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.
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