What’s Going On

For the week of June 16-22…

“Carmina Burana” and Frank Almond, June 19-21, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)

This weekend, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra welcomes back an old friend as Conductor Emeritus Andreas Delfs leads a spectacular season-ending program.  First up, Concertmaster Frank Almond (and his now-famous Lipinski Strad) is soloist in Bruch’s Violin Concerto, one of the most popular pieces in violin repertoire, and one of the greatest showcases for the instrument.  Then, the Main Event:  Carl Orff’s mighty Carmina Burana, the choral work based on (bawdy) Latin poems composed by medieval German monks (!), and perhaps the single piece most identified with Maestro Delfs’ tenure as MSO Music Director.  I saw his first performance of the piece in the season-ending concert in 1998, and this weekend marks the 6th time I will hear Delfs lead the MSO in the cantata.  That should tell you something:  With a full-scale orchestra, the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus, the Milwaukee Children’s Chorus AND vocal soloists, Carmina is one piece that must be experienced in live performance, regardless of how great your home stereo system sounds!  That is why the MSO scheduled it as a special non-subscription season ending concert.  Past performances have always been sellouts…I look for a repeat for all 3 performances this weekend!

Greek Fest, June 19-21, State Fair Park (annunciationwi.org)

Next Wednesday, Summerfest begins its 11-day run at Milwaukee’s Lakefront, leading off the annual parade of summer lakefront festivals that includes Festa Italiana, this year celebrating a remarkable 35th anniversary.  But before that, over at State Fair Park, Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church (yes, the one designed by Frank Lloyd Wright) presents-ta da!-the 50TH anniversary Greek Fest, the granddaddy of all Milwaukee summer ethnic festivals!  And like the previous 49, it promises to offer the usual attractions of music, dance, food (gyros, baklava, lamb dinners, Greek chicken, loukoumades…need I say more??)…and of course, the always-popular midway carnival rides.  And oh…did I mention admission is FREE?  Opa!

Metro Jam, June 19-20, Manitowoc’s Washington Park (metrojam.org)

This weekend marks the official arrival of summer, and what better way to celebrate than to head up I-43 to Manitowoc for the 37th annual Metro Jam, a festival that’s offered 2 days of great national and regional talent to the cozy Washington park bandshell…and the music is all FREE!  Friday’s lineup is capped by Milwaukee’s own American Idol star Naima Adedapo (and the only singer I know named after a John Coltrane song!), and the festival closes Saturday night with Black Crowes founding member and lead guitarist Rich Robinson and his band!  Other acts on the lineup include the AJ Ghent Band (think Robert Randolph!), the Americana rock of Pill Hill, the neo-surf sounds of the Revomatics, and much, much more!  Click the link above for the full music lineup!  Plenty of libations of the food and drink variety are also available (you gotta pay for those, but it’s a fundraiser for the local Jaycees!)…All in all, it’s one of the best block parties one could want!  Welcome Summer!

What’s Going On

For the week of June 9-15…

Love And Mercy, now playing nationwide including Milwaukee’s Oriental Theater (landmarktheatres.com)

I just saw Love and Mercy, the new docudrama that has the daunting task of telling the story of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, and succeeds brilliantly thanks to the compelling performances by Paul Dano and John Cusack as Wilson.  Yes, it takes 2 actors to portray this complex character.  And the scenes featuring the recording sessions for Pet Sounds and “Good Vibrations” (that include the legendary Wrecking Crew studio musicians) alone are worth the price of a ticket!  Run, don’t walk to the nearest theater and see this amazing film!  I don’t think I will see a better movie this summer (But then again, Amy arrives in July).

Eddie Clendening, June 11-12, Fire Pit Side Bar, 1721 W Canal St (paysbig.com/shows)

Rockabilly maestro Eddie Clendening is back in Milwaukee since he was one of the stars of the Rep’s hit cabaret show Ring of Fire:  The Johnny Cash Story a few years back.  And he’s returning with his crackerjack band to Potawatomi Casino’s Fire Pit Side Bar on Thursday and Friday!  Fans of WMSE’s “Chickenshack” already know this guy delivers the goods.  AND the shows are FREE!  So what are you waiting for?  Head on down to cool off with some hot sounds!

The Four Seasons, June 12-14, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)

What better way to welcome summer than a program of light baroque favorites?  This weekend, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra welcomes back an old friend, Guest Conductor Nic McGegan.  He brings his energy and English good spirits to a program that includes a pair of Haydn symphonies and one of Handel’s effervescent Water Music suites.  And topping the bill are the famous “Sping” and “Summer” sections of Vivaldi’s beloved masterwork, featuring MSO Associate Concertmaster Ilana Setapen as soloist.  What?  You say baroque music is dull and boring?  Not when Nic McGegan is on the podium!

Locust Street Festival, June 14 (locuststreetfestival.org)

June 14 is Flag Day, and it’s also time for one of Milwaukee’s oldest and biggest block parties, the Locust Street Festival of Music and Art.  Oodles of vendors selling arts and crafts and other goodies, lots of food and beverages (Natch!), and six-count ’em-six stages of music for your listening and dancing pleasure during the afternoon and into the evening.  So get yourself ramped up for the impending Summerfest, and remember:  “No dogs, No carry-ins, No drama!”

What’s Going On

For the week of June 2-8…

Downtown Dining Week, June 4-11, various locations (milwaukeedowntown.com/diningweek)

Summerfest, Wisconsin State Fair, and the summer ethnic festivals are weeks away, but for many folks, Thursday is the start of one of the best weeks of the year!  Yep, it’s the return of Milwaukee Downtown Dining Week, where you can sample up to 45 of Milwaukee’s finest downtown eateries, with full meals for as little as $12.50!!  And the cuisine literally runs from soup to nuts, so click on the above link to see which restaurants are participating.  Bon appetit!

Jazz In the Park, June 4-September 3, Cathedral Square Park (easttown.com/events/jazz-in-the-park)

You don’t need a calendar to tell you it’s summertime in Milwaukee, because the weekly music showcases are starting to pop up in parks all around Milwaukee County.  They’re a great FREE opportunity to enjoy some of our great local music talent, and the granddaddy of them all gets underway Thursday night when Jazz in the Park kicks off its 24th season in East Town’s Cathedral Square Park.  I reckon the late Fergal Gallagher (also deeply involved with Milwaukee Irish Fest) never envisioned what a huge event this would become when he first proposed the idea of a weekly free jazz show in Cathedral Square to the East Town Association!  Once again, there’s plenty of variety on the JIP schedule, so click the link above for the full lineup.  I will also be pointing out some of the individual shows as they come along:  Set to open the 2015 season is veteran Milwaukee jazz band Christopher’s Project.  Most people consider Friday evening as the start of the weekend, but in downtown Milwaukee during the summer, it begins Thursday evenings at Jazz in the Park!

‘S Wonderful:  The Music of Gershwin, June 5-7, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra returns to Uihlein Hall this weekend from their hiatus during the sold-out run of the Broadway smash Book of Mormon I reported several weeks back.  They commence three consecutive weekends of concerts to wind up the season with the Pops Finale.  And boy this is going to be great:  a program featuring the music of George Gershwin, arguably America’s greatest composer!  Conductor Michael Krajewski and vocalist Lisa Vroman return to the MSO Pops for this sure-fire show, which also features pianist Michael Chertock as soloist on Gershwin’s immortal Rhapsody in Blue (especially if United Airlines has anything to say about it!).   Tickets are selling fast, so a word to the wise is that you shouldn’t count on getting tickets at the door for this show, but you can click the link above to order tickets online.  Come and enjoy a lineup of music that’s loved by the entire world!

What’s Going On

For the week of May 19-25…

The Book of Mormon, now-May 31, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (marcuscenter.org)

On the surface, it sounds like something you’d see in a Mel Brooks movie…A Broadway musical about Mormon missionaries in Uganda written by the duo behind the classic TV series “South Park”…which naturally goes on to win 9 Tony awards, including Best New Musical, and (like the show “Springtime for Hitler” in Mel’s first movie The Producers) becomes the hottest show on Broadway!  And following in the tradition of Wicked and Jersey Boys, which have enjoyed amazingly long runs in Chicago, The Book of Mormon has been enjoying similar success in Chi-Town with no signs of letting up!  Now it’s Milwaukee’s turn, as the national touring company has decamped at the Marcus Center’s Uihlein Hall through the end of the month.  And Chad Burris, who succeeded Josh Gad as Elder Cunningham on Broadway, heads up this outstanding cast!  But keep in mind, the show’s co-writers also include Robert Lopez, the award-winning composer of the R-rated Sesame Street parody Avenue Q, and like that show, it’s best to leave the kiddies at home.  But this fan observed a packed house give an absolutely roaring ovation to the cast the other night as they took their curtain calls, and deservedly so, for the performances in this high energy show, which absolutely must end on the 31st…Don’t say I didn’t warn you!  And by the way, those aren’t show cast members greeting fans as they’re arriving for the show…those are actual Mormon missionaries!

Into the Woods, May 22-June 14, Cabot Theater, 158 N Broadway (skylighmusictheatre.org)

One of the biggest hit movies last Christmas was Disney’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway classic Into the Woods, the biggest mashup of fairytale characters this side of Shrek.  In this show, characters from The Baker and His Wife, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, Cinderella (in yet another Milwaukee production!), and Little Red Riding Hood interact, and in the second act we find out if everybody really does live happily ever after!  But as so often happens when Broadway hits make the jump to the Big Screen, tweaking takes place that results in the movie being not quite the same as the Broadway show.  So starting this weekend, the Skylight’s season finale sets out to rectify the situation by presenting the show the way Sondheim intended it.  And like previous productions of classic musicals including The Music Man, The Sound of Music, The Wizard of Oz and Sondheim’s own Sunday in the Park with George, the Skylight actors (packed with great local talent) and creative team has a production that is first class all the way!  And yes, the kids are most welcome to this show!

Lambert and Stamp,  opening May 22 nationwide (sonyclassics.com/lambertandstamp)

Once upon a time in Swinging London, there was a band of local lads called the High Numbers, whose specialty was high-energy rockin’ covers of American R&B hits like “Shout!”  Enter a couple of aspiring managers (at least they fancied themselves managers like the Beatles’ Brian Epstein-and there’s a movie about him in the works!) called Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, who don’t know the first thing about managing a rock band but are intrigued by this bunch of scruffy lads.  So the duo (whom Roger Daltrey calls the main reason for the band’s success) make them clients and re-christens them The Who.  And the rest, as they say, is history, history that is captured vividly in this new movie that was a hit at this year’s Sundance Festival and is now opening nationwide (including Milwaukee’s historic Oriental Theater).  Lots of great retro footage plus new interviews with Daltrey and Pete Townshend, along with others who were there.  There’s been a strong crop of recent rock documentaries, but Lambert and Stamp truly stands out.

Jeff Beck, May 22, Riverside Theater, 116 W Wisconsin Ave (pabsttheater.org)

Booker T, May 22, Northern Lights Theater, 1721 W Canal St (paysbig.com/shows)

On Friday evening, Milwaukee’s Classic Rock fans will have the opportunity to see not one, but two members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, both performing at the same time at different venues.  In one corner, Hall of Fame guitarist Jeff Beck will be lighting up the historic Riverside Theater with a dazzling array of songs that span five decades!  JB would be delighted to know he’s playing in the same venue where Les “Wizard of Waukesha” Paul once thrilled fans while JB was attending grade school!  Across town, the intimate Northern Lights Theater will be presenting the Pride of Memphis, Booker T Jones, the man behind the worldwide rock anthem “Green Onions!”  This maestro of the Hammond B-3 organ also can draw on five decades of music as well.   And both of them continue to record and release new music well into their 70’s, and the good news is it’s fantastic!  Bottom line:  You can’t go wrong by attending either of these dynamite shows Friday night!

Junior Brantley with Leroy Airmaster, May 24-25, Fire Pit Side Bar, 1721 W Canal St (paysbig.com/shows)

What a way to celebrate Memorial Day weekend by seeing one of Milwaukee’s own playing for FREE at the cozy Fire Pit Side Bar inside Potawatomi Casino!  Certainly one of Brew Town’s Rock and Blues Hall of Famers, Junior earned a place in the hearts of thousands of local music fans fronting legendary band Short Stuff.  For this occasion, he’ll be backed by another venerable Milwaukee band, namely blues greats Leroy Airmaster featuring harmonica maestro Steve Cohen.  And when you combine Steve’s wailing harp with JB’s keys and blues shouting, it adds up to what should be 2 nights to remember!  And did I mention this was a FREE show??

Against Type!, May 24, Next Act Theater, 255 S Water St (uprootedmke.com)

Like I mentioned last week, Milwaukee’s innovative Uprooted Theater will be closing its doors after Sunday’s final performance of Suddenly Last Summer.  But they’re going out with a bang with one last fundraising edition of Against Type!, where a slew of Milwaukee’s most talented theater actors let down their guard and perform works they likely would never get to do in their usual gigs.  Come on out, be amazed, and bid a fond farewell to one of Milwaukee’s theatrical milestones (I’m talking about Uprooted…but I might be talking about “Against Type!” as well!).

What’s Going On

For the week of May 12-18…

Cinderella, May 14-17, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (milwaukeeballet.org)

Well, talk about a great marketing set-up!  Last fall, we had Skylight Theater’s production of Rossini’s opera Cinderella.  And just a few months ago, we got Disney’s new live-action movie version, directed by Kenneth Branagh.  And this weekend, the Milwaukee Ballet’s season finale is the return of Artistic Director Michael Pink’s spectacular production, first performed by MBC in 2009.  And like MBC’s 2013 production of Romeo & Juliet, the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra will be playing a score by the great Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev to accompany the dancers.  And what a great showcase for the supremely talented dancers, headlined by Luz San Miguel and Annia Hildalgo who will be dancing the title role in alternating performances.  And the show runs the gamut from romance to comedy when, in the best English music hall tradition, four of MBC’s male dancers will be portraying Cinderella’s stepsisters!  Hey, if Rachel Malehorn can portray the Mouse King in The Nutcracker, turnabout is certainly fair play!  This production is also the last for MBC Leading Artist Ryan Martin, who has had a major part in making this group one of the truly great ballet companies in America.  Just like last season’s finale Mirror Mirror, this is one production that is not to be missed!

Suddenly Last Summer, May 14-24, Next Act Theater, 255 S Water St (uprootedmke.com)

This production marks the swan song for Milwaukee’s innovative Uprooted Theater, founded by Marti Gobel and Dennis F Johnson in 2009 in order to give many actors and writers opportunities to showcase their talents where otherwise they would not get that chance.  And they’re certainly going out in a blaze of glory, with a production of Tennessee Williams’ rarely seen play, starring Gobel and directed by Johnson.  Like other Williams plays, the story is set in New Orleans, but because of its sensitive subject matter, it is rarely performed, although it’s a favorite of many theater buffs, including Gobel and Johnson.  Don’t miss this opportunity to see this classic from one of America’s greatest playwrights, and help give this little company that could a grand send-off!

The Skylight Ring, May 15-June 7, Studio Theater, 158 N Broadway (skylightmusictheatre.org)

Having lived here for several decades, I cannot recall when or even if there’s been a local production of one of the operas that comprises Richard Wagner’s monumental Ring cycle, the group of four operas inspired by German and Norse legends (and, in turn, the inspiration for the classic Bugs Bunny cartoon What’s Opera Doc?).  Well, if nothing else, Milwaukee’s Skylight Theater can be audacious.  How else to explain The Skylight Ring, with an objective of presenting all of these operas (which usually take around 18 hours total to perform) in their entirety…in two hours.  By four actors.  Hey, Milwaukee Chamber Theater presented The Compleat Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (Revised) in this very same studio theater last fall, so why not?  And, interestingly enough, two of the actors from the production of Cinderella I mentioned earlier-Colleen Brooks and Erin Sura-play all the female parts in this production!  And did I mention that the usual Wagnerian orchestra will be replaced by a single keyboard accompaniment, and there will be a bare bones stage in lieu of the usual opulent sets one normally expects to see in Wagner?  And that the serious moments are nearly matched by those that are pure comedy?  Trust me, The Skylight Ring is unlike any Wagner production ever seen (or not seen) in Milwaukee!

What’s Going On

For the week of May 5-11…

Little By Little, now-May 24, 10th Street Theater, 628 N 10th Street (intandemtheatre.org)

I know I’m channeling Andy Rooney here, but….Ever wonder what a musical version of the classic sitcom Friends might be like?  Well wonder no more, because In Tandem’s season finale will show you!  Now Ross, Phoebs, Monica, Chandler and Joey aren’t here…but Rachael is!  Rachael Zientek, that is…who along with Jenna Vik and Michael Black make up the charming cast of this all-singing, all-dancing musical.  And the twists and turns of the plot bear more than just a little resemblance to the storylines of the TV show.  And just like the TV show, you’ll be hanging on to see if these lifelong friends can make it through all the roadblocks that come their way, both romantic and otherwise!  It’s just the show for springtime…and the perfect date night event for you and your sweetie!

Big Fish, May 8-May 31, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (firststage.org)

First Stage family theater’s season ends with a bang with the hit Broadway musical of the 2003 Tim Burton film, starring Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney.  Milwaukee favorite Jon Daly has the Finney role of aging salesman Edward Bloom who has the gift of spinning fantastic stories about his younger days.  Broadway director Jeff Whiting’s cast also includes other Milwaukee stage veterans including Niffer Clarke, Paul Helm, Rana Roman and John Glowacki, along with Music Director Jeff Schaetzke, who recently directed First Stage’s hit Big Nate:  The Musical.  And of course, the usual crew of First Stage’s talented young performers will be on hand.  If you have yet to experience a First Stage production in person, you couldn’t do better than to start with Big Fish!  Don’t let this one get away!

Season Finale, May 11, Bader Recital Hall, 1584 N Prospect Ave (wcmusic.org)

It’s no holds barred for the final program of Wisconsin Conservatory of Music’s 2014-15 Faculty Artist Series!  WCM’s Resident String Quartet the Philomusica Quartet, fresh from their recent performance accompanying the Wisconsin Lutheran College Chorus’ 2015 Spring Concert (which earned the assembled performers an enthusiastic standing ovation!), will fill the Bader Recital Hall with a doubleheader of works by Beethoven and Brahms.  Beethoven’s unusual six-movement String Quartet No. 13 will be followed by Brahms’ Piano Quintet in f Minor, on which the PM will be joined by pianist May Phang.  Celebrate the finale of WCM’s Faculty concerts with this program of great chamber music in the cozy confines of the Bader Recital Hall!

What’s Going On

For the week of April 21-27…

Peter and the Starcatcher,  April 24-May 24, Quadracci Powerhouse Theater, 108 E Wells St (milwaukeerep.com)

In 2003, composer Stephen Schwartz concocted a musical described as a prequel to The Wizard of Oz.  The show, called Wicked, has gone on to become a Broadway classic.  For its season finale, the Milwaukee Rep has turned to a similar show called Peter and the Starcatcher, a prequel to Peter Pan which itself was a big Broadway hit that garnered a load of awards.  The show tells the story of the boy who became Peter Pan and it has connected with audiences of all ages, similar to the appeal of the Pixar animated classics.  And like Pixar, it’s the story that hooks audiences at different levels.  Elements as diverse as Monty Python, swashbuckling adventure and the operettas of Gilbert & Sullivan weave their way into the show’s fabric.  Staging remarkable musical productions has been a major highlight of Mark Clements’ tenure as Rep Artistic Director, and I’d be willing to bet Peter and the Starcatcher will continue that run!

Disney In Concert, April 24-26, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)

If you need a surefire winner for an orchestra’s Pops season, you can’t go wrong with a program of classics from Disney films.  And that’s what the Milwaukee Symphony will be serving up this weekend.  Four veteran vocalists will join former MSO Associate Conductor Stuart Chafetz (himself a veteran of Disney programs) for this show that includes songs from Tangled, Aladdin, Princess and the Frog, The Lion King and oodles more.  The show also features the Mickey Mouse classic The Band Concert (the cartoon that inspired conductor Leopold Stokowski to seek out Walt Disney for a collaboration that would eventually become the animated classic feature Fantasia) which will feature  the cartoon projected on the overhead screen.  And of course the program includes songs from the latest Disney classic Frozen, including the Oscar-winning “Let It Go.”  If you think big crowds will be on hand for the three performances, you’re right.  The Sunday matinee is already sold-out, so hurry to grab remaining tickets for this special Disney treat!

Italian Film Festival, April 24-26, Union Cinema, 2200 E Kenwood Blvd (italianfilmfests.org)

Let’s see…In recent months, the UWM Union Cinema has hosted festivals featuring films in French and movies from Latin America.  Now it’s time to showcase movies from another great moviemaking tradition, Italian cinema.  Seven recent films will be screened, and thanks to the good folks at Transfer Pizzeria, all the screenings are FREE!  My personal recommendation is the 2013 documentary Oro Macht Frei, which tells the story of the Jewish experience during the Nazi occupation during World War II, and includes interviews with nine survivors mixed with footage from the period.  Check the link above for the full festival schedule…there’s something for everybody!