Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Wisconsin, SE

Finder and the North StarChildren's Theater of Madison
Review by John Chatterton

Also see John's recent reviews of Shining in Misery: A King-Size Parody and Jesus Christ Superstar

The Cast
Photo by Zak Stowe
"Don't put your daughter on the stage, Mrs. Worthington," sang Noël Coward, and the warning has always been relevant to certain kinds of children's theater, specifically those that involve putting children on stage for the amusement of their parents. But Children's Theater of Madison (CTM) seems to have found a solution to the problem. Their A Christmas Carol was outstanding. It had two ensembles, for adults and youth, and the casting eliminated any concerns about the talents of the Worthington offspring.

Where A Christmas Carol tended to feature adults in the main speaking roles and younger actors in the dances and choral or group numbers, Finder and the North Star by Erica Berman, part of the World Premiere Wisconsin festival, stars one of the Young Company Actors, Phoebe Werner. She has acted before with CTM, as well as with Madison Ballet and the American Players Theatre, who produced an outstanding Hamlet last summer. She has the stage presence and chops necessary to animate a stage character rather than go through animatronic motions on stage. Another distinction that makes a real difference in casting is that Werner portrays a young person, Finder, so no squinting is required to imagine an older character. Regardless of the balance between older and younger actors, the purpose of this kind of children's theater is for grownups to bring their children to a show–a great business model, since almost everyone knows or has a child and has to fill the constant need for new activities for that child.

In the story, a girl makes a wish (not clearly specified) on a star. The star happens to be the North Star (the colorfully costumed Siobhan Jackson), who has not yet graduated from the Academy. It turns out that North Star must guide Finder through the galactic bureaucracy necessary to grant her wish. Along the way, she meets the officious but charming Ptolemy, festooned in ties and a fancy hat (Casem AbuLughod); the likable Lady Bug (Trevin Gay); the spectacularly head-pieced Vega (Aly Rader); the tragic Artemis, complete with bow and arrows (Molly Kempfer); the animated Marco (Samuel Alvarez); Destiny (Ramona Kim), with a well of broken wishes; and Smidge, who solves the last riddle in Finder's journey of self-discovery.

The set (Tara A. Houston) comprises mostly gray cubes and other rectangular solids, with a podium on top, offering many levels that director C. Michael Wright makes much use of. (Wright's technique also ensures lots of focus, a key element in ensemble acting.) Other elements of the set include an arch giving an impression of northern lights, made from strips of paper, and a similarly constructed wall of paper upstage. Hanging bunches of paper on which are written wishes from the audience, stand stage left and right. Other visual treats include large dandelions and the Milky Way. The costumes (Rafael Colón Castanera) provide lots of color and character support for the principals.

CTM supports many kinds of accessibility, including "sensory friendly/relaxed performances" for people on the autism spectrum, which involve performing with the house lights up at half, offering fidgets, and providing sunglasses and sound-dampening headphones.

The performances for Finder and the North Star take place in the Starlight theater at MYArts (Madison Youth Arts), a splendid venue on the Isthmus of Madison that also features a black box theater.

Finder and the North Star runs through March 5, 2023, at the Starlight Theater, MYArts, 1055 E. Mifflin St., Madison WI. For tickets and information, call 608-258-4141 or visit For more information about World Premiere Wisconsin, visit For more information about Children's Theater of Madison, see

Production Stage Manager: Anders Goodwin
Lighting and Projection Designer: Megan M. Reilly
Sound Designer: Ethan White
Movement Director: Kailey Azure Green
Ensemble: Casem AbuLughod, Samuel Alvarez, Trevin Gay, Kailey Azure Green, Molly Kempfer, Aly Rader, Gavin Lorenz, Julia Neitzel, Maddie Williams, Ramona Kim