What’s Going On

For the week of April 25-May 1…

Chicago, April 25-30, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (marcuscenter.org)

“Cabaret,” “New York, New York,” “All That Jazz”…All of them are songs from Kander & Ebb musicals that have gone on  to become pop standards.  The last song mentioned is the signature song from Chicago, a show set in the Windy City during the Roaring 20’s which is making its way with its Broadway touring cast to the Marcus Center this week.  While moderately successful in its initial Broadway run in 1975, the show really caught fire when it was revived in 1996 and continues to light up the Great White Way.  It’s the longest running revival AND the longest running musical in Broadway history (as well as winning a Best Picture Oscar).  This production features Heisman Trophy winner and NFL legend Eddie George as slick lawyer Billy Flynn, the role portrayed by Richard Gere in the movie version.  Make no mistake…Like George’s football career, this production is first-class.  So head down for some “Razzle Dazzle” and “All That Jazz!”

Jane Eyre, April 28-May 21, Quadracci Powerhouse Theater, 108 E Wells St (milwaukeerep.com)

“Female empowerment” was not in the lexicon when Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel was first published in the 19th century.  But generations of girls have been inspired by Jane’s story, and the book has had scores of adaptations (including a memorable 1943 film starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine under Robert (Mary Poppins) Stevenson’s direction).  Playwright Polly Teale’s 1997 adaptation serves as the season finale for the Milwaukee Rep’s Powerhouse Theater.  Veteran Rep director KJ Sanchez (Diary of Anne Frank, Noises Off, Harvey) oversees this fast-paced production, which will rely on minimal sets and actors’ expressions to move the story along.  In typical Rep fashion, this production will serve to engage and spark audience dialogue, proving this story continues to be relevant in the 21st century.

Junie B Jones is Not a Crook!, April 28-June 4, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (firststage.org)

Milwaukee’s acclaimed First Stage Theater wraps up its season with the return of the irrepressible kindergartener, star of Barbara Park’s wildly popular book series.  Everything from lost and found situations to boyfriend problems are dealt with plucky aplomb by our heroine.  Once again, First Stage deftly blends professional actors with talented Young Actors group performers for a production that’s sure to delight kids of all ages!

Impressions of New Zealand, April 29, Chapel of Christ Triumphant, 12800 N Lake Shore Dr, Mequon (mfbrass.org)

Wrapping up their 32nd season and making their first concert appearance since defending their Championship title at the recent National Brass Band Convention, Milwaukee’s acclaimed Festival Brass presents a program inspired by New Zealand.  This outpost of the British Empire is deeply steeped in British Brass Band tradition, as evidenced by composer Gareth Wood’s Hinemoa, along with arrangements of folk songs of NZ.  Since the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed in NZ, a suite of Howard Shore’s (original Music Director on Saturday Night Live-Who could forget “Howard Shore and His All-Nurse Band?”) movie themes are also on the program.  Also, bass trombonist Kelly Eshbaugh celebrates completion of her Master’s degree from UW-Milwaukee with a complete performance of Chris (son of jazz legend Dave) Brubeck’s Concerto for Bass Trombone and Orchestra (arranged for Brass Band).  And you can be sure there will be surprise encores to round out the program!  Sounds like a great music lineup for this special matinee performance at Concordia University-Wisconsin!

What’s Going On

For the week of April 18-24…

Carnival, April 21-May 14, 10th Street Theatre, 628 N 10th St (intandemtheatre.org)

Composer Bob Merrill sure had an interesting career.  He wrote Broadway shows (Funny Girl), TV specials (Mr Magoo’s Christmas Carol) and pop standards (“How Much is That Doggie in the Window?” “Mambo Italiano”).  Now, the folks at the feisty In Tandem Theater are presenting his most ambitious musical in a season finale that’s also the most ambitious production in the illustrious history of In Tandem.  Carnival is the story of Lili (Susan Wiedemeyer), the young orphaned girl who finds work (and romance) with a carnival in 1920’s France.  Other Milwaukee favorites in director Jane Flieller’s cast include Steve Koehler (as Marco the Magician), and Beth Mulkerron (Marco’s sidekick and love interest).  But perhaps the biggest star is the show’s set.  Upon entering the 10th Street Theater, audiences won’t be sure if they’re actually entering the Milwaukee Coachyards before the Great Circus Parade, as the theater has been transformed into a carnival showgrounds.  Carnival barkers and games of chance will engage audience members even before the show begins (No rollercoaster rides, however; even In Tandem co-founders Chris and Jane Flieller would be hard-pressed to pull off that one!).  Combine the atmosphere with the great songs and story and rousing performances, and you have a production that’s a slam-bang finish to another great In Tandem season!

Beethoven and Rachmaninoff, April 21-23, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)

Two popular audience favorites make up this weekend’s program of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.  Guest Conductor Anu Tali welcomes pianist Behzod Abduraimov as soloist on Rachmaninoff’s romantic classic Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.  The program concludes with Beethoven’s towering 5th Symphony.  Nothing else left to say except there’s nothing like experiencing these great pieces performed live by the mighty MSO!

Prometheus Trio Spring Concert, April 24-25, Bader Recital Hall, 1584 N Prospect Ave (wcmusic.org)

Wisconsin Conservatory of Music’s resident Faculty Piano Trio concludes their season with a program that’s a trademark mix of classic (Schubert’s Trio in E-flat) and contemporary (Kenji Bunch’s 2002 piece Swing Shift).  Pianist Stefanie Jacob, violinist Margot Schwartz and cellist Scott Tisdel invite you to join them as they continue to explore the wide spectrum of chamber music in the friendly confines of the Bader Recital Hall!

What’s Going On

For the week of April 11-17…

If I had a theme for this week’s post, I guess it would be this:  “Charles Dickens isn’t just for Christmas anymore”…Read on!

Inside the Selick Archives:  An Evening with Henry Selick, April 13, UWM Union Theater, 2200 E Kenwood Blvd (cinema.uwm.edu)

Animation fans will not want to miss this FREE event which features stop-action animator Henry Selick, arguably the successor to the master of the genre, George Pal.  Selick will present clips from his award-winning films Coraline, James and the Giant Peach and Nightmare Before Christmas, as well as early work for MTV and commercials, plus 5 minutes from his unreleased Disney project The Shadow King.  After the screening there will be a Q&A session with the director.  An early Easter egg for animation buffs, to be sure!

Great Expectations, April 14-30, Cabot Theater, 158 N Broadway (chamber-theatre.com)

One of the great Milwaukee Christmas traditions is the Rep’s production of the beloved Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol.  Opening this Easter weekend is Milwaukee Chamber Theater’s production of the equally beloved Dickens novel Great Expectations.  It’s the story of the young orphan Pip and his adventures in 19th century rural England, while also providing observations on English society and the human condition.  Gale Childs Daly’s adaptation is action-packed, and director Molly Rhode keeps things moving at a brisk pace, utilizing a strong cast (which includes Milwaukee favorites Jonathan Daly, Karen Estrada, Chike Johnson and Deborah Staples) performing multiple roles plus violinist Andrew Crowe providing musical accompaniment, keeping things lively indeed!  This season-ending MCT production takes place in the gorgeous Cabot Theater, and as a special Easter treat, you can go the link listed above and get tickets for any performance on Saturday or Sunday at HALF-PRICE!  Just use the code GREATMCT at checkout…So make like the Easter Bunny and hop to it!!

What’s Going On

For the week of April 4-10…

St Pat’s Day has come and gone for another year, but a couple of this week’s entries will be of special interest to all you Celticphiles out there…So check it out!

Amadeus, April 4, Downer Theater, 2589 N Downer Ave (ntlive.com)

Before it became a multiple Oscar winning film (including Best Picture) in 1984, Peter Shaffer’s classic began as a production of Britain’s National Theater in 1979 and then headed to Broadway, with both productions winning numerous awards.  On Tuesday night, the Downer Theater hosts a one-night-only screening of National Theater’s 2017 revival of the play about Mozart the musical genius and his rival Salieri.  If you’re only familiar with the movie, please be aware the play is considerably different from the movie, so you’ll be in for a very special experience even if you’ve already seen the film!  And the music…Well, it’s Mozart, need I say more?

La Sylphide, April 6-9, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (milwaukeeballet.org)

Following the holiday classic Nutcracker and the Genesis contemporary dance showcase in February, this weekend the Milwaukee Ballet offers a program that’s a little of both.  Headlining is a classic that has not been performed recently by MBC but should be quite enjoyable especially to all the Celtic fans I mentioned earlier.  La Sylphide dates back to the 1800’s, but this MBC production features new choreography from Danish choreographer Dinna Bjorn.  Bjorn in turn, was inspired by Danish ballet master August Bournonville, whose treatment of the story premiered at the Royal Danish Ballet in 1836.  Without giving away too much of the story, suffice it to say if you’re familiar with the Broadway musical Brigadoon (about a Scottish town that mysteriously comes to life once every hundred years), you have a pretty good idea what to expect.  Also on the program is MBC dancer and Choreographer-In-Residence Tim O’Donnell’s sixth MB world premiere, Sans Pleurer (“Without Crying”).  While La Sylphide is a female-driven piece, Sans Pleurer showcases the men of Milwaukee Ballet in a piece that follows men’s struggles to express themselves while being repressed from a very young age.  Together the pieces form another great MB Mixed Repertory program that effectively showcases a wide range of dance styles.

Bloomsday, April 7-30, Next Act Theater, 255 S Water St (nextact.org)

Billed by Next Act as an “Irish-centric” love story, Steven Dietz’s play uses Dublin’s annual James Joyce celebration as its backdrop.  It opens as American Robert and the Irish Cait (husband-and-wife duo Norman Moses and Carrie Hitchcock) reunite in Dublin 35 years after their first meeting when Robbie (Kyle Curry) encountered tour guide Caithleen (Jordan Watson, fresh from her fine performance in In Tandem’s Time Stands Still) while visiting Dublin for the Bloomsday celebration.  This “what might have been” story captures a wide range of emotions, and makes for a great date night choice!

The Violet Hour, April 7-30, Studio Theater, 158 N Broadway (r-t-w.com)

Not to be outdone, Renaissance Theaterworks also has a fine Date Night choice for their next offering.  Richard Greenberg’s play takes place at the dawn of the Jazz Age, as an aspiring publisher sets up shop in a cramped Manhattan office.  He is soon confronted by two potential projects:  a novel written by his best friend (who just happens to be a very fine author), and a tell-all memoir by a famous jazz singer who is also our hero’s secret mistress.  Alas, he has only enough funds available to pursue one of the projects.  Lucky for me I don’t have to make the call on this one!  But I eagerly anticipate finding out the final verdict!  Local favorites David Flores and Marti Gobel are part of director Suzan Fete’s talented cast.

Gershwin and Friends, April 7 & 9, Pabst Theater, 108 E Wells St (mso.org)

While the Ballet will be busy performing at the Marcus Center, the Milwaukee Symphony Pops heads down the street to perform at the MSO’s original home, the Pabst Theater.  For this program, several guests return to join the MSO:  Conductor Stuart Chafetz and vocalist Lisa Vroman (a Broadway veteran who’s performed the role of Christine in Phantom of the Opera on the Great White Way more times than anybody else!).  The program features the music of George Gershwin and “friends” Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hart.  In other words, it’s a journey through the Great American Songbook, and another great idea for a night (or afternoon) out!


What’s Going On

For the week of March 28-April 3…

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, March 28-April 2, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (marcuscenter.org)

The musicals of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II are the stuff of Broadway legend.  In fact, their final collaboration, 1959’s The Sound of Music, has a sparkling new production that’s been on a national tour which included a January stop at the Marcus Center!  What many don’t know is that in 1957 the duo created a musical especially for the then-new medium of television.  Cinderella featured rising star Julie Andrews, fresh from her Broadway breakout performance in My Fair Lady.  She would return to the R&H musicals in her iconic role as Maria in the film version of The Sound of Music.  A 1960’s color production of Cinderella featured Lesley Ann Warren in a star-making turn in the title role.  In an interesting twist, this show has been adapted for the stage and the national touring company is at the Marcus Center this week.  And Cottage Grove native Tatyana Lubov will be in the title role!  Cinderella was her favorite Disney princess growing up, and though the songs here are different from that Disney classic, they’re memorable in their own right.  And you can bet lots of little girls dressed in light blue gowns will be in the audiences this week!  And whether or not you’ve seen Disney’s smash remake of Beauty and the Beast, be sure to make time to see this stage gem!

And just a reminder that after exhibition games against the Chicago White Sox on Friday and Saturday at Miller Park, the Milwaukee Brewers open the 2017 season at home against the Colorado Rockies on Monday!  And yes indeed, ageless wonder Bob Uecker will be back behind the mic.  It’s definitely a sign that spring is here!

What’s Going On

For the week of March 21-27…

US Navy Band Concert, March 22, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (marcuscenter.org)

Last year, the Marcus Center brought in the US Air Force Band for a well-attended performance.  On Wednesday night, it’ll be the Navy’s turn as the Marcus Center presents the US Navy’s Concert Band in a FREE performance.  As you would expect from an ensemble representing one of the nation’s military services, the musicianship is not just “ship-shape”:  It’s absolutely top-notch!  And given the fact this group performs for hundreds of functions over the course of a year, you can expect a wide-ranging program featuring everything from the classics to popular hits to patriotic songs and marches, all designed to showcase the virtuosity of this ensemble.  And you can bet your bottom dollar that “Anchors Aweigh” will be on the playlist!

An Evening with Groucho, March 24-May 28, Stackner Cabaret, 108 E Wells St (milwaukeerep.com)

Following up the sold-out run of McGuire, the Rep’s Stackner Cabaret presents another one-man show featuring a New Yorker, but with a slightly more comedic twist.  Frank Ferrante brings his acclaimed portrayal as (“the one, the only”) Groucho Marx to Milwaukee.  Plenty of Groucho’s famous one-liners and songs are sure to be included (but no guarantees a duck will appear if someone says the secret word!), and though it’s a one-man show, don’t be surprised if you in the audience are part of Groucho’s notorious ad-libs!  It’s also a nice coincidence this show opens as the Milwaukee Opera Theater’s smash hit The Mikado continues through Sunday (an additional performance just added for Thursday the 23rd!):  It’s no secret the Gilbert & Sullivan operettas had a profound influence on Groucho and the  Marx Brothers’ comedy style!

Mockingbird, March 24-April 9, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (firststage.org)

The next offering from Milwaukee’s favorite Family Theater is an adaptation of Kathryn Erskine’s acclaimed book whose main character, fifth-grader Caitlin,  who’s affected by Asperger Syndrome.  It takes place in the aftermath of her protective older brother Devon’s tragic, unexpected death, complicating the grieving process for Caitlin.  While this might perhaps  sound like a morbid story for youngsters, Caitlin’s character displays great strength throughout despite her autism.  Director Marcy Kearns is assisted by Brenna Kempf, director of First Stage’s Next Steps program for autistic children.  Kempf brings her expertise to coaching the young actors who portray Caitlin.  In addition, the April 8 performance is sensory-friendly, especially designed for audience members with autism, Asperger’s and other sensory disorders.  As is First Stage’s trademark, this show provides a satisfying theatrical experience for family members of all ages.

Finally, following up on my item about the Navy Band, I have Breaking News:  Milwaukee’s fabulous Festival Brass has repeated as National Champion at the recent Brass Band convention in Fort Wayne, Indiana!  Congrats to all MFB members and personnel on this spectacular achievement!  Their next local performance is coming up on April 29…Stay tuned to this blog for further details!

What’s Going On

For the week of March 14-20…

A bunch of great dramatic plays leads the St Pat’s parade of local arts events, so off we go!

Deconstructing the Beatles’ Revolver, March 15, Oriental Theater, 2230 N Farwell Ave (deconstructingthebeatles.com)

Following on the heels of filmed lectures about the making of The White Album and Sgt. Pepper, Beatlecologist Scott Freiman is back with another one-night-only presentation, this one featuring the Fab Four’s arguably greatest album, Revolver.  Over the course of 90 minutes, Freiman skillfully blends multimedia elements to show how this 1966 classic came together.  Whether you’re a diehard Beatlemaniac or novice, this presentation promises something for everybody.  And you’ll leave the theater enjoying this album anew with a fresh perspective!

Time Stands Still, now-March 19, 10th Street Theater, 628 N 10th St (intandemtheatre.org)

Operation Enduring Freedom serves as the starting point for this intense, thought-provoking play at In Tandem Theater.  The story focuses on war photographer Sarah (Kay Allmand), who has just returned to the States after being nearly mortally wounded while pursuing a story in the war zone.  Waiting for her are longtime companion and writer James (David Sapiro), their editor Richard (Richard Ganoung), and his new, much younger girlfriend Mandy (Jordan Watson).  While Richard intends to marry and start a family with Mandy, Sarah resists James’ desire for matrimony while desiring to return to the action, even after this close call.  As you might expect, many issues are explored between the four characters, not the least of which is, When do you stop snapping pictures when your subject(s) are crying out for help?  This very able cast pulls it off with great aplomb.

Grounded, now-April 2, Stiemke Studio, 108 E Wells St (milwaukeerep.com)

Another current local production that’s set during the war on terror is this gripping one-character play.  Chicago actor Jessie Fisher makes a stunning Milwaukee Rep debut as a fighter pilot who truly relishes her job attacking terrorist targets from the skies in her “sky tiger,” until a pregnancy causes her to be “grounded.”  She is relegated to the despised “Chair Force,” working out of a trailer in the Nevada desert, remotely directing drone attacks on the same targets that she recently attacked directly from her fighter plane.  The dilemma that confronts her is how she reconciles being a warrior by day, returning home to be a wife and mother by night.  Elements of both soon begin to blend into her life, which causes a mental breakdown.  It’s a relatively short play, but so much is packed into its 90 minutes that one actually needs the release provided by the show’s conclusion.  It’s an amazing performance, complemented by the stunning stage and video monitors.  Both Grounded and Time Stands Still offer searing perspectives on how the war affects those who participate in it, both in country and at home.

The Few, now-March 19, Studio Theater, 158 N Broadway (milwaukeechambertheatre.com)

Set during the Internet’s infancy in 1999, this Chamber Theater production takes place in a northern Idaho outpost off I-90, where a trio publish a newsletter that helps truckers that travel along the freeway find relationships.  As it turns out, QZ (Mary MacDonald Kerr), Bryan (James Ridge) and Matthew (Mitch Bultman, making his MCT debut) have issues of their own, notably feeling isolation and seeking to establish connections of their own.  The action plays out on a very smart one-room set, and the scenes are interspersed with rock music from the era.  It’s another highly effective current production that focuses on interpersonal relationships.

The Glass Menagerie, now-April 9, Quadracci Powerhouse Theater (milwaukeerep.com)

Following in the footsteps of productions of American classics To Kill a Mockingbird, Raisin in the Sun and Fences, The Rep now offers its take on Tennessee Williams’ iconic Glass Menagerie.  Even if you saw In Tandem’s fine production several years ago, this is one play that’s well worth revisiting.  Especially with a great cast like this one.  It’s the story of Tom Wingfield (Ryan Imhoff), a low-paid, going nowhere warehouse worker who supports his family in their Depression-era St Louis tenement apartment and narrates the story from hindsight.  But it’s the family matriarch Amanda (Hollis Resnik, who previously wowed audiences as Judy Garland in the Rep hit End of the Rainbow) who is the dominant figure in the story.  She’s a fading Southern belle set in her old-fashioned ways who’s obsessed in finding a husband for her invalid daughter Laura (Kelsey Brennan).  By the time the play ends, you’ll be as fed up hearing the phrases “rise and shine” and “gentleman caller” as much as Tom is.  But there’s no denying Amanda’s love for her children, which compensates for the absent father who abandoned the family years before.  In fact, her love is smothering to the point where Tom escapes by bingeing on booze and attending movies at the neighborhood theater.  He does manage to bring home a “gentleman caller” to meet Laura, however.  It turns out Jim O’Connor (Brandon Dahlquist) is Laura’s former high school classmate, a guy she admired from afar but felt was not up to his lofty standards.  Their dinner get-together is the climax of the play, and the Rep has once again done itself proud with a memorable production of an American classic.

Beauty and the Beast, March 17-26, Cabot Theater, 158 N Broadway (skylightmusictheatre.org)

No, this is not the much-ballyhooed live-action remake of the Disney classic that also opens on Friday.  This is Skylight’s take on Andre Gentry’s 17th century French opera that tells the “tale as old as time.”  The Skylight production is in English and along with music features dance choreography and puppets designed by Obie winner James Ortiz.  One of those puppets is the gigantic Beast of the story.  Only seven performances are scheduled, so you may well want to put the movie on hold so you can take the opportunity to see this special theatrical treat!

The Mikado, March 17-26, Next Act Theater, 255 S Water St (milwaukeeoperatheatre.com)

If you were among the unfortunate that missed out on Milwaukee Opera Theatre’s rollicking production of the classic Gilbert & Sullivan operetta in 2015, take heart:  an encore production is returning to Next Act Theater beginning on Friday!  And the good news is the production team and cast is practically intact from the original production!  And in G&S tradition, there will be tweaks in this updated show.  Jimmy Fallon doesn’t have the market cornered on toy instruments, as once again the show will be performed almost entirely on toy instruments.  And while not one kimono is to be seen, the satirical nature of WS Gilbert’s story is clearly on display.  Not to be missed!!

Prometheus Trio, March 20-21, Bader Recital Hall, 1584 N Prospect Ave (wcmusic.org)

The Wisconsin Conservatory of Music’s resident piano trio’s postponed February program will now take place on the 20th and 21st!  So come and welcome spring with this dandy lineup featuring music from Mozart and Shostakovich, along with a new piece from composer Pierre Jalbert!

And finally, since it’s St Patrick’s Week, if you were not lucky to get tickets for the sold-out run of McGuire that finishes on Sunday, you are indeed in luck:  An unprecedented Encore Engagement of the sensational one-man Stackner Cabaret production about the legendary Marquette University basketball coach Al McGuire has been scheduled for June 1-18!  Of course, Anthony Crivello will be back to reprise his fantastic portrayal, so a word to the wise is to order your tickets now, because these tickets are sure to sell out quickly!