Making a Difference: Peace, Love and Cupcakes with Sheryl Berk

Based on the popular Cupcake Club series, Peace, Love and Cupcakes is part of this year’s New York Musical Festival. The book series was written by mother/daughter duo, Sheryl and Carrie Berk. Sheryl is a New York Times bestselling author and renowned celebrity ghostwriter. We had a delightful conversation about the origins of this new musical and why it has such an important message.

Click here to read Part I of the Peace, Love and Cupcakes interview.

Serena: When Carrie first approached you with the idea for the book, what went through your mind?

Sheryl: She basically said, “I have this idea for a book and it’s like The Baby‑Sitters Club with cupcakes.” I said I would send it to my agent to humor her because I am a ghost writer and a book writer. We were on a cruise when they called and I couldn’t believe it. I said, “really, you want to do a book series?” This is just something Carrie came up with, but I think it touched a nerve. She was dealing so much with kids in her school who were bullying each other and really wanted to write about it. So I thought it was a great opportunity for her to communicate what she learned as a peer mediator and to reach out to other kids and to spread it in a message of anti-bullying. It started with just three books and it mushroomed into a 12‑book series. The last book is coming out in October, Cupcakes Are Forever. Kylie and her friends are graduating from elementary school in the book series and they pass the torch to a younger group of kids who become PLC Junior. Because we were writing the book as we were simultaneously writing the script for the musical, the characters that appear in the musical have actually become characters in the book series.

Serena: When did this story turn into a musical?

Sheryl: About three years ago we did this as a musical with Vital Theatre and it was an amazing experience. We got to work with Rick Hip‑Flores who is currently the musical director for The Great Comet. He is an incredible talent and it’s really interesting because he knows the musical and the story so well. He did the original book of the musical and it was written very differently, for a children’s theater. It was written with a cast of five adults playing children. Fast forward three years later, we really wanted to give it a whole new life and make it for younger performers to do in schools and camps. You can’t have five characters playing multiple roles, it’s just not going to work. Our cast is almost 20 kids and they are playing true to age. They range in age anywhere from 10 to 17. So there is an incredible authenticity when they are singing these songs and playing these parts about being bullied and doing the bullying, this is the stuff they see going on every day in their schools. They actually really helped us with the script. Sometimes they will say something and Jill Jaysen, the other co‑playwright and producer with Carrie and myself, will look at each other and say, “oh, my gosh, that’s just brilliant.”

The whole cafeteria scene came out of a workshop with Jill’s group in Westport. It was a group of second and third graders. We had all the kids sitting in a circle and just talking, getting to know each other, and talking about bullying. One little girl raised her hand and said, “I actually had to eat at the allergy table because nobody would let me sit with them and I don’t have allergies.” And that became Kylie’s story. So they actually helped shape the show in a lot of ways. Jack Richman’s personality helped shape the show. The personal stories and anecdotes of what they have been through helped shape the show. We always say it’s like art imitating life, life imitating art. It’s just completely meshed together.

Serena: What are you most excited for the audience to see? What do you think they will take away from this show?

Sheryl: I am really excited for them to see how we are weaving in kids from all over the world. At the very end of the show, we are starting this viral video campaign where we going to ask kids to sing “Different” and when they do it, we are going to project their faces up on a screen. I am really excited to see all the different incarnations of kids singing the song.

One of our cast members, James Ignacio, is in Italy right now and he was sitting in the middle of the Coliseum singing “Different.” Jack did the entire thing in sign language for us. We are really going to open it up to everybody on our website. Kids can upload videos of themselves singing it and we are going to do a mash‑up and project their faces because the whole show is really about inclusivity. That’s what I am really excited to see, how far it goes beyond just them, and I think that was always sort of the intention. We wanted this to be something that kids latch onto, and they walk out and think, “Wow, you know, I can make a difference. I can do something. It’s okay if I am a little different, if I don’t like things that everybody else likes. I don’t have to dress like everybody else dresses. I can be who I am.” That’s really the message of the show and I think they work very hard to tell that story because all the girls in The Cupcake Club has something that makes them stick out from the rest of the kids in their school and they don’t feel like they fit in. Yet when they find each other, all of a sudden it gels.

I think when Carrie was coming up with it, we were a little obsessed with Glee. So when she explained it to me, she said, “It’s like on Glee, they are all such outsiders and they get slushied, and then all of a sudden, they find each other and they win nationals.” That was sort of the concept, that Kylie and Sadie and Jenna and Lexie alone were outsiders, but when they come together all of a sudden they are instant celebrities and they find a place where they belong. Carrie had a lot of things in her head when she was coming up with it. It was definitely Glee, a little bit of Smash, a little bit of Cake Boss. Cupcake Wars, Baby‑Sitters Club… in the mind of an 8, 9‑year‑old, it all came together very fluidly. I just looked at it, “oh, it’s such a cute, little, creative story,” but the editors looked at it and said, “wow, this is out of the mouths of babes.” If this is what we can put out there and if this is what kids are thinking, these kids are the future. They are the ones that are going to push for change in this world. So it’s pretty amazing.

Peace, Love and Cupcakes is playing at the New York Musical Festival from July 27-30.
Book by Sheryl Berk, Carrie Berk & Jill Jaysen; Music and Lyrics by Rick Hip-Flores.
Click here for tickets and more info.

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