Jeff Kinney, author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, was in Minneapolis last week for the Friday evening premiere of Wimpy Kid: The Musical, followed by a Saturday book signing at Wild Rumpus Books. See our photos of all the festivities.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Musical premiered on Friday evening at the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis to a sold-out audience that was a mix of friends and family of the cast, young fans of the Wimpy Kid books by Jeff Kinney accompanied by their parents, and a group of indie booksellers. As people took their seats, few knew that Kinney himself was in the audience, as well as five executives from his publisher, Abrams, who had flown in from New York City for the occasion.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s theater critic, Rohan Preston called Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Musical “spectacular, with electricity, charm, and heart to spare.”
The staging was “nonstop movement,” Preston declared, describing Ricky Falbo, the actor who plays 12-year-old Greg Heffley, as “a pocket-size star with solid theatrical chops and matching charisma,” and his best friend Rowley (David Rosenthal) as “a ball of goodness and awkward innocence.”
An appreciative audience leapt to its feet as soon as the play ended, and gave a long standing ovation to the entire company, who danced in appreciation after all of the actors had taken their individual bows. By the way, this was no “Minnesota O,” which is what Minnesotans often do at the theater to be polite to perfomers… this was the real deal. The show will have a six-week run, and there are rumors of a Broadway transfer.
The cast gathered for a group picture during the champagne and lemonade reception that followed the performance.
After congratulating the cast backstage, Kinney arrived at the reception, where he was immediately surrounded by children wanting him to sign books, which he graciously did.
The reception became a photo op, with family and friends snapping shots of a memorable evening with the obviously thrilled cast, who had sang and danced their hearts out on stage earlier. (From l.): Nate Turcotte (Ensemble/Chris Hosey), David Rosenthal (Rowley), Ricky Falbo (Greg), and Madison Neal (Ensemble).
Jeff Kinney and Ricky Falbo (Greg Heffley). Kinney admitted to the Star Tribune’s Preston that Greg is his fictional alter-ego, explaining that at that age, “I was petty, I could be untruthful and I was manipulative, even though I also had my good qualities.... Greg is an amplified version of the worst parts of me as a kid. Basically, if any of us had a camera following us around when we’re 12 or 13, the results wouldn’t be good.”
Kinney’s star turn in the spotlight didn’t end Friday night: on Saturday morning, he visited Wild Rumpus, which recently won the Women’s National Book Association’s 2016 Pannell Award for specialty children’s bookstore. On a warm and sunny morning, 300 children and their parents crowded the store for two hours, patiently waiting to exchange words with Kinney, get their photos taken, and have him sign their books. The event, Wild Rumpus reported, had sold out in 20 minutes of their announcement. Abrams children’s books publisher Andrew Smith kept a close eye on proceedings as Barb Aronson, a commission rep with Fuji Associates, who handles Midwest accounts for Abrams, assisted Kinney. Aronson, by the way, is going out with a bang: she is retiring in May.
Kinney is very committed to interacting with his young fans at bookstore signings, and was a big hit with his Twin Cities readers.
Children crowded about Kinney’s table the entire two hours of the signing, and he proved to be quite adept at cracking jokes and signing books at the same time.
After the last children had their books signed, Kinney took a moment to have his photo taken with the Wild Rumpus booksellers. Abrams personnel all praised Wild Rumpus staff for excelling at crowd control. Bookseller Heather Albinson, who staffed the front entrance during the event, told PW that a recent visit to Disneyland had given her some excellent pointers about how to handle mobs of children. (From l.): Ellen Ouraba, Alec Shaw, events coordinator Drew Sieplinga, owner Colette Morgan, Albinson, and Colleen O’Neill with Kinney.
An earlier version of this story misidentified two cast members, Nate Turcotte and Madison Neal, and has been corrected.