What’s Going On

For the week of February 13-19…

You say you didn’t have time to properly celebrate Valentine’s Day?  Here are some ideas to help you make up for lost time!

Rep Lab, February 15-19, Stiemke Studio, 108 E Wells St (milwaukeerep.com)

The Milwaukee Rep now has a new tradition to add to its annual production of A Christmas Carol.  From Thursday through Monday, the Rep presents its 8th annual Rep Lab Short Play Festival, a showcase featuring the Rep’s Emerging Professional Artists (ie, interns).  In the course of two hours, audiences will see nine actors perform in eight one-act plays of varying lengths and running the gamut from serious drama to riotous farce.  The high-caliber performances have caught on with theater fans, and past festivals have sold out the intimate Stiemke studio, so you better hurry if you don’t want to be shut out this year!

Andreas Delfs Returns, February 16-17, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)

Former Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Music Director Andreas Delfs (who has served longer in that post than anyone else) was here earlier this season to lead the Holiday Pops concerts (and certainly relished the role of Pops emcee).  But this weekend Delfs returns to lead an MSO Classics program which also features his longtime friend and MSO Concertmaster Frank Almond in the Milwaukee premiere of Pierre Jalbert’s Violin Concerto (The Prometheus Trio performed a well-received Jalbert chamber piece last season).  The program opens with Mendelssohn’s delectable Overture, Nocturne and Scherzo from Midsummer Night’s Dream (The Milwaukee Ballet just announced they’ll be performing this piece next season utilizing Mendelssohn’s timeless music).  The program concludes with Vaughan Williams’ majestic Sea Symphony, in which the MSO will be joined by the magnificent MSO Chorus.  It’s a bountiful musical smorgasbord, to say the least!

Festival of Films in French, February 16-25, UWM Union Cinema, 2200 E Kenwood Blvd (uwm.edu/french-film-festival)

When it comes to movie showcases here in Milwaukee, the lion’s share of attention is given to the Milwaukee Film Festival, and rightfully so.  But one shouldn’t overlook what may be considered the granddaddy of Milwaukee film festivals.  Beginning Friday for the next ten days, the 21st annual Festival of Films of French will take up residence at the UWM Union Cinema.  Please note these are French-language films which were produced, not only in France, but Canada, Belgium, Switzerland, Tunisia and the Congo as well!  The diverse lineup has something for every age and taste:  Comedy (Tour de France, starring Gerard Depardieu); docudrama (The Young Karl Marx); vintage film noir (1947’s Panic); family fare (the animated April and the Extraordinary World); classic silent films (Arabesques and Finis Terrae, both featuring live musical accompaniment by Renato Umali); and several impressive documentaries (Antarctica: Ice and Sky, about global warming from the director of the Oscar-winning March of the Penguins; the 2017 Oscar -nominated I Am Not Your Negro, based on the works of James Baldwin and directed by French filmmaker Raoul Peck; and Latest News from the Cosmos), just to name a few.  And best of all, all the screenings are FREE!  It’s best to keep that in mind and arrive early, as the theater is packed for many of the screenings.  Full film and schedule information is available at the link listed above!


What’s Going On

For the week of February 6-12…

Here are some suggestions for events to attend with Valentine’s Day looming!

The Wiz, February 7-8, Avalon Atmospheric Theater, 2473 S KK Ave (avalonmke.com)

Continuing their celebration of Black History Month, Bay View’s Avalon Theater presents a rare treat:  a rare big screen showing of the 4K restored print of director Sidney Lumet’s 1978 adaptation of the 1974 Broadway hit that was itself an adaptation of The Wizard of Oz (and is an upcoming production at First Stage!).  The film’s music was supervised by the legendary Quincy Jones, and stars Diana Ross as Dorothy, Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow and Richard Pryor as “The Wiz.”  Don’t miss this chance to see this movie the way it was meant to be seen:  on the Avalon’s wide screen!

Bombshell:  The Hedy Lamarr Story, February 7, UWM Union Cinema, 2200 E Kenwood Blvd (cinema.uwm.edu)

Her name has become a punchline for a joke in a Mel Brooks classic, but Hedy Lamarr was not only of Hollywood’s great leading ladies of the 1940’s, but whose scientific expertise helped develop the technology that would evolve into the bluetooth and GPS we know today!  Yes, this is a documentary (Could you really make up a story like this?), and recently received a 3.5 star review in the Chicago Tribune.  Don’t miss your chance to see this one-night-only screening of this remarkable movie!

Marshall, February 8, UWM Union Cinema, 2200 E Kenwood Blvd (cinema.uwm.edu)

Coinciding with Black History Month is this FREE screening of the acclaimed 2017 film starring Chadwick Boseman (star of the much-anticipated Black Panther) as Thurgood Marshall before becoming the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, focusing on his early career as a criminal defense attorney.  The film centers around a case of a black chauffeur accused of sexual assault and attempted murder and Marshall’s efforts on the defendant’s behalf.  The film also stars Josh Gad (Broadway’s Book of Mormon) as Sam Friedman, a Jewish attorney who’s never handled a criminal case, and Kate Hudson as the defendant’s accuser.  A must-see!

MXE, February 8-11, Pabst Theater, 144 E Wells St (milwaukeeballet.org)

Also perfectly timed for Valentine’s weekend is the Milwaukee Ballet’s annual Pabst Theater program that showcases exciting new works, and this year’s program has a special twist.  The five pieces feature choreography by MBC principal artists to music from area musicians and artists.  In fact, poet Dasha Kelly and the Bill Bonifas Electric Band (featuring Milwaukee’s great jazz trumpeter Brian Lynch) will be performing live!  It should be another great MBC program in the intimate Pabst!

My Fair Lady in Concert, February 9-11, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)

Perfect for Valentine’s Day celebrations, the Milwaukee Symphony Pops presents this concert presentation of Lerner & Loewe’s beloved Broadway classic based on George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion.  It’s the story of Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle who is turned into a refined society lady by linguistics professor Henry Higgins after taking a bet but winds up falling in love with her.  Everything from the show minus the stage sets will be presented, including unforgettable hits including “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” “With a Little Bit of Luck,” “On the Street Where You Live,” “The Rain in Spain,” and “Get Me to the Church on Time.”  Of course it will be “loverly!”

Gone with the Wind, February 10, Avalon Atmospheric Theater, 2473 S KK Ave (avalonmke.com)

What better way to spend a cold winter’s Saturday morning than to settle back in the friendly confines of the Avalon theater and enjoy this legendary 1939 American classic in a restored print on the big screen!  Hollywood arguably reached its zenith in this epic adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s “tale of the Old South,”  starring the unforgettable cast of Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Olivia de Havilland, Leslie Howard and scores of great character actors (including Best Supporting Actress-and former Milwaukee resident- Hattie McDaniel, the first African-American actor to win an Oscar!), an amazing score by Max Steiner (just try to find any extended stretches of this 3 hour-plus movie that are devoid of background music)…and the burning of Atlanta (actually Culver City, Califormia)!

Prometheus Trio, February 12-13, Bader Recital Hall, 1584 N Prospect Ave (wcmusic.org)

Wisconsin Conservatory of Music’s resident Piano Trio presents their traditional mid-winter program that features, along with trios by Dvorak and Faure, the world premiere of Milwaukee-born composer Daron Hagen’s Piano Trio No. 5.  Hagen’s work has been performed worldwide, and it’s a truly special event for the dynamic PT to present this very first performance of his latest piece!  Please note the performance on the 13th is a special 11 am matinee, in order to accomodate those who may not want to venture out in the winter night’s weather!  Also, Hagen himself will present pre-concert introductions 15 minutes before each performance!

The Seeds of Banquo, February 12, Next Act Theater, 255 S Water St (nextact.org)

Next Act’s current acclaimed production Equivocation is part of their February ShakesFest, which celebrates the Bard and continues on the 12th with this one-night-only staged reading of this play, written by Milwaukee favorite Angela Iannone.  It focuses on the staging of Macbeth by Edwin Booth, one of America’s greatest stage actors.  Even a formidable talent like Booth faces challenges both on stage and off in his production, and this play deals with all of them.  Ianonne is an authority on Booth, and her expertise abounds throughout her play.  Theater fans won’t want to miss this special opportunity!


What’s Going On

For the week of January 30-February 5…

If the groundhog takes a look around Milwaukee this week, he’ll see these great arts events!

The Art and Mechanics of Animation, now-April 29, Grohmann Museum, 1000 N Broadway (msoe.edu/museum)

Milwaukee animation fans, unite!  Animator (and UW alum) JJ Sedelmeier, who’s known for his work on MTV (including Beavis and Butthead), commercials and SNL’s long running TV Funhouse, has curated a special exhibit which recently opened to the biggest Opening Night crowd in the history of MSOE’s Grohmann Museum!  While the exhibit features lots of his own award-winning work, Sedelmaier is also a keen student of animation history, as is also clearly evident in this exhibit.  Max Fleischer (Popeye, Betty Boop), Paul Terry (Mighty Mouse, Heckle and Jeckle) and John Bray are among the animation pioneers recognized in the exhibit.  Bray’s delightful cartoon about making cartoons is featured, and the “Fleischer Corner”  includes many artifacts, including a 1936 Popeye table lamp!  And I learned a classic Terry from the exhibit that will always stick with me:  “If Disney is the Tiffany of animation, I am the Woolworth!”

Lots of vintage animation equipment (moviolas, zoetropes) are on display, along with animation cels old and new.  Combined with the plethora of animation videos available for perusal, it adds up to a veritable feast for ever yone!

An Inconvenient Sequel, January 31, UWM Union Cinema, 2200 E Kenwood Blvd (cinema.uwm.edu)

This 2017 sequel to An Inconvenient Truth, the acclaimed documentary about global warming and former VP Al Gore’s tireless crusade to raise world awareness of this issue, had a limited theatrical run last summer.  If you’re like me and missed out, here’s your chance to see this worthy film in a FREE screening at UWM’s Union Cinema, followed by a talkback about issues raised in this film.  Scheduling the screening on the day following President Trump’s first State of the Union speech is timely indeed!

The Latin Side of Blue Note, February 1, Bader Recital Hall, 1584 N Prospect Ave (wcmusic.org)

The Wisconsin Conservatory of Music’s resident jazz ensemble heats up a cold winter’s night with a show featuring selections made popular by the legendary jazz label’s greats including Kenny Dorham, Horace Silver and Lee Morgan.  Added to the sextet’s usual lineup of great jazz talent, local percussionist Bony Plog-Benavides will be sitting in to add some extra Latin spice for what should be a unforgettably hot evening of jazz!

Dreamgirls, January 31-February 1, Avalon Atmospheric Theater, 2473 S KK Ave (avalonmke.com)

The historic Avalon begins its celebration of Black History Month with screenings of this Oscar-winning 2006 adaptation of the classic Broadway musical inspired by the history of Motown Records (and Diana Ross and the Supremes in particular).  Oscar winning Best Supporting Actress Jennifer Hudson, Beyonce, Jamie Foxx and Oscar nominee Eddie Murphy head the stellar cast!

Beethoven’s Second Symphony, February 2-3, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)

Beethoven’s Second Symphony may not be as famous as his 3rd, 5th and 9th symphonies, but the rarely heard 2nd has lots of musical delights as well, and that piece tops the bill as the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra continues its busy New Year this weekend at Uilhlein Hall.  Exciting young English conductor Stefan Asbury leads the program, which also features the MSO return of rising star violinist Augustin Hadelich as soloist in Gyorgy Ligeti’s folk-inspired Violin Concerto.  Rounding out the program are Kodaly’s galvanizing Dances of Galanta, adding up to a great winter’s evening of classical music!

Zombies from the Beyond, February 2-18, Cabot Theater, 158 N Broadway (skylightmusictheatre.org)

Milwaukee native James Valcq’s 1995 musical spoof of 1950’s alien invasion movies opens this weekend at the Skylight, and promises to do for those movies what Mel Brooks’ classic movie Young Frankenstein did for monster movies.  Yes, this is a musical that features an accordion in the pit orchestra, which is only fitting as the story is set in Milwaukee and features the legendary Wisconsin Gas weather flame as a focal part of the show!  Veteran director Pam Kriger leads a stellar cast, but zombies are not among them…Apparently, the lack of any of the creatures in the title is just part of the fun!

Equivocation, February 2-25, Next Act Theater, 255 S Water St (nextact.org)

Political intrigue was a theme in many of Shakespeare’s plays, but the Bard himself was not among the characters…until now.  Next Act’s production of Bill Cain’s political thriller is a tale of how Shakespeare dealt with issues of creation, coercion and producing great theater in the wake of the Gunpowder Plot during the reign of King James I.  On the surface, it looks like a no-win situation for the Bard, but the story’s resolution is reminiscent of the best of Aaron Sorkin’s West Wing and Newsroom episodes.  Director Michael Cotey’s cast includes Next Act Managing Director David Cescarini, Jonathan Smoots and Mark Ulrich.  The show is part of Next Act’s “ShakesFest”…more about that next week!


What’s Going On

For the week of January 23-29…

Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto, January 26-27, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra continues its busy January at the Marcus Center with a program featuring acclaimed young pianist Louis Schwizgabel as soloist in Beethoven’s regal “Emperor” concerto.  Also, the MSO continues its season-long celebration of American music icon Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday with a performance of his delightful Fancy Free.  And guest conductor Fabien Gabel concludes the program with Maurice Ravel’s great tone poem La Valse.  

Taste of Greece 2018, January 27-28, Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, 9400 W Congress St (annunciationwi.org)

Milwaukee is widely known for its annual lineup of summer ethnic festivals, but many consider Annunciation Church’s Greek Fest the granddaddy of them all.  In recent years, the festival has made its home at Wisconsin State Fair Park in West Allis.  But many veteran festgoers yearn for the days when the festival was held at the church grounds on W Congress St.  Well, yearn no more!  AGOC is taking advantage of the open weekend before Super Bowl LII with a 2-day “Taste of Greece” festival at the church grounds!  Great Greek food, music and dance are on the agenda, as well as free daily tours of the chruch’s historic Frank Lloyd Wright designed building.  That deserves one big “Opa!”

And don’t forget these theater productions are still going strong:  Animal Farm at the Rep’s Powerhouse Theater; the just-opened Black Pearl Sings! at the Rep’s Stackner Cabaret; Renaissance Theaterworks’ Russian Transport at the Broadway Studio Theater; and First Stage’s great family show The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  And there’s more coming up next week!

What’s Going On

For the week of January 16-22…

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, now-February 11, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (firststage.org)

With its latest production, First Stage Theater again ably demonstrates why it is indeed Milwaukee’s Family Theater!  While on the surface Dwayne Hartford’s fine adaptation of Kate DiCamillo’s classic children’s book is a tale of the travels made by a porcelain toy rabbit, it’s also a history lesson about Depression-era America, making it a play that can be enjoyed by audiences of all ages.

Which is easy to do thanks to director John Maclay’s stellar six-member cast, most of which have multiple roles in which they perform musical numbers in addition to acting duties.  One notable exception is Matt Daniels, who represents the immobile rabbit’s mind and personality, literally shadowing the toy when manipulated by other characters.  It’s a delightful hybrid of his previous roles of Snoopy in First Stage’s hit productions of A Charlie Brown Christmas and the valet Jeeves in a series of Milwaukee Chamber Theater productions.  His performance alone is worth the price of admission, but there’s plenty more where that came from!

So take a break from the winter chill and take in this heartwarming production…and DO bring the kids!

Russian Transport, January 19-February 11, Studio Theater, 158 N Broadway (r-t-w.com)

Renaissance Theaterworks’ season continues with this contemporary story of a Russian immigrant family’s experiences set in the Sheepshead Bay neighborhood of Brooklyn.  While seeking their version of the “American Dream,” they soon find their past is not far behind.  Milwaukee favorite Laura Gordon directs a strong cast (which includes Elizabeth Ledo, Reese Madigan, Mark Puchinsky, Max Pink and April Paul) in this harrowing tale of human trafficking.  It’s another triumph for the folks at Renaissance!

Black Pearl Sings! January 19-March 18, Stackner Cabaret, 108 E Wells St (milwaukeerep.com)

The Rep’s Stackner Cabaret follows up its holiday hit Murder for Two with yet another Depression-era story, this one about Pearl (Lynette Dupree), a Texas woman with a moving, soulful voice whose songs carry on decades of African-American tradition.  Into Pearl’s life comes one Susannah Mulally (Colleen Madden), a character reminiscent of legendary American musicologist Alan Lomax who’s actually a song collector for the Library of Congress.  Through her stirring performances of over a dozen classic American folk songs and spirituals, Pearl hopes Susannah is her ticket to bring her music to a wider world.  The intimate Stackner makes this show an even more powerful experience!

American Classics, January 20-21, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)

The Milwaukee Symphony’s busy January at the Marcus Center continues with another classics program celebrating the legendary Leonard Bernstein’s hundredth birthday.  Guest Conductor Teddy Abrams leads an all-American music program which includes Bernstein’s own Divertimento, an early piece with jazzy overtones; Samuel Barber’s Knoxville:  Summer of 1915, a piece inspired by the writings of James Agee which features soprano Susanna Phillips; and Bernstein mentor Aaron Copland’s Symphony No. 3, which contains Copland’s rousing Fanfare for the Common Man in its finale.  It’s another program guaranteed to beat January Cabin Fever!

What’s Going On

For January 2-14…

After taking a hiatus for the holidays, it’s time to get rolling in 2018!  Here’s a peek at some of the first events of the New Year!

Waitress, January 2-7, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (marcuscenter.org)

The 2007 film starring Keri Russell and Andy Griffith has become a hit Broadway musical, thanks to Sara Bareilles’ great score, and the touring production is now in town as part of the Marcus Center’s Broadway in Milwaukee series.

The show stars Desi Oakley as Jenna, a waitress at a small town Southern diner who’s a wiz at creating great pie recipes, but is stuck in an abusive marriage.  Trust me, this is a fantastic story that’s inspiring and empowering, and Bareilles’ score brilliantly enhances the story, thanks to the energetic performances from Oakley and a strong supporting cast.  Come see why Waitress has become the toast of Broadway!

Steely Dane, January 5, Pabst Theater, 144 E Wells St (steelydane .com)

Regular readers of this blog know that title is no misprint, but the name of a remarkable musical aggregation from Dane County.  Comprised of nearly two dozen members of other Madison area bands, their label as “the ultimate Steely Dan tribute band” doesn’t really do them justice.  Their ability to replicate the complex arrangements of the Dan’s original classic records is nothing short of amazing!  Their Milwaukee visits are always cause for celebration, so break out the hats and hooters and head for the Pabst this Friday night!  This show is guaranteed to chase those post-holiday blues!  Take note:  Due to high demand, the show has been moved from Turner Hall Ballroom to the historic Pabst Theater!

Animal Farm, January 12-February 11, Quadracci Powerhouse Theater, 108 E Wells St (milwaukeerep.com)

This political fable about a group of barnyard who banish their abusive farmer and take over the farm for themselves is arguably George Orwell’s most enduring work (and also the inspiration for animators John and Faith Hubley’s 1954 milestone adaptation).  It’s also Milwaukee Rep’s first Powerhouse Theater production for 2018.  Director May Andrales’ strong cast is led by Rep favorites Jonathan Daly and Deborah Staples, and the allegorical tale is perfect for these volatile times.  Remember:  “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Edo de Waart Conducts American Masters, January 12-13, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra continues its season-long celebration of American music legend Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday with this all-American program led by MSO Conductor Laureate Edo de Waart.  The program opens with Bernstein mentor Aaron Copland’s haunting Quiet City, continues with Bernstein’s own Serenade after Plato’s Symposium featuring guest violinist Philippe Quint, and concludes with John Adams’ (arguably America’s greatest living composer) Harmonielehre, a 1985 piece for which de Waart himself conducted the world premiere, on which the composer commented:  “…the rare instance when a composer, a conductor and an orchestra create an inexplicable bond among each other.”

And speaking of the MSO, here’s some great news to start the New Year:  It’s now official, the MSO has taken control from Marcus Corporation of the downtown building that houses the Grand (formerly Warner) Theater, and will commence renovation work that will result in the Fall 2020 opening of the MSO’s new home, the Warner Grand Theater!  A new era in Milwaukee’s performing arts scene is just around the corner!


What’s Going On,

For the week of December 19-25…

Michael Pink’s The Nutcracker, now-December 26, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (milwaukeeballet.org)

I recently reported that the Milwaukee Rep’s annual production of A Christmas Carol is now in its 42nd year, the longest such run of this story anywhere in the USA.  But not far behind is the Milwaukee Ballet’s production of this holiday favorite, which this year marks its 40th anniversary.  And MBC Artistic Director Michael Pink’s adaptation, which features Tchaikovsky’s beloved score performed by the Ballet Orchestra, gorgeous costumes, sumptuous sets, and fantastic performances from MBC dancers old and young, is second to none!  In fact, MBC’s production recently earned high marks in the Chicago Tribune’s recent survey of area Nutcracker productions.  Indeed, one should heed the Tribune’s advice to get tickets now, as this holiday delight for all ages MUST end on the 26th!

‘Twas the Month Before Christmas, now-December 23, Next Act Theater, 255 S Water St (nextact.org)

A recent arrival among Milwaukee’s holiday offerings is the return of local actor Doug Jarecki’s take on the Nativity story, which had its premiere in 2015.  And it’s better than ever, thanks to some astute revisions to the script, which despite its raucous moments is a sweet and humble retelling of the familiar tale.  You’ll laugh-often-but you’ll leave filled with the true spirit of the season!  Again, performances end this Saturday, so act soon so you don’t miss this not-to-be-missed gem of a holiday show!

It’s A Wonderful Life:  The Radio Play, December 22-23, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (marcuscenter.org)

Back in the days before TV, many hit movies would be adapted for radio programs like Lux Radio Theater, Screen Directors Playhouse, and the like (usually with the participation of the films’ actual stars and/or director).  They also happened to be cleverly disguised ways to promote the featured movie.  It’s A Wonderful Life, which amazingly bombed upon its original 1947 release, falls into that category.  This Friday and Saturday you get the rare opportunity to see a staged performance of this radio play at the Marcus Center.  Not only does it offer a new perspective on this Christmas classic, but it will give you an inside look at the art form called “Theater of the Mind!”

Paul Host Christmas Show, December 24, WMSE Radio (91.7 fm or wmse.org)

As much of any Milwaukee Christmas tradition, WMSE DJ Paul Host’s annual Christmas Eve program (which features the most wildly diverse playlist of Christmas records you’ll hear anywhere) has been a Frontier Radio staple about as long as the station’s been in existence (over 35 years if you’re keeping score!).  And it’s back again this year to provide the perfect soundtrack to your Christmas Eve activities.  Please note that this year’s show will be on from 3-9 pm CST.  Also, many of the other MSE DJ’s will be featuring special holiday music on their shows this week.  In particular, Terry Havel’s Blues Drive show from 4-6 pm Wednesday will present an All-Christmas Doo Wop Corner at 4 pm, and Guest Host Good John will be doing a special Christmas Chicken Shack on Friday from 9 am-noon, where he’ll feature songs I guarantee you’ll never hear on any other radio station!   Tune in to enjoy a special holiday treat!

And don’t forget, holiday performances are continuing of the Rep’s Christmas Carol and Murder for Two; Skylight Theater’s 40th Anniversary production of Annie; First Stage’s Charlie Brown Christmas; and In Tandem’s rollicking Dickens spoof Scrooge in Rouge.

Next week I’ll have some ideas to help you ring in the New Year, but in the meantime, my Best Wishes for a safe and Merry Christmas!