A young girl in a party dress stands in front of a colorful backdrop. An older boy in a striped shirt and baseball cap stands behind her to the right.
Maria Clara Ospina and Juan Gonzalez Machain in Carmela Full of Wishes at Chicago Children's Theatre Credit: Joel Maisonet

The world premiere of Carmela Full of Wishes at the Chicago Children’s Theatre offers young audiences a vibrant story of hope, family, and community.

Directed by Michelle Lopez-Rios and adapted by Alvaro Saar Rios from the children’s book by author Matt de la Peña and illustrator Christian Robinson, the play tells the story of Carmela (Maria Clara Ospina), an exuberant seven-year-old. On the morning of her birthday, she is thrilled to finally be old enough to join her reluctant big brother (Juan Gonzalez Machain) on his errands around town. On their way, she finds a lone dandelion growing on the pavement. As she follows her brother’s lead through their community, she considers the perfect wish she can make on it.

Carmela Full of Wishes Through 5/22: Sat-Sun 10:30 AM and 12:30 PM; Sat 5/14 sensory-friendly performances (open captioning 12:30 PM); Sun 5/15, 10:30 AM ASL interpretation, 12:30 PM open captioning; Chicago Children’s Theatre, 100 S. Racine, 312-374-8835, chicagochildrenstheatre.org, $32. Recommended for all ages, especially 5-10.

Carmela’s world is bright and optimistic, but her story is ultimately one of resilience. She and her migrant family are troubled by the absence of her beloved Papi, who she anticipates a call from on her birthday. Ospina thoughtfully leads the audience on Carmela’s journey to find the right wish and does a superb job balancing her joyful spirit and the vulnerabilities that her family’s situation has created for her. Lopez-Rios and the ensemble explore the scenario and the cultural context surrounding it in a digestible way but never underestimate its young audience’s intelligence and empathy. During the show’s final scene, audience members are invited to take part in a moving visual that serves as a catharsis and signal of hope for Carmela and her family.