INTERVIEW: Katharine Holabird on the enduring legacy of ‘Angelina Ballerina’

Photo: Angelina Ballerina has jumped from the page to the stage in a new musical version from Vital Theatre Company. Photo courtesy of Russ Rowland / Provided by press rep with permission.


The Angelina Ballerina books by Katharine Holabird continue to be a publishing phenomenon, and now some of those stories have jumped from the page to the stage, thanks to a new musical playing the Soho Playhouse in New York City. Angelina Ballerina The Musical plays at the downtown venue through Nov. 17, only to be replaced by Angelina Ballerina The Very Merry Holiday Musical from Nov. 24 to Dec. 28.

In the many books exploring this ballerina’s life, Holabird has crafted a wonderful tale of overcoming the odds and achieving one’s dreams. The title character is a young girl with aspirations of being a prima ballerina one day. Oh, and she’s a mouse.

The stories, written by Holabird and illustrated by Helen Craig over a 30-year period, have already been adapted into a successful TV series, Angelina Ballerina The Next Steps, and now the little-mouse-who-could is ready for Vital Theatre Company’s stage adaptation.

Parents and children alike, be warned — this one is cute and family friendly.

Recently Hollywood Soapbox exchanged emails with Holabird about the global success of Angelina Ballerina. Questions and answers have been slightly edited for style.

When did the idea for Angelina Ballerina first come to you?

When my two daughters were little they loved to dress up in pink tutus and twirl around the house, and they inspired me to write about a passionate little dancer who dreams of being a beautiful ballerina. I wrote the first draft of Angelina Ballerina at the kitchen table with my daughters dancing around me. Helen Craig illustrated my story with her adorable white mouse, and the rest, as they say, is history.

How do you enter the mind of a child to better understand what stories and characters they will enjoy?

I’ve always loved children, and I enjoy the challenge of writing stories that resonate with them. I try to put myself in their shoes (and their ballet slippers) and that helps me remember what it’s like to be young and small with so much growing up to do. Not surprisingly, I was a passionate little dancer too when I was 5 years old!

Have you been surprised by the success of Angelina Ballerina?

When I started writing story books I had no idea Angelina would become such a classic children’s character. It’s been a wonderful journey, and I’m thrilled that Simon and Schuster is bringing out refreshed new editions of all the beautiful Angelina Ballerina classic books, along with some exciting new titles — look out for them in your nearest bookstore! Over the years, the best part for me has been seeing how Angelina touched the lives of so many young children and their families.

Angelina Ballerina The Musical, produced by Vital Theatre Company, is currently playing the Soho Playhouse in New York City. Photo courtesy of Russ Rowland / Provided by press rep with permission.

How did this family-friendly musical come about?

Stephen Sunderlin, the artistic director of Vital Theatre Company, contacted me through my website, and naturally I was thrilled with the idea of an Angelina musical. It was great fun working with Vital on the production, and I’m delighted with the show. Angelina Ballerina The Musical is perfect family entertainment, with lots of catchy songs and terrific dancing. At the end of the show everyone is invited onstage, and I love watching the children’s excitement as they leap onstage and dance with the cast. It’s pure magic.

What has been your favorite adventure Angelina has experienced?

Angelina has certainly had lots of adventures over the years! She danced on a barge with her grandparents, and with princesses at the royal palace, and she even danced at the Big Cheese Dance Festival. Everything begins with Angelina Ballerina. That’s when Angelina takes her first lessons at Miss Lilly’s Ballet School and realizes she’s a true dancer. This small beginning is the start of all Angelina’s brilliant adventures, so it’s a favorite of mine.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

Angelina Ballerina The Musical, from Vital Theatre Company, is currently playing the Soho Playhouse in New York City. Click here for more information and tickets.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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