By Jessica Neu
Pittsburgh’s Prime Stage Theater debuted its first Sprouts’ production, The Amazing Lemonade Girl, as part of their initiative to make children’s theater accessible to young theatergoers and their grownups. Adapted by James DeVita and directed by Allison Weakland, The Amazing Lemonade Girl runs June 16th through 19th at the New Hazlett Theater. The one-act performance, which runs slightly over one hour, tells the story of Alex Scott, a young girl diagnosed with a rare childhood illness. Determined not to allow her illness to define her, she began a front yard lemonade stand to raise funds to help other kids. Her tenacity captured the nation’s attention, and a national foundation in her namesake continues to raise money for pediatric cancer research.
The Amazing Lemonade Girl features six incredible young actors. Rayna Akin portrays the brave eight-year-old Alex, who approaches herself and her illness with almost a Mr. Rogers-like altruism. Akin and the other five young actors (Maya Anabella, Jayden Greening, Eamonn McElfresh, Cameron Tino, Kayla Zhu) seemingly achieved the impossible. They portray children with a sense of innocence and lightheartedness that was engaging and relatable to my six-year-old daughter. But they also approach the grave topic of childhood terminal illness with a maturity that captured the raw spectrum of emotions felt by not just Alex but her brother, parents, and medical team. I certainly hope that none of these young actors have or ever will know what it is to be terminally ill or lose a child to illness, but their vulnerable performances were both dignified and effervescent.
The play weaves a discrete yet powerful metaphor from the show’s beginning until the very last moments that children in the audience will likely not comprehend but adds another layer of emotion and complexity for adults. For the younger audience, the script explains cancer in an approachable, understandable manner that never evokes a sense of fear or morbidity. Each actor asks Alex questions such as, “how did it (cancer) start?” and “is it contagious?” with a child-like inquisitiveness that is relatable for kids and refreshing for adults, given the gravity of the situation.
At its seeds, the show addresses how to handle big emotions – an area in which children often struggle or feel conflicted. The play goes beyond a one-dimensional portrayal of emotion and encourages audience members to talk about their “big feelings,” even if they believe them unjust or selfish. The characters also explain that it is common to feel two big feelings at once, which they validate with a sense of compassion and empathy. How to handle big emotions and the notion that we must talk about our feelings and others’ feelings are explained with child-like exaggerated movements and humorous nuances that keep children engaged throughout the show.
Ultimately, young and mature audience members are encouraged to make a difference, “one cup at a time.” My daughter loved the show and wants to see it again as she liked each character and found the beginning especially amusing.
I believe that a show is great when you know how it will conclude and can even predict the line that will shift the plot to its cathartic end based on the major metaphor. However, you are still inundated with powerful emotions even when that moment comes. With a Hamilton-esque conclusion, we can learn just how much impact one young girl can have on the world. I somehow left the theater crying (along with most other adults) but also felt uplifted and encouraged that there are still good people in the world and that positive change is still possible through kindness, love, and persistence. Bad things happen, but there is always good, even if you have to look a little harder to find the good. The good is there, and we cannot lose sight of our horizon to recognize its existence.
For performance times and tickets visit: https://ci.ovationtix.com/36406/production/1081535