U.E.S. authors get their turn in the spotlight
Upper East Side In many ways, 11-year-old Carrie Berk is a normal sixth grader. She takes ballet classes after school and goes to summer camp in Scarsdale, where she played Sandy in a production of "Grease" a few years ago. She left P.S. 6 on the Upper East Side for Trevor Day School this fall, and she's learning to balance her new friendships with the old. She loves the musical Wicked, the movie Frozen, and the TV show Glee. And like many kids her age, she's a big fan of dessert, especially cupcakes.
But Carrie, who lives on the Upper East Side, has a rather adult résumé. An experienced baker and seasoned food critic, she reviews cupcakes from all over the world for her blog, Carrie's Cupcake Critique. She has nearly 90,000 Facebook followers, and along with her mother, best-selling author Sheryl Berk, Carrie created "The Cupcake Club," a children's book series about a group of friends who form a baking club.
Carrie cooked up the idea while at a sleepover in second grade. She wrote a two-page story about cupcakes, and Sheryl showed it to her literary agent. Publishers were interested.
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Carrie's short story formed the plot of the first book in the series, Peace, Love and Cupcakes, about Kylie, a new girl in school who battles bullies and struggles to make friends until she starts a cupcake club. Many of the characters are based on Carrie's friends and teachers from P.S. 6. The book was published in 2012 and inspired a new musical from off-Broadway children's playhouse Vital Theatre (2162 Broadway, near 76th Street). "Peace, Love and Cupcakes: The Musical," opened Saturday, March 15 and is scheduled to run through April 26.
"We're big Broadway geeks," said Sheryl. "The idea of a musical was so exciting for us."
Rehearsals for the show began last month, but even before casting, Carrie made sure that Rick Hip-Flores, who wrote the script, music and lyrics, knew what she had in mind.
"I wanted Wicked and Frozen mixed together," Carrie said as she finished a dish of cookies and cream ice cream at Sugar and Plumm on the Upper West Side. "I didn't want it to be babyish."
After watching a run-through of the show, she told Hip-Flores she thought a scene in which the actors talked directly to the audience seemed too young for her age group, and she asked him to change it.
Director Jennifer Curfman said Carrie offered a valuable voice throughout the show's development.
"It was very important to Carrie that the show appealed to her peer group," Curfman said a few days before opening night. "Appealing to that audience has been what her eye has been on all along."
Keeping up with Carrie's creative vision sometimes requires last-minute changes. After Sheryl sent the manuscript for the fourth book in the series, Icing on the Cake, to her editor, Carrie asked to incorporate her new Havanese puppy, Maddie, into the story.
"She said, 'we've got to rewrite the whole book," said Sheryl. "They gave us two weeks, and we made an entire subplot about Jenna, who's the lead character in that book, adopting a Havanese puppy named Dulce."
Carrie hasn't always felt so bold, she said. Like Kylie in the books, she used to be shy, but winning the lead role in Grease at camp made her more confident, much like the cupcake club boosted Kylie's self-esteem.
"She's kind of progressing with me," Carrie said.