What’s Going On

For the week of July 22-28…

Phantom of the Opera, July 23-August 3, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (marcuscenter.org)

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical is a bona fide Broadway legend, and when producer Cameron Macintosh puts one of his shows (Les Miserables, Miss Saigon are several others) on tour, audiences don’t get a watered-down “roadshow” production. Instead, they get a full-blown production, equaling what they’d experience on the Great White Way. And so it will be with Phantom when it plays the Marcus Center beginning Wednesday. The show boasts an exceptional cast, lavish sets…and a Milwaukee connection. The show’s co-musical directors, Richard Carsey and Jamie Johns, are mainstays of the local theater scene, particularly the Skylight Theater, and have taken a leave of absence for the past year to pursue this opportunity. Festivals may dominate Milwaukee’s summer landscape, but this show illustrates theater is alive during the summer as well!

German Fest, July 25-27, Maier Festival Park (germanfest.com)

It’s the last weekend in July, so it’s time again for Milwaukee’s Original Haus Party, otherwise known as German Fest. In addition to the usual abundance of food, culture, crafts, music, spanferkel, dachshund races, brat-eating contests and 3 on 3 soccer tournaments (After all, Germany just won the World Cup!), there’s a new twist to the proceedings this year. Utilizing the magnificent new BMO Harris Pavilion at Maier Festival Park (aka the Summerfest Grounds), German Fest is presenting Jams on Tap, rock shows featuring Three Dog Night, Bret Michaels, and the Plain White T’s. Jawohl, the gemuetlichkeit will be present in abundance at the Lakefront this weekend!

Broadway Theater Center Open House, July 25, Broadway Theater Center, 158 N Broadway (skylightmusictheatre.org)

This Friday is the Summer Edition of Milwaukee’s popular Gallery Night, and as a special treat, the Third Ward’s Broadway Theater Center is throwing open its doors for its annual Open House. Visitors can tour the building’s facilities and get a behind-the-scenes look at costume and set design shops, as well as seeing parts of the building the general public ordinarily never sees! You can also enter drawings throughout the building for various BTC prizes, and it’s all topped off with a Preview Showcase in the BTC’s beautiful Cabot Theater, where you’ll see performances from the BTC’s tenant groups (Skylight Music Theater, Milwaukee Chamber Theater, Renaissance Theaterworks, Milwaukee Children’s Chorus). And it’s FREE!!

Brady Street Festival, July 26, Brady Street from Van Buren St to Farwell Ave (bradystreet.org)

And the last weekend of July also means it’s time for the annual Brady Street Festival, another free street festival arriving just in time for those of you just recovering from Bastille Days a few weeks back! Four music stages featuring popular local bands will keep things hopping throughout the day and evening, and there are plenty of food and craft vendors lining the street to sample as well! Among the music acts are Kane Place Record Club, the Celebrated Workingman, Tweed Funk, Soul Low, Grace Weber, the Sleepwalkers and DJ Eric Blowtorch. And there’s a cheese curd eating contest along with the Dudes Will Be Divas Drag Show thrown in for good measure! It is truly the world of Brady Street in microcosm!

What’s Going On-Bastille Days Edition

Bastille Days, July 10-13, East Town (bastilledaysfestival.com)

Now that a historic Summerfest run is behind us, it’s time to resume the parade of Milwaukee’s summertime ethnic festivals. Coming up this weekend is the 33rd annual Bastille Days celebration, a unique gem among Milwaukee’s ethnic fests in that (a) it’s the only one held in the urban setting of Milwaukee’s East Town neighborhood near St John Cathedral, and (b) along with Greek Fest, it’s a FREE event! There’s plenty of French food and culture to immerse yourself in (including daily beginner’s French lessons, the famous “Storm the Bastille” run through downtown Milwaukee on Thursday, along with the return-by popular demand-of Madame Gigi’s Outrageous Cancan Dancers from Dayton, Ohio)…and there’s plenty of music too, with many national and local acts performing on the festival’s several music stages. Here’s a day-by-day at some of the music highlights:

Thursday, July 10
At the Cathedral Square Park Stage, Robin Pluer returns with her annual performances of French chansons, including many from the Edith Piaf songbook. She’ll be performing twice today, as will the Extra Crispy Brass Band, bringing Mardi Gras jazz flavors to Bastille Days.
Over at the Kilbourn West Stage, Madame Gigi’s will begin their series of daily performances, and they’ll be joined by the Celtic sounds of Myserk (Remember the Brittany region of France!) and the hot rockin’ 5 Card Studs.
At the Beaux Arts Stage, two bands featuring cello will be featured. First up is Nineteen Thirteen featuring Janet Schiff along with percussionists Victor (Violent Femmes) DeLorenzo and Scott Johnson. Along with original material, the trio like to mix in Kraftwerk covers, but I don’t think “Tour De France” will be one of them. Following 1913 is alternative band I’m Not a Pilot, which features Milwaukee Symphony cellist Peter Thomas, making a return to the Bastille Days stage.
And over at the Kilbourn East Stage, the daily French lessons will be capped by a performance by Milwaukee’s unique Squeezettes. They may not be at the usual polka events like Polish Fest and German Fest, but they’ve found a perfect home on the Bastille Days stage!

Friday, July 11
On the Cathedral Square Park Stage, Paul Cebar’s always-popular Tomorrow Sound will be back at Bastille Days, playing lunchtime and early evening shows, and the funky sounds of the Soul Rebels will cap the evening’s music.
At the Beaux Arts Stage, the evening gets underway with a Happy Hour cabaret show from local favorite Chanel le Meaux and the Dapper Cads, followed by the rockin’ jazz sounds of King Comets, capped by a performance of local alternative favorites Delta Routine.
Finally, at the Kilbourn East Stage, Milwaukee folk favorite Colin O’Brien returns for an afternoon show, and the evening finishes with the sassy Americana sounds of the Whiskeybelles.

Saturday, July 12
On the Kilbourn West Stage, the evening wraps up with the reggae sounds of the RAS Movement, featuring Milwaukee’s own “American Idol” finalist Naima Adedapo.
At the Beaux Arts Stage, Chanel le Meaux returns for another Happy Hour show, while the evening is capped with a show from another hot Milwaukee band, the sister duo Vic & Gab.
And at the Kilbourn East Stage, the evening’s star is Milwaukee’s Clown Prince of Music Comedy, the one and only Pat McCurdy.

Sunday, July 13
At the Cathedral Square Park Stage, longtime local favorite Willy Porter gets things rolling with a special early afternoon show. After the Waiter/Waitress Race, the music resumes with Liverpool’s Familiar Looking Strangers, fresh from their gig at Mequon’s Gathering on the Green, and concluding with the hot country sounds of Milwaukee’s Chasin’ Mason.
On the Kilbourn West Stage, the Extra Crispy Brass Band returns for a matinee show, followed by Milwaukee’s favorite summertime party band, the Love Monkeys.
At the Beaux Arts Stage, Robin Pluer and her talented band return for a late afternoon show on the more intimate BA stage.
And at the Kilbourn East Stage, Milwaukee’s exciting young country singer/songwriter Nora Collins gets the day rolling with a lunchtime show, while Yard Dog Charlie closes down the festival in the evening.

Well, that’s my take on Bastille Days 2014. Full festival information can be had by going to the link at the top of the column. Vive La France!

What’s Going On-Summerfest Edition

Summerfest, June 25-July 6, Maier Festival Park (summerfest.com)

Well, the Big Daddy of Milwaukee festivals is imminent.  Starting Wednesday, Summerfest will inundate Milwaukee’s lakefront with 10 solid days of music on a myriad of stages, including the 23,000 seat Marcus Amphitheater.  While everybody seems to weighing in with their picks for the biggest shows on this year’s schedule (a particularly impressive lineup), I’ve decided to take a different approach.  The following is a list of my personal preferences on the schedule.  None of them are performing in the Amphitheater; most of them are local acts.  For while the “World’s Biggest Music Festival” boasts plenty of star power, it’s also a major showcase for the area’s musicians, and fan support is crucial for return invitations to play the Big Gig.  You can get full schedule information at the link above, as well as links to all the individual acts on the lineup.  The following is my personal shopping list (presented chronologically) for acts to see at Summerfest 2014 (Please Note:  There are more acts I’d like to see, but unfortunately with the multiple venues, the inevitable conflicts arise).  So many acts, so little time!

Tweed Funk, Paul Cebar & Tomorrow Sound, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, June 25, Johnson Controls World Sound Stage

Lots of great acts are vying for your attention of Opening Day, but for my money, this triple-header can’t be beat.  It takes place in my favorite “side stage” in the park, the only one with a roof over the crowd.  Things get started at 5 pm with the one-two punch of Milwaukee’s Tweed Funk and longtime favorite Paul Cebar (his only Summerfest 2014 appearance) setting the table for Nola great Troy Andrews (aka Trombone Shorty) and his red-hot band.  No, the second line was never like this!  I plan to drop anchor here for the entire evening!

Pentatonix, Buddy Rich Big Band featuring Gregg Potter and Cathy Rich, June 26, Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard

Again, there’s a bewildering array of choices on the 26th.  Kenny Wayne Shepherd headlines the spiffy BMO Harris Pavilion Stage, and the World Sound Stage hosts an evening of Milwaukee 80′s band reunions, including Bon Ton Society, the Wigs, and Yipes!  (One of Bon Ton’s original members is Summerfest honcho Jon Boler)  But at 7:30, my attention will be directed to the Big Backyard for some Summerfest history.  Back in the day, the Miller Jazz Oasis hosted giants like Maynard Ferguson, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Spyro Gyra, Stanley Clarke, Wynton Marsalis…and drum king Buddy Rich, whose appearances were an annual event.  When the Buddy Rich Big Band (featuring Gregg Potter in “The Captain’s” chair and BR’s daughter Cathy on vocals) takes the stage, it will mark the first mainstream jazz act to play a major Summerfest stage in a primetime slot in nearly 25 years!  And it will be like stepping into the time machine, because the band features the classic BR charts from back in the band’s glory days of the 60′s and 70′s (“Mercy Mercy Mercy,” “Norwegian Wood,” “West Side Story Medley,” “Channel One Suite”), so big band fans, be there or be square!  And stay tuned for the night’s headliner, a cappella sensations Pentatonix!  This group made its mark on NBC’s Sing-Off series, and now have wildly devoted fans (check out their Facebook fan page!).  The group deftly mixes originals with brilliantly executed covers in a show that will blow you away! 

The Whiskeybelles, Litmus Vinyl, Mike Benign Compulsion, Vic and Gab, June 27

June 27 is a great day to check out great local music.  Leading off at 2 pm are the WAMI-award winning Whiskeybelles.  This sassy Americana trio features originals and covers, but mostly brings a great time!  And they’ll be holding court on the previously mentioned Pavilion stage too!  Heading over to the Uline Warehouse (formerly the Rock Stage), Summerfest veterans Litmus Vinyl followed by the Mike Benign Compulsion get rolling at 5 pm.  LV has made multiple fest appearances, and they’re a solid alt-rock band featuring mostly original songs and led by the impassioned vocals of Seamus Holloway.  Mike Benign was the leader of the fondly remembered 90′s Milwaukee band Blue in the Face, and his distinctive vocal and songwriting talents continue to shine with the MBC.  Then it’s over to the US Cellular Connection Stage for one of Milwaukee’s hottest acts, Vic & Gab.  The WAMI-winning sister duo released a fabulous album in 2013 which has received lots of local airplay and national attention as well!  Their great original songs are matched by a dynamic stage show.  I can assure you they will be one of the highlights of Summerfest 2014.

John Hiatt and the Combo, the Yardbirds, Joe 2.0, June 28

Summerfest’s first Saturday offers another plethora of musical delights.  And you better get here early or you’ll miss one of the best acts on the festival lineup.  At 3 pm, John Hiatt and the Combo takes the Warehouse stage.  Yes indeed, the veteran singer-songwriter will be playing a rare matinee gig that you can bring the little ones to see, although his songs won’t be confused with Raffi.  His career spans the 70′s to today, and his song “Thing Called Love”  was one of Bonnie Raitt’s biggest hits.  I myself have a soft spot for “Perfectly Good Guitar.”  Meanwhile, at 5 pm in the Pavilion, it’s another veteran act holding court with British blues-rock legends the Yardbirds.  In this same slot last year, Summerfest brought in another British Invasion act, the Zombies (with original members Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone), and it was one of the highlights of the 2013 fest.  Summerfest hopes lightning strikes twice this year with the Yardbirds.  Although original members Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page will be nowhere to be found at this gig, the band has original vocalist Jim McCarty still holding down the fort.  Their songbook (“For Your Love,” “Heart Full of Soul,” “Shapes of Things,” “Over Under Sideways Down”) is loaded, and the band continues to release new material as well, so keep your fingers crossed.  Then it’s over to the World Sound Stage for Joe 2.0.  Summerfest stage manager Joe Ketchum is also a faculty member at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, and also leads this fascinating band that will remind fans of Electric Light Orchestra.  The string section features Joe and several fellow WCM faculty members, and lead vocals are handled by Xeno of Bad Boy fame.  The band plays originals as well as Ketchum’s arrangements of Classic Rock favorites (“Touch Me,” “She’s A Rainbow,” “She’s Leaving Home,” “A Day in the Life,” “Space Oddity,” “Life on Mars?” to name a few).  But just once, I wish they’d take a stab at “Do Ya”!

3rd Coast Blues, Nineteen Thirteen, Bonnie Raitt with the James Hunter Six, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, July 2

A bit of exercise is in the offing on July 2nd, just the way to work off all that Summerfest food!  We get started in the Pavilion with a Happy Hour set from 3rd Coast Blues, featuring Milwaukee blues greats Stokes, Milwaukee Slim, and blues harp legend Jimmy Liban.  Then it’s over to the Big Backyard for the truly unique sounds of the WAMI-winning Nineteen Thirteen, featuring cellist Janet Schiff and the dual percussion attack of former Violent Femme Victor DeLorenzo and Scott Johnson.  Hey, any band that covers Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn” and “The Model” amongst their original improvisations deserves an award!  Then it’s back to the Pavilion for the evening’s stars, blues rock legend Bonnie Raitt (and that sweet slide guitar and loads of great songs!), and her opening act, the Britsoul of the James Hunter Six.  The best way to describe him is say he’s Britain’s Paul Cebar (I understand the Brits refer to Paul as Milwaukee’s James Hunter!), and that none other than Van (the Man) Morrison is a big fan!  For a nightcap, it’s up to the Warehouse for the legendary Joan Jett and the Blackhearts!  She’s been at it since her days as an original member of the Runaways, and she’s still a girl who still loves Rock & Roll and has a “bad reputation.”  If that weren’t enough, she’s an unabashed Packer Backer!  So Packer Nation, you know where you need to be on the 2nd!!

Sigmund Snopek, Lorenzo Menzerschmidt, Steely Dane, July 5

The July 4th weekend rolls on with a varied musical menu that includes some great local acts.  At 2 pm at the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse is the one musician who has performed at every Summerfest going back to the 60′s.  Of course I’m referring to Milwaukee musical gadfly Sigmund Snopek III (aka “The Big Sig”).  He’s sure to pull out many tunes from his massive songbook which allow him plenty of room to improvise on an incredible array of instruments (musical and otherwise!).  His claims to fame include being a member of the Violent Femmes’ “Horns of Dilemma,” and composing the Milwaukee anthem “Thank God (This Isn’t Cleveland).”  Meanwhile, at the Big Backyard, local blues band Lorenzo Menzerschmidt (featuring former Violent Femme Victor DeLorenzo (there he is again!), Jim Ohlschmidt, and Tony Menzer) will be jamming, followed by another Milwaukee musician with more than a few Summerfest appearances under his belt.  Comedy rock icon Pat McCurdy (he’s also part of the Yipes! reunion) will be making his sole  2014 Summerfest appearance, breaking out singalong favorites including the Wisconsin anthem “Sex and Beer.”  After recovering from that, it’s over to the World Sound Stage for Madison’s Steely Dane (from Dane County, eh?), performing in the perfect venue for this band.  If you’re a Steely Dan fan, you MUST make sure to be on hand for this show!  An army of musicians (most of whom play in other bands) rotate on and off stage in order to pull off the complex note-perfect renditions of the Dan classics.  The band’s gigs (especially outside Madison) are few and far between, so don’t miss this rare opportunity…and thanks to Summerfest for booking them!!

The Orwells, Jake Bugg, Melissa Etheridge, July 6

The final day of Summerfest 2014 again has plenty on the musical menu, but the must-see shows include a double bill featuring Brit Jake Bugg and the Orwells, two of the hottest new acts on the rock music scene, playing back to back at 8 pm on the Connection Stage.  And winding it all up will be music pioneer and breast cancer survivor Melissa Etheridge, who will be ringing down the curtain at the Miller Lite Oasis. 

See you at Summerfest, where it’s (usually) cooler near the lake!

What’s Going On

For the week of June 17-23…

Metro Jam, June 20-21, Washington Park, Manitowoc WI (metrojam.org)

With all the festivals jammed into the Milwaukee area during the summer, it’s easy to forget there are a ton of music festivals going on throughout Wisconsin as well!  One of the best (and longest-running, over 30 years) is Manitowoc’s Metro Jam, coming up this weekend at Washington Park downtown.   In many ways it’s similar to Milwaukee’s Jazz in the Park, but it has the feel of a neighborhood block party (ie, no crowd issues!).  The music lineup for the free event includes local, regional and nationally known acts.  This year’s lineup includes folk-blues great Ruthie Foster (think Tracy Chapman, as valid a comparison as any I can think of), the funky R&B of Chicago’s JC Brooks and the Uptown Sounds, and the great Americana sounds of Milwaukee’s Doghouse Flowers.  Check the link above for full festival information…It’s a great way to take a day trip north for the first weekend of the summer!

Greek Fest, June 20-22, Wisconsin State Fair Park (annunciationwi.org)

Ramping up to the mother of all Milwaukee festivals (aka Summerfest) next week, we have the granddaddy of all Milwaukee summer ethnic festivals this weekend, when Greek Fest returns to State Fair Park in West Allis.  This FREE event, which was originally held on the grounds of Milwaukee’s historic Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church (yes, the one designed by Frank Lloyd Wright), it has served as the blueprint for all the other Milwaukee summer ethnic festivals that have come since.  Besides a total immersion into Greek food and culture (gyros and baklava are just for starters!), there are rides and music stages as well, making Greek Fest a truly family-friendly event.  And with its home at State Fair Park, there’s plenty of room to roam for everybody!  Opa!!

The Godfather, June 22 & 25

The Godfather Part II, June 29 & July 2, AMC Theaters, various locations including AMC Mayfair (amctheatres.com)

With all the big summer movies rolling out right now, the AMC theater chain has been offering an interesting alternative during the past month with its Classic Movie Festival.  On Sundays and Wednesdays, one has the opportunity to see fresh digital prints of classic films on the Big Screen.  So far, the featured movies included Back to the Future, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Saturday Night Fever, and Dirty Dancing.  But AMC has definitely saved the best for last.  For the next two weeks, the featured films are 1972′s The Godfather and 1974′s The Godfather Part II.  Both films won the Oscar for Best Picture, and have gone on to movie immortality as well as becoming icons of American pop culture.  Each film stands out on its own.  Of course, The Godfather has Marlon Brando’s iconic Oscar-winning performance as Don Corleone (legend has it Brando insisted on doing a screen test for director Francis Ford Coppola to prove he was worthy of the role), as well as breakout performances by young lions James Caan and Al Pacino.  The Godfather Part II is that rare sequel that surpasses the original, and uses the remarkable device of presenting two parallel storylines; one involving Michael Corleone (Pacino) assuming the patriarch role of the Corleone family, the other tells the story of Vito Corleone’s (Oscar-winner Robert DeNiro) early days in America after emigrating from Sicily and his rise to the top of the Mafia families.  On the surface it may sound confusing, but the constant shifting back and forth is nothing less than fascinating to watch, and a stroke of genius by Oscar-winning director Coppola.  I’ve only scratched the surface as to the cinematic delights to be found in both films; suffice it to say the opportunity to see them on the Big Screen in new digital prints is not to be missed.

Next week I’ll have my personal Summerfest “shopping list!”

What’s Going On

For the week of June 10-16…

12-Hour Pledge Drive, June 12, WMSE Radio (wmse.org)

Although the WMSE Spring Pledge Drive in April was a success, the final tally came up a tad short in meeting our financial goal by June 30, the end of the station’s fiscal year.  So on Thursday, WMSE is holding a “12 Hours on the 12th to Raise $12K” Pledge Drive from 9 am-9 pm.  So if you haven’t had the chance to pledge your support to help ensure this Milwaukee cultural jewel keeps going strong for another six months, you can make your voice heard by calling 414-799-1917 (you may well be speaking to Yours Truly!).  Or if you don’t want to talk to me, you can certainly also pledge securely at wmse.org.  But regardless of your preference, please pledge your support!!  You are the community that is the power of Frontier Radio!

The Winter’s Tale, June 13-15, 19-22, 26-29, Kadish Park (optimisttheatre.org)

For the fifth summer, Milwaukee’s Optimist Theatre is giving the Milwaukee community the opportunity to experience FREE fully  staged productions of Shakespeare in the Park!  And for the second year, the performances take place in the Selig-Joseph-Folz Amphitheatre in Kadish Park, situated at the intersection of the Brewer’s Hill, East Side, and Riverwest neighborhoods.  The theater also offers a breathtaking view of Milwaukee’s skyline!  This year’s production is the romantic comedy The Winter’s Tale, and as I mentioned earlier, some of the area’s most talented actors and behind-the-scenes artisans will be involved.  So, pack your lawn chairs…or just bring yourself, but don’t miss this year’s edition of Milwaukee newest summertime tradition!  Get full information at the link above!

Polish Fest, June 13-15, Maier Festival Park (polishfest.org)

And speaking of Milwaukee summertime traditions, Polish Fest leads off the parade of Milwaukee summer ethnic festivals this weekend.  Besides plenty of Polish/Slavic arts, food and culture, be on the lookout for the “officers” of the Polka Patrol on the grounds…you may be coerced into taking a spin around the “dance floor” in Frankie Yankovic’s honor!  Your vigilance may be necessary, since Polish Fest also boasts of being the “only local ethnic festival to feature beer from the ‘homeland’!”  And of course, the appearance of Polish Fest means the Big Kahuna, aka Summerfest, is just around the corner…So get a head start on the party hordes this weekend!

Patriotic Pops, June 13-15, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra winds up an eventful 2013-14 season with this weekend’s Pops finale featuring Guest Conductor Jeff Tyzik leading the MSO and the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus.  Coinciding with this weekend’s Flag Day celebration, the program features plenty of traditional favorites as well as music of great American composers like Aaron Copland.  And thanks to Arthur Fiedler, who thought in the 30′s that it would be a great idea to perform this piece as the centerpiece of the Boston Pops’ July 4th concerts on the banks of the Charles River, the climax of this weekend’s program is Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, featuring the MSO Chorus performing the Russian hymn that opens the piece.  Let’s hope the Marcus Center is still standing after this performance…Happy Flag Day!

What’s Going On

For the week of June 3-9…

Bay View Jazz Festival, June 6, various venues (milwaukeejazzvision.org)

For the past several years, Milwaukee Jazz Vision has presented several East Side Jazz Festivals in the East Side and Downtown areas, showcasing national and local jazz talent.  This time, Jamie Breiwick and his MJV cohorts decided to change things up a bit.  Coinciding with the 2014 Bay View Gallery Night, they’ll be presenting the Bay View Jazz Festival in no less than four venues in the Bay View neighborhood.  Among those scheduled to perform are We Six members Mark Davis and Eric Jacobson, fronting their own combos; the Deidre Fellner/Sam Steffke duo; Devin Drobka’s Bell Dance Songs; remarkable drummer Kevin Hayden with his quartet; and it all culminates with the hot salsa rhythms of Latin big band De La Buena playing at Club Garabaldi.  And all the music is FREE!  Get full festival information at the link above…Be there or be square!

PianoArts International Competition, June 6-11, various venues (pianoarts.org)

Once again, some of the world’s most talented young musicians are descending upon Milwaukee to participate in the annual PianoArts competition, which begins on Friday with a recital by 2012 winner Sam Hong at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, and culminates with the finals concert with the Milwaukee Symphony on the 11th at the Marcus Center.  This year’s contestants come from the USA, China, Taiwan, Canada and Peru.  It’s a great opportunity to hear great classical music performances from musicians at the early stages of their careers.  Get full festival information by clicking the link above!

Classical Season Finale, June 6-8, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)

Popular Milwaukee Symphony Guest Conductor Gilbert Varga has had barely enough time to catch his breath after last weekend’s program featuring MSO cellist Susan Babini’s lovely performance of Schumann’s Cello Concerto and Dvorak’s galvanizing Slavonic Dances, but he’ll be back on the podium for a second straight weekend for the MSO Classics season finale!  And with a lineup like this, I’m sure Maestro Varga wouldn’t want to miss out on this!  The concert leads off with Mozart’s exhilarating Overture to Marriage of Figaro, followed by Tchaikovsky’s great Violin Concerto, featuring the Milwaukee debut of exciting young violinist Karen Gomyo.  After the break, the music continues with the rhythms of Kodaly’s Dances of Galanta, wrapping up with Ravel’s all-time audience favorite Bolero!  And if you can’t make it to any of these performances, the MSO and Associate Conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong will be presenting a FREE community “Thank You” concert on Sunday evening at Cathedral Park (weather permitting).  You have no excuse!

…and don’t forget the annual Milwaukee Downtown Dining Week is now underway through the 12th!  It’s a great opportunity to sample the fare at nearly three dozen of downtown’s best restaurants for a very tasty price!  It’s the dining deal of the year, and you can see the full menu and restaurant information at milwaukeedowntown.com/diningweek.  Come and get it!

What’s Going On

For the week of May 13-19…

Mirror Mirror, May 15-19, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (milwaukeeballet.org)

During his tenure as Artistic Director of the Milwaukee Ballet, Michael Pink has taken stories like Dracula, La Boheme, and Peter Pan and created productions that have made these classics fresh and exciting.  And, of course, his re-imagining of the The Nutcracker has become a Milwaukee holiday icon, with many folks making it an annual tradition.  For the MBC’s final show of the season, Pink his once again teamed up with composer Philip Feeney to create the ambitious Mirror Mirror, which has its world premiere this weekend at the Marcus Center.  It’s a retelling of the Snow White story, but from the evil stepmother’s point of view.  It’s similar to Disney’s much-hyped upcoming film Maleficent, where the Sleeping Beauty legend is retold from the title character’s perspective.  Like the previous productions mentioned earlier, this show promises lavish sets and costumes, a live orchestral score, and of course, the highly talented dancers of the MBC, making it the perfect climax for a highly successful Ballet season!

Hair, May 16-June 8, Cabot Theater, 158 N Broadway (skylightoperatheatre.org)

It’s been 45 years since the original “tribal love (and rock) musical” opened on Broadway, ushering in a new generation of Broadway shows.  At the time, it was considered a sensation, spawning four chart-topping hits, including Three Dog Night’s “Easy to be Hard,” the Cowsills’ rendition of the title song, Oliver’s “Good Morning Starshine” (the anthem of the summer of ’69, the summer of Woodstock and the Apollo 11 moon landing), and the Fifth Dimension’s “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In.”  For its season finale, the Skylight Theater presents a fresh new production of this now-classic musical.  Skylight regular Alison Mary Forbes is joined by a cast of talented newcomers for this production directed by another Skylight favorite, Ray Jivoff.  The songs, along with the sets and costumes, will transport you back to that truly psychedelic time.  I’ve seen Milos Forman’s great film version (at the Oriental Theater, if memory serves), but have never seen an actual stage production, so for me like many of you, the Skylight’s Hair should be a real treat!  Bring on summer!

Street Eats 2014, May 16, Catalano Square (expressmilwaukee.com)

Yes, spring is officially here in Milwaukee, because the ever-popular food trucks are back on the streets!  And this Friday, over 20 of them will be assembled in the Third Ward’s Catalano Square (right by the Broadway Theater Center) for the Shepherd Express Street Eats bash!  Along with a huge variety of food to choose from, there will be music from the J Ryan Trio and beverages from Collectivo Coffee and Lakefront Brewery!  I think you have all the ingredients necessary for the first big block party of the summer!

On the other hand…

Fed Up, starting May 16, Downer Theater, 2589 N Downer Ave (fedupmovie.com)

In the tradition of Supersize Me and Food Inc, here’s another documentary that examines how the US food industry is directly affecting the health of Americans, but with a twist:  this time the US government is also called on the carpet for its role in the current health crisis.  The movie comes from the director of the highly-acclaimed An Inconvenient Truth and is narrated by Katie Couric (but don’t let that scare you; she actually helped bankroll this project!).  Among other facts, the film shows how government subsidies and tax breaks helped fuel the industry that cranks out junk food and sweetened cereals, as well as how the industry in turn uses its marketing might to make these products (along with fast food restaurants) appealing not only to kids but adults as well!  One of the film’s major statements is that this is the first generation of American kids who will have shorter life expectancies than their parents, compelling enough reason to see it.  Check your local listings for theaters and showtimes, but here’s a tip:  Don’t look for it at mega-theater chains like Marcus and AMC, which rely heavily on concession sales to drive their revenues!  You can watch the movie trailer by clicking the link below: