17/18 Family Guide

Berkeley Playhouse Professional Season

Parenting is different for everyone, and we want to keep that ball in your court. In order to help with your decisions, we have created a handy guide for each show so that you know what to expect in order to make a decision you're comfortable with for your family. We always welcome parents to do their own research into the content of each of our shows.
Below you will find a listing for each show in our 2017-2018 Professional Season with notes on what might be a potential flag in each show as well as reasons why we think you should bring your family to each show. Education is central to our mission at Berkeley Playhouse and we hope this guide will enrich the learning experience of all of our patrons both young and seasoned.
The descriptions are broken up into three levels of engagement, often starting with a broad easily accessible life lesson and then progressing into more nuanced and advanced lessons from the show. 

Scroll down or click on a title below to find notices and discussion topics:

Sister Act

September 22 - October 22

At a Glance:

In this feel-good musical, disco diva Dolores Van Cartier is placed into protective custody at a convent after witnessing a crime. There is some gun violence, including a non-graphic shooting, as well as references to organized crime and allusions to prostitution. There is little profane language with the exception of the word “damn” being used in a few instances.  

Discussion Topics:

Level 1: Don’t judge a book by its cover
  • Much of the conflict, and comedy, stems from the characters making snap judgements about one another that prove to be overly simplistic, or even completely wrong. At the beginning of the play, both the nuns and Dolores judge one another based on their personality and professions. But once they are able to look beyond these stereotypes (which even we, as an audience, may have made), they form a mutual respect and friendship that will last a lifetime.
Level 2: The power of sisterhood
  • Sister Act celebrates what it means to be a woman and the power that women have when they stand together. Throughout the story, Dolores and the other nuns each go through their own journey of self-empowerment, and do so by supporting one another. Together, these women persevere against the corruption surrounding them and prove that staying true to yourself never goes out of style.
Level 3: Social identity and acceptance
  • At the beginning of the play, Dolores is offered sanctuary in a convent, on the condition that she adopt the nuns’ way of life. Initially, she is isolated for being different. However, over the course of the play, the Mother Superior and Dolores learn to value their differences and forge a new way of coexisting together that honors and celebrates both their differences and similarities.


November 10 - December 23

At a Glance:

This show is a wonderful story for families, with no particular language notes. Over the course of the play, Annie finds herself in a few risky situations, however violence is only briefly alluded to and never explicitly demonstrated.  

Discussion Topics:

Level 1: The meaning of family
  • As an orphan, Annie at first feels as though the only way to feel whole is to find her biological parents. However, by the end of the play, she realizes that she is able to build her own strong family. From her fellow orphans, to her new “Daddy” Warbucks, and her dog Sandy, her family members come in all shapes and sizes, each one fulfilling a different and important role.
Level 2: Resilience in the face of adversity
  • At its core, Annie is the story of a little girl who perseveres against all odds. From the beginning, when her world seems dismal, Annie is staunchly optimistic. When Annie is treated horribly by Miss Hannigan, she imagines a bright future for herself and those around her and refuses to give in. Her resilience in this story inspires President FDR to introduce the New Deal, a series of programs that will make the world a better place for all.
Level 3: Economic depression and poverty
  • Annie is set in the real historical time period of the Great Depression in America. In 1929, the stock market crashed and many families lost everything. This period of vast economic scarcity deeply changed the American people and their relationships with each other. Throughout the play, we see a stark contrast between the poverty that Annie lives in at the orphanage and the glitzy world of billionaire Warbucks.


February 16 - March 18

At a Glance:

Ragtime is a sweeping epic of hopes and dreams in a changing America at the turn of the 20th century. This show contains some strong language fitting the socio-political context of the play, for example, “sons of b**tches”, “take your head out of your a**”. The play also includes a sexually derogatory term for women and historically derogatory terms for Polish and German individuals. Additionally, the play features some gun violence as well a bomb threat.

In telling stories of racism and injustice, this play features historically derogatory language towards African Americans, including the word “negro” as well as two extreme racial slurs beginning with the letters “c” and “n”. These words are sometimes used in the most hateful way possible, and at other times by African Americans reclaiming them. Use of this hateful language is not glorified - it is never uttered casually or in a celebratory tone. Instead, these words are delivered with hate and ignorance.

At Berkeley Playhouse, we believe in the power of theater to generate and stimulate difficult conversations. We hope that this play allows a teachable moment for students. By engaging with the harsh reality of these situations, students will build an understanding of the uglier sides of American history.  

Discussion Topics:

Level 1: Don't give up on your dreams, or your dreams will give up on you
  • Ragtime highlights the journey of immigrants to America - their hopes, their dreams, and their struggles. Throughout the play, J.P. Morgan, Henry Ford & Harry Houdini are held up as examples of American success stories that immigrants should look up to. But through the story of Tateh and the Little Girl, recent immigrants from Latvia, we see the very real difficulties that immigrants face as they attempt to establish themselves in their new surroundings.
Level 2: The fight against injustice
  • The play highlights the teachings of Booker T. Washington, an American educator, author and orator who counseled friendship between the races and spoke of the promise of the future. The ongoing social turbulence of the times is demonstrated through the story of Coalhouse Walker, Jr., a ragtime musician in search of justice. This is a fight that continues to this day, in activist movements like Black Lives Matter.
Level 3: Capitalism and inequality
  • What role does capitalism play in the inequality we see in society to this day? Ragtime highlights the vast disparity of wealth in American capitalist society, where beggars and millionaires live together in disharmony. Radical anarchist Emma Goldman, seeing her fellow immigrants’ hopes turn to despair on the Lower East Side, becomes the voice for a movement against capitalism and holds rallies to protest the treatment of immigrant workers at the hands of American mill owners.

James and the Giant Peach

April 6 - May 6

At a Glance:

This show is a wonderful story for children of all ages. The only content note is that there is a comical death scene featuring the villain characters.

Discussion Topics:

Level 1: Home is where the heart is
  • At the beginning of this musical, we meet a sad boy who has lost his parents. He is uprooted and sent to live with his closest relatives who provide very little of a home for him. James finally finds home with the friends he has made in a house of his own creation, showing home is not just where you are, but who you are with.

Level 2: Ingenuity and invention
  • One of the reasons this story is so enduring is because of the creativity and ingenuity employed by the young protagonist. James is able to turn a peach into a home that not only floats, but flies and provides a source of sustenance for its inhabitants. The imagination of a child is not only a source of fun for the story, but also critical for the survival of the characters on their journey.
Level 3: Resilience in the face of adversity
  • Throughout this story, James develops a creative resilience to overcome the life-threatening challenges around him. By rallying his friends, he is able to use their combined strengths and talents to save their lives. Even when under attack, he is able to not only able to be brave himself, but to also inspire bravery amongst his insect friends.


June 22 - August 5

At a Glance:

This feel-good celebration of teenage spirit features some strong language and sexual innuendo, for example “son of a b**ch”, or “she goes all the way”.  

Discussion Topics:

Level 1: Never give up on yourself
  • Each of the teenagers in Grease longs for something, whether it's to express their true feelings, pursue a passion, or accept themselves. Over the course of the play, each is able to find a way to work towards what they want, even if there are some bumps along the way. They rely on their friends to help them pursue their dreams.
Level 2: You can’t follow a leader all your life
  • The high school world of Grease focuses on two groups of friends, the Pink Ladies, and Burger Palace Boys. Both groups place a heavy emphasis on their look, talk and lifestyles - so much so that it becomes difficult to discern what they want as individuals. However, as the play progresses two groups intermingle more and more, they begin to grow in their unique personalities. Each character comes into their own over the course of the story, knowing that after high school graduation they will have to forge their own path.
Level 3: Peer pressure
  • Throughout the play, Sandy tries (and often fails) to fit in with the new crowd she finds herself in. Early on, Rizzo tells her that if she wants to hang around with the Pink Ladies, she’s “gotta get with it”, meaning cave into the the peer pressure of smoking, drinking and getting into trouble. Ultimately, Sandy takes the time to reflect on what she wants, discover who she really is, and ends the play confident in fully embracing the rock-n-rollin’ 50s culture. .