Stay ‘Weird!’: A new musical gets its start in Syracuse, NY

A new musical with deep Syracuse roots is coming to the Oncenter’s Carrier Theater.

“Weird! The Musical” is written by Syracuse locals Shawn Forster, Dani Ryan, and Dave Reckess from Peaceful Schools Productions. The musical is an adaptation of “The Weird Series,” a collection of books written by Erin Frankel and illustrated by Paula Heaphy, both Syracuse University alumni.

Frankel got the idea for the books while living in Alabama and her daughters were in elementary school. One of her daughters was encountering issues of bullying in school. Frankel had gone to the school to solve the problem, but while everyone was willing to help, the issue continued.

“My daughter’s experience coincided with lots of stories on the national news at that time about bullying. There were several highly publicized cases of young children committing suicide with a correlation to bullying,” Frankel said.

Frankel said she had also been the target of bullying when she was younger. Her experiences combined with the news and her daughter’s troubles at school, she felt enough was enough.

“I needed to do something in any way that I could to try to make a difference,” Frankel said.

“I was working in Nashville on art projects. While I was there, I kept having this idea call to me that I should illustrate children’s books,” Heaphy said. “Erin called me to say she had written a book. I felt it was a great way to communicate about the topic and the story really resonated with me. When she asked me to illustrate it, I immediately said yes!”

Even though bullying tactics may have changed with the evolution of technology and cyberbullying, both Frankel and Heaphy feel that the core of the issues and feelings involved with bullying are the same as when they were younger.

They took two years to collaborate and refine the story and put together a fully illustrated ‘dummy’ book. Frankel’s daughters were involved with the process as well, giving feedback on the story and Heaphy’s drawings. The series was published almost two years later.

Peaceful Schools, a provider of social-emotional education and conflict resolution services, found “The Weird Series” while looking for new literature to use in their social skills programming. Forster, the Artistic Director for Peaceful Schools Productions, saw the books spark bigger conversations in classrooms.

“When we found “The Weird Series”, we instantly fell in love with the books,” Forster said. “I think kids find themselves in one of the characters, whether it’s Luisa the target of the bullying, Sam the character trying out the bullying behavior, or Jayla the bystander who knows what it feels like to be bullied, but is now being dared to do it herself.”

After launching Peaceful Schools Productions in 2013 and touring an existing show, Forster said they felt like the team needed to create their own show. When looking for inspiration, he kept coming back to “The Weird Series.” In 2014 he reached out to Frankel on Facebook and shared how much Peaceful Schools loved the books and asked if she had ever thought about having her characters sing and act on stage.

“Before I had even finished reaching Shawn’s message I was texting Paula with music note emojis. I am so grateful to him and Peaceful Schools for giving these characters a voice. Having different ways that this story can reach children is so great. I can’t wait to see it in person. It’s really emotional,” Frankel said.

The musical combines all of the books from the series into one timeline. Adapting the books to a musical format was an easy job Forster said, as Frankel and Heaphy’s characters were so well developed.

The show was workshopped and fine tuned in front of school audiences, touring for the whole of the past school year. “Weird! the Musical” had public performances in January 2019 in the Carrier Theater at the Civic Center and will be returning this June.

This performance will be special as Frankel and Heaphy will be seeing it for the first time and their first time back to Syracuse since they graduated in 1993.

“We’re going to go back to the quad and past where we used to live together. We lived together for three years from the Haven dorm, to a sorority house, and then our senior year on Euclid,” Heaphy said.

A nod to Syracuse University shows up in “The Weird Series” with the book “Nobody”. The main character Thomas has an S.U. ball cap hanging from his dresser in the opening of the book.

The Weird Series

“I feel like these books helped Erin and I rewrite our own stories. We felt so much love for these children we created. I am so excited to see these characters come to life,” Heaphy said.

Audiences interested in having their “Weird” books signed by Frankel and Heaphy will be able to do so at the performance.

The cast recording of “Weird! The Musical” will be released on June 11 featuring CNY native and former competitor on “The Voice”, Josh Batstone.

Interested in seeing ‘Weird! The Musical’? Here are the details:

Where: The Oncenter Carrier Theater, 411 Montgomery St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202

When: Sunday, June 9 at 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. The 4:30 p.m. performance will be ASL interpreted and is all-inclusive for children and adults with special needs.

How much: Adult $15, Child $10.

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