancing Sensation!" Of course he wants to tap dance instead of go to bed.

Anna Dewdney

We are all very excited because Anna Dewdney will be visiting us and seeing the show on January 29th!

Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney
Adapted by Jennifer Kirkeby
Music by Shirley Mier

For more information about the show, please visit:

Also, be sure and check out Anna's website:


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