"Cheaper by the Dozen" takes the stage this week at Madison Square Center for the Arts.
"Cheaper by the Dozen" takes the stage this week at Madison Square Center for the Arts.
It’s all about family in the Center Players’ production of “Cheaper by the Dozen” this weekend.

The show that opens tonight at Madison Square Center for the Arts has a cast that includes a brother-sister, a father-son and a mother-daughter taking on roles of the real life Gilbreth family of 12 children and their friends in the 1920s. Other family connections include combinations of a brother on stage and his sister off stage running the lights, a husband acting while his wife is working back stage, and a husband-wife combo who serve as stage crew and set builder.

And, they’re all led by director Mandy Hackman who appeared as a lead in the play when the Center Players first did “Cheaper by the Dozen” in 2002. This time around, she’s directing her sister Allyn in that same role of Earnestine and her mother as matriarch Lillian Gilbreth.  Her dog, Pippin, plays the family dog on stage.

“With the Center Players, there are usually at least two members of the same family involved in our productions, but this time it’s a real family affair,” said Hackman, who is directing her firstplay for Madison’s community theater group.

A saying in the theater is never work with children or animals, “so I put all these children and a dog in one show,” Hackman said. “Our younger actors have done a fabulous job. It’s interesting how well they portray emotions. You wouldn’t expect that from 7- and 8-year-olds but they’re showing a range of facial expressions.

“The adults in the cast are very experienced actors so I’ve given them free reign. Most of my work has been with the kids, definitely developing the younger actors,” she said.

Hackman, a teacher at Madison Central High, is working in the theater with her sister for the first time but she’s used to giving her direction. She is the volleyball coach and the Beta Club sponsor for Allyn, a junior at Madison Central.

“It’s different,” Allyn said about working with her sister, who she refers to as Miss Hackman when she’s at school or in the theater. “I get to learn from her.”

The whole “Cheaper by the Dozen” experience isn’t limited to those sharing a last name, Allyn said. “Doing this show, we all became a family.”

 Hackman finds the perspective “very different” from the director’s seat than from the same stage 14 years ago she portrayed Earnestine as an eighth-grader. “When I read the script then, it was as a character. As director, I have to look at the whole play.”

The play, with its heart-warming story and humor, will appeal to families with its look at the Gilbreths and their take on life.

 “Although it’s set in the 1920s, the story holds up well,” Hackman said. “It’s very much a story that’s applicable today. Today parents may not be arguing with their children over wearing silk stockings but it’s still a kid wanting to grow up and parents not wanting to let go.”

“Families are families, and kids are kids,” said Ruth Broome-Hackman, Mandy’s mother.  “Fathers want to see their daughters grow up and yet not grow up. That’s still the same today.”

From an actor’s viewpoint, Broome-Hackman said that Mandy has proven to be a very talented director.

“I’ve been eager to work with her and for Madison to experience her work.”

The audience will get that opportunity during the four-run production. Shows Thursday, Friday and Saturday are at 7:30, and Sunday’s show is at 2:30. Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for seniors and students.

Others in the cast are: Alex Mangieri as Frank; Caroline Kiser as Martha; Davis Owens as Jackie; Dennis Hardy as Mr. Gilbreth; Emily Kay Kirk as Mary; Eric Narbo as Joe Scales; Isabelle Clemens as Lillian; Jackson Kiser as Larry; Jackson Rippel as Fred; Jameson Williams as Bill; John Rippel as Dr. Burton; Kaely Gibson as Anne; Lori McDade as Mrs. Fitzgerald; Natalie Thomas as Miss Brill; Yates Elfert as Dan; and    as Jane.

The Center Players’ next play is “Steel Magnolias” June 16-19.  Auditions for roles will be next week May 2 and May 3 at 6 p.m. at Madison Square Center for the Arts.

 More information is available at madisoncenterplayers.org.