What’s Going On

For the week of August 24-30…

Boeing Boeing, now-August 30, Cabot Theater, 158 N Broadway (milwaukeechambertheatre.com)

The approach of autumn is in the air…Cooler temperatures have settled into the area, kids are heading back to school…and Milwaukee’s new arts season has gotten underway with the Milwaukee Chamber Theater’s hilarious production of the 1960’s classic Boeing Boeing, which is playing at the Third Ward’s gorgeous Cabot Theater through Sunday.

Director Michael Cotey’s staging of this retro comedy tells the story of American bachelor Bernard (Brian J Gill) who’s enjoying the good life living in Paris, a life enhanced by the fact he’s engaged to three different women!  And they’re air hostesses:  American (New Yawker) Gloria (Anne Walaszek), Italian Gabrielle (Amber Smith) and German Gretchen (Samantha Sostrich).  Thanks to nimble use of the airlines’ timetables (Who needs the Internet??), Bernard is able to juggle schedules so only one girl shows up at his apartment while they’re on layover, often within hours of each other.  And it’s up to Bernard’s befuddled housekeeper Berthe (a deadpan but hysterically funny Marcy Kearns) to keep everything in order and prepare meals catering to each fiance’s preferences (and also wear aprons to match the specific guest!).

To add a little spice to the proceedings is a surprise visit by Bernard’s longtime buddy Robert (Ryan Schabach), who can hardly believe his friend’s incredible skill (and luck) in pulling off this scheme.  That is, of course, until one of the trans-Atlantic flights encounters nasty weather and is forced to return to Paris.

To reveal any more of the plot would only spoil the fun, but suffice it to say the entire cast does a splendid job in maintaining the high energy of the script  throughout the entire three hour show.  Please don’t let the show’s length scare you as the time literally “flies” by!  In fact, things get so crazy you will welcome the midpoint intermission when it arrives!  Also, special kudos on the set design (including Eleanor Cotey’s fabulous stewardess costumes), an eye-popping retro delight.

So if you can use a load of laughs (and who wouldn’t?), hurry down to the Cabot Theater before the show closes on Sunday!  It may be, to quote Berthe, a “bumpy ride,” but one you’ll love taking!

So after taking a break for summer holiday, it’s great being back and looking ahead to what looks to be a great fall season.  I would like to take a moment to express my appreciation for all involved with Milwaukee’s recent Irish Fest XXXV.  Despite the oppressive heat wave gripping the area plus competition from the Wisconsin State Fair, the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, and a Milwaukee Brewers homestand, the fest was well-attended which no doubt inspired the many acts to deliver performances that went well beyond the “call of duty,” to which audiences responded in kind.  Many favorites, old and new, were here to help celebrate the occasion, but special mention must be made of the return appearance by the Omagh Community Youth Choir from Northern Ireland.  The group was born of a tragedy, the 1998 terrorist bombing of the town marketplace, resulting in scores of casualties.  A group of local music educators (including director Daryl Simpson) set about to form a group of local youth, both Catholic and Protestant, not only to help the healing process in the aftermath of the bombing, but to demonstrate these young people could not only coexist, but actually thrive through the power of music.  From Day One, the choir has had a special relationship with Milwaukee Irish Fest, and it was truly inspiring and thrilling to have them back with us for this very special Irish Fest.  Hopefully, the heat and humidity wasn’t too much of a strain, and I understand the group was overwhelmed by the fireworks show (disguised as a whopper of a thunderstorm) that swept through the grounds on Friday night!  You can read more about the choir at ocyc.co.uk.

Midsummer Classic Extra!

Midsummer Night’s Dream, July 16-19, Kadish Park (optimisttheatre.org)

Yes, the 2015 MLB All-Star Game has come and gone, but another midsummer classic continues this weekend at Milwaukee’s Kadish Park when Optimist Theater offers FREE Shakespeare-in-the-Park for the sixth consecutive year.  One of the Bard’s most beloved comedies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, will fill Milwaukee’s summer skies, but don’t look for the Athenian forest setting and Elizabethean costumes you might expect.  Director Ron Scot Fry has put an interesting spin on this production, where one might expect to hear Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead as background music in lieu of classical motets.  Given the urban venue, the play has been transported to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district circa 1968, and the actors are costumed appropriately, while Shakespeare’s words remain completely intact!  And this tale of starcrossed lovers and mistaken identities has a cast that features many familiar Milwaukee actors ie, Tom Reed, Chris Flieller (a hilarious Bottom!), Rachael Zientek, Samantha Sostarich, Malkia Stampley, Brian Miracle and Kat Wodtke (to name but a few!).  And when everything is said and done, the bottom line is, in the words of another English classic, “Love is all you need!”

What’s Going On

For the week of July 7-13…

Motown The Musical, now-July 12, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (marcuscenter.org)

It may be summertime in Milwaukee, but the Marcus Center’s Broadway Series has moved the party inside with this week’s run of this Broadway hit.  In telling the story of Motown founder Berry Gordy (or “Junior” to his family members), the huge cast performs a whopping 60 classics from the Motown songbook, as well as 2 brand-new songs co-written by Gordy especially for this show.  Cast members portray music icons including Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and many other Motown stars.  The story ends in 1983 on the occasion of the label’s legendary 25th Anniversary Special (but don’t look for the King of Pop’s Moonwalk here:  “Billie Jean” was not his lover, and it also wasn’t a Motown song!), and while the show does slow the pace for a ballad or two (including Diana’s show-stopping rendition of “(Reach Out and Touch) Somebody’s Hand”), the cast provides so much energy that they really do light up downtown Milwaukee!  Young Leon Outlaw Jr’s performances as Michael Jackson on the early Jackson 5 hits simply bring down the house!  Indeed, “Motown” has brought Milwaukee the rockingest party of the summer complete with “dancing in the street!”

Bastille Days Festival, July 9-12, Cathedral Square Park (bastilledaysfestival.com)

Now that Summerfest 2015 is in the books, the attention turns to Milwaukee’s East Town for its annual celebration of Bastille Day, featuring all things French and French-connected (ie, lots of zydeco and cajun music in the lineup!).  It’s Milwaukee’s only summer ethnic festival that’s held in the heart of downtown…and it’s FREE!  5000 runners kick things off with the 5K Storm the Bastille Run through Milwaukee’s streets on Opening Night, and things just keep rolling from there!  Nationally known acts such as Aluar Pearls, Rockin’ Pinecones, Tinker Boys, Mingo Fishtrap, Lost Bayou Ramblers and Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience are joined by returning favorites including Milwaukee’s favorite chanteuse Robin Pluer singing chansons from the likes of Edith Piaf and Madame Gigi’s Outrageous French Cancan Dancers, hailing from that bastion of French culture, Dayton, Ohio…but trust me!  Robin and the dancers will transport you to the streets of Paris!  Plenty of kids’ activities, craft and clothing vendors, along with a wide array of food and beverage available, including those ubiquitous beignets!   Vive la France!

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!).