What’s Going On

St Nick comes tonight, and he’s bringing more holiday musical goodies for Milwaukee!

For the week of December 6-12…

Prometheus Trio, December 5 & 6, Bader Recital Hall, 1584 N Prospect Ave (wcmusic.org)

Wisconsin Conservatory of Music’s annual Festival of Music and Trees is underway, and their resident faculty Piano Trio is part of the festivities with their traditional December performances on Monday and Tuesday.  The program includes music of Haydn, Dohnanyi and Faure, and as a special treat, guest violist Wendy Richman will be joining these intrepid performers for the occasion!  So step inside from the winter chill, view the beautifully decorated trees inside the historic Goodrich Mansion, and enjoy some great classical music!

Christmas with the Nelsons, December 6-9, Northern Lights Theater, 1721 W Canal St (paysbig.com/shows)

Following up last week’s great Christmas show with the legendary Ronnie Spector, the Northern Lights Theater continues their holiday offerings when Rick Nelson’s twin sons Matthew and Gunnar return for a four-day residency this week.  The boys were MTV stars back in the 90’s whose grandparents are none other than the legendary Ozzie and Harriet!  Not surprisingly, the Nelson boys’ show is a down-home family affair, mixing their MTV hits with their renditions of holiday favorites old and new, continuing a precedent set by their dad when he offered his take on the chestnut “The Christmas Song” on his parents’ TV show!   Please note their are several matinee performances as well as evening shows available!

Windmills of Your Mind:  The Music of Michel Legrand, December 8, Bader Recital Hall, 1584 N Prospect Ave (wcmusic.org)

Wisconsin Conservatory’s Festival of Music and Trees continues with a special program from We Six, the conservatory’s highly-acclaimed resident jazz sextet.  The show features the compositions of legendary French composer Michel Legrand, whose roots are in jazz and is also one of the most renowned film composers ever!  The sextet puts their spin on classics including “Windmills of Your Mind,” “Watch What Happens,” “You Must Believe in Spring” (very timely!) and “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life,” as well as selections from the film scores from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Summer of ’42, and The Thomas Crown Affair (the 1968 movie starring Steve McQueen).  Looks like a special holiday treat in the cozy Bader Recital Hall!

John McGivern’s Holiday Tales, December 10 & 16, Northern Lights Theater, 1721 W Canal St (paysbig.com/shows)

It’s no surprise “Milwaukee’s Historian” John Gurda acts as actor/storyteller John McGivern’s sidekick on the award-winning Milwaukee Public Television series Around the Corner with John McGivern.  While Gurda offers historical perspective on the many communities the show visits, “Johnny Mac” offers history of another kind, seen through the prism of pop culture.  Rest assured many Milwaukee Christmas memories will be recounted in his new Holiday Tales show set for three more performances at Northern Lights Theater on the 10th and 16th.  Come and share in the laughs and nostalgia!  Please note this show is different from Home for the Holidays with John McGivern, which was recently shown on Milwaukee Public Television!

The Nutcracker, December 10-27, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (milwaukeeballet.org)

Milwaukee’s final holiday arts production opens this weekend, and for many, it’s the best.  The Milwaukee Ballet’s presentation of Artistic Director Michael Pink’s setting of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece has long been hailed as a classic that’s ideal for kids of all ages!  In fact, many return year after year, and for good reason.  The live orchestra, the sumptuous sets and costumes, the delightful dancers of MBC and the energetic performers of the Milwaukee Ballet School combine for a show that’s truly irresistible!  The only thing left for me to say is, if this is your first encounter with this holiday tradition…Boy, do I envy you!

Holiday for Brass, December 10, Carney Performing Arts Center at Pius XI High School, 135 N 76th Street (mfbrass.org)

Going back to the early days of the Salvation Army, Christmas music and the sounds of a brass band have been intertwined.  In that spirit, Milwaukee’s nationally-acclaimed Festival Brass presents their holiday program this Saturday at the splendid Carney Arts Center at Pius High School!  In fact, the venue is the studio for MFB’s upcoming debut CD.  The album will be ready for release for Christmas 2017, but you can get a preview of what you’ll hear on this disc at the concert since much of the music is on the program!  The program opens with a glorious fanfare based on “Adeste Fideles” and mixes traditional and contemporary seasonal music.  Also on the program is a performance of the group’s upcoming  2017 Championship Selection, Peter Graham’s Dimensions.  Head on over and enjoy the marvelous music…and don’t forget to offer your feedback and suggestions for the CD!

The Sleighriders, December 12, Shank Hall, 1434 N Farwell Ave (shankhall.com)

I’ve been talking a lot about Milwaukee’s many holiday musical traditions.  And  the group called the Sleighriders is of rather recent vintage; nevertheless, the band that comes to life one night a year has returned annually for over 30 years, making it a true Milwaukee holiday icon!  And they’re back this Monday night at their longtime home Shank Hall!  Local music legends Xeno and Steve Grimm have spearheaded the project through its entire run, which is a fundraiser for Variety of Wisconsin’s Children’s Charities.  Forty musicians fill the stage with classic rock and soul sounds, with legends like Sigmund Snopek III, Steve Cohen, Warren Wiegratz, Eddie Butts and many many more, including the Joe 2.0 String Section!  Many people talk about this show, but only those who actually attend really know what they’re talking about!  Not to be missed?  Are you kidding??

And to wrap it up this week, the Milwaukee Rep has just announced its just-opened spectacular new production of Christmas Carol has already set a box office record for best selling production in its 41 year history!  Bottom Line:  If you don’t already have your tickets, you best get a move on…You don’t want to wind up exclaiming “Bah Humbug” with Scrooge!

What’s Going On

December arrives this week, and with it another batch of Christmas goodies!

For the week of November 29-December 5…

Ronnie Spector’s Best Christmas Party Ever!, November 29, Northern Lights Theater, 1721 W Canal St (paysbig.com/shows)

It’s not every day a Rock and Roll of Famer visits your town, especially one whose voice is part one of the all-time great holiday albums, Phil Spector’s Christmas Album.  Last year, Darlene Love did a Christmas show here.  On Tuesday, one of the most iconic singers in Rock history (and another R&R Hall member) comes to town when Ronnie Spector brings her holiday show to the Northern Lights Theater.  While best known as a member of the Ronettes and their song “Be My Baby” (which Brian Wilson says is the greatest record ever made!), the MTV Generation knows Ronnie for appearing (and singing in) Eddie Money’s massive hit “Take Me Home Tonight.”  Rest assured, we’ll be getting a generous sampling of her Ronettes hits as well as many of the tunes from the Spector Christmas album.  Talk about an early start on the Christmas celebration!!

Christmas Choral Concert, December 1-4, Schwan Concert Hall, 8815 W Wisconsin Ave (wlc.edu/arts)

One of the best (and easily affordable) Milwaukee Christmas traditions arrives this Thursday through Sunday as the Wisconsin Lutheran College Choral Department presents its annual Christmas concert.  Three groups present a widely varied program of music drawn from classical to folk and spiritual tunes, but all of it celebrating the Reason for the Season.  During the changeover between groups during the program, the audience is encouraged to sing along on several familiar seasonal hymns.  It’s truly one of the best ways to get into the Christmas spirit!  And the beautiful Schwan Hall will be decked out for the occasion!

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, December 2-24, Pabst Theater, 108 E Wells St (milwaukeerep.com)

Milwaukee’s most anticipated holiday production for 2016 is the Milwaukee Rep’s Christmas Carol at the historic Pabst Theater.  While the Rep presented the Dickens classic for the past four decades, 2016 brings a totally new staging of the tale from Rep Artistic Director Mark Clements.  Simply put, it is the most ambitious production ever staged by the Rep, featuring a new script, new sets, new music, new stage effects…and yes, it will snow in the Pabst Theater!  It’s enough to make even Scrooge (Rep veteran Jonathan Wainwright) believe!  Also, the productions integrates elements of the English theatrical traditions of music hall and pantomime, which encourages audience members to interact with the onstage action (which will spill over into the audience).  This show is sure to make Tiny Tim exclaim, “Merry Christmas, Everyone!”

Holiday Hell:  The Curse of Perry Williams, December 2-January 8, 10th Street Theater, 628 N 10th St (intandemtheatre.org)

Cudahy Carolers Christmas, Scrooge in Rouge, A Twisted Carol…Yep, you can always count on the feisty In Tandem Theatre to present delightful if alternative productions during the holiday season.  2016 brings the return of this In Tandem holiday hit, written by Cudahy Carolers’ Anthony Wood and Twisted Carol’s Mondy Carter.  It’s the story of Perry Williams, singing star of 1950’s TV who really can’t sing!  The vocal pipes are provided by show assistant Benny, whom Perry just fired on the eve of his much-awaited Christmas special!  How far will Perry go to preserve the secret?  Can he even keep the ruse from being exposed?  Or will the public find out it’s Benny providing those dulcet tones?  (Sort of reminds me of Singing in the Rain!)  Head down to the 10th Street Theater to find out, and enjoy a rollicking good time in the process!

5 Days of Christmas, December 3-25, Avalon Theater, 2473 S KK Ave (avalonmke.com) and Times Cinema, 5906 W Vliet St (timescinema.com)

Following up their popular series of classic Christmas movies last year, two historic Milwaukee theaters-Bay View’s Avalon and Washington Heights’ Times Cinema-join forces once again to present these holiday treats on the Big Screen to delight movie fans of all ages!  However, this year’s series has a twist:  Rather than back loading all the movies in the week running up to Christmas, the theaters will be spreading out the films over five Saturday mornings at 10:30 beginning December 3rd (following in the tradition of the Avalon’s Second Saturday Classics series).    Here are the schedules:

December 3:  A Christmas Story (Avalon) and Home Alone (Times)

December 10:  A Christmas Carol (1938) (Avalon) and Miracle on 34th Street (Times)

December 17:  White Christmas (Avalon-there may not be snow in the theater, but you can watch for shooting stars in the sky!) and A Christmas Story (Times)

Wrapping up the series, both theaters will be showing Jimmy Stewart’s classic It’s a Wonderful Life on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day!  Admission is $5 for each movie, and make sure to arrive early so you don’t miss the special holiday cartoons and videos shown before each movie!

More holiday treats arriving next week, including the Milwaukee Ballet’s Nutcracker!

What’s Going On

More reasons to be thankful as the holiday treats continue to arrive on the Milwaukee theater scene!

For the week of November 22-28…

Elf the Musical, November 22-27, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (marcuscenter.org)

The 2003 holiday classic movie starring Will Ferrell (as Buddy the Elf),  Bob Newhart, Ed Asner and James Caan was turned into a hit Broadway musical in 2010 (only Wicked and The Lion King were bigger hits that holiday season!) , and that show arrives in Milwaukee this week as part of the Marcus Center’s Broadway series.  The musical numbers only add to the story’s charm and there’s plenty of comedy for kids of all ages!  The show is only here till Sunday when Buddy and his friends will be moving on, so make sure you don’t miss out!

Lobby Hero, November 25-December 18, Studio Theater, 158 N Broadway (milwaukeechambertheatre.org)

Writer/Director Kenneth Lonergan’s current film Manchester by the Sea is one of 2016’s most acclaimed movies.  As its holiday offering, Milwaukee Chamber Theater presents Lonergan’s play Lobby Hero, the story of Jeff, a young Manhattan security guard drawn into a local murder investigation.  Soon Jeff’s supervisor William and rookie cop Dawn become part of the story and Jeff is forced to make some quick, irreversible decisions about right and wrong.  It’s a romantic comedy, making it a nice alternative to the holiday-themed productions currently dominating the local theater scene!

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer:  the Musical, November 25-December 31, Marcus Center (firststage.org)

By popular demand, this stage adaptation of the beloved TV classic is back for the holidays at Milwaukee’s premier family theater.  The Johnny Marks songs you know and love (“Holly Jolly Christmas,” “Ringle Ringle Ringle,” “We Are Santa’s Elves,” “We’re A Couple of Misfits,” “Island of Misfit Toys,” “There’s Always Tomorrow,” and of course the title song) are all here, and the set will make you think you just stepped into Christmas Town at the North Pole.  Local acting favorites Drew Brhel, Matt Daniels, Allie Babich and Karen Estrada are joined by some of the most talented young performers in the area to create a production that must be seen to be believed.  And you will believe!

Coming next week:  We look at a sleigh full of concerts heralding the holiday season!

 

What’s Going On

For the week of November 15-21…

As usual, the week before Thanksgiving is a mighty busy one on the Milwaukee arts scene.  So buckle up, and away we go!

Beatles Deconstructed:  The White Album, November 16, Downer Theater, 2589 N Downer Ave (beatleslectures.com/thetrailer)

Did you know the Beatles’ 1968 White Album has become the biggest-selling album of the 60’s?  Not the biggest-selling Beatles album, not the biggest seller of 1968, but the greatest selling album released in the 1960’s!  It’s also the subject of the first of Beatles expert Scott Freiman’s series of four films in which he dissects classic Beatles albums to learn how this magical music was created in the first place.  The White Album was chosen as the first film because it’s the most eclectic album the Fab Four ever released.  Delicate folk ballads, balls-to-the-wall rockers, music hall ditties, a very early attempt at reggae, a lullaby (sung by Ringo!),  even an avant garde piece inspired by composers John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen…they’re all part of the setlist on this sprawling double album.  Freiman is your tour guide through this meticulous and fascinating look at the making of this classic.  The film is being shown once on the 16th, so be there or be square!  (Note:  The film is also being shown the same evening at several area Marcus Theaters.  Check theater listings for schedule information.)

103rd Annual City Christmas Tree Lighting and 18th Annual Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival Kickoff, November 17, City Hall, corner of Water & Wells and Pere Marquette Park (milwaukeeholidaylights.com)

Ready or not, here come the Holidays!!  Downtown Milwaukee gets lit up this Thursday, beginning with the official lighting of the city’s Christmas tree.  Please note this year’s ceremony takes place at City Hall instead of Red Arrow Park.  Following that, the festivities head over to Pere Marquette Park for the throwing of the switch to ignite the lights at the downtown county parks (Pere Marquette, Cathedral Park, and Zeidler Square) with a fireworks show following!  Lots of entertainment at both events, including the Rep Carolers from their upcoming production of Christmas Carol…and it’s all free!!

The Foreigner, November 18-December 18, Quadracci Powerhouse Theater, 108 E Wells (milwaukeerep.com)

Milwaukee playwright Larry Shue has certainly done his share to bring laughter to the world.  His plays The Foreigner and The Nerd (both commissioned by the Rep) have entertained audiences around the world.  And for the Christmas season, The Foreigner comes home to the Rep in a Laura Gordon production that features a great cast headed by Jim Pickering (Did I just hear that this will be Jim’s 175th theatrical production?? Wow!).  Whether it’s your first time experiencing it (count me in!) or a returning fan, for pure theater fun there’s nothing better this holiday season!

La Cage Aux Folles, November 18-December 23, Cabot Theater, 158 N Broadway (skylightmusictheatre.org)

As is the Skylight’s annual holiday tradition, a classic Broadway musical will be on the Cabot stage this season (Previous holiday productions included My Fair Lady, The Music Man, The Sound of Music and Les Miserables).  This Tony-award winning show (which also inspired the Robin Williams-Nathan Lane hit movie The Birdcage) boasts a strong local cast, like past Skylight holiday shows.  Starring in this production are the always hilarious Ray Jivoff (Is this guy really the Interim Artistic Director of the Skylight?) and Norman Moses (who recently wowed Skylight audiences in The Music Man and My Fair Lady).  As previously mentioned, this Dynamic Duo will be joined by a strong supporting cast, performing the memorable score from Jerry Herman (Hello Dolly, Mame).  As an extra treat, the show’s costumes are being designed by Chris March (Project Runway).  If you thought his costumes for last year’s My Fair Lady were terrific, wait till you see what he’s cooked up for La Cage!    Holiday joy galore!

UnSilent Night, November 18-December 11, Next Act Theater, 255 S Water St (nextact.org)

If you’re a fan of classic old-time radio like me, you’ll be looking forward to this World Premiere production of veteran John Kishline’s play that’s this year’s holiday offering at Next Act.  The story is set at Christmas Eve 1953 at Milwaukee radio station WNXT (Now where did those call letters come from??).  Evening DJ Frank is regaling his audience with holiday stories, music and observations about that Jolly Old Elf.  As he’s about to shut down the station for the night (Yes, radio stations really did sign-off at night back in the day!), an unexpected visitor shows up at the studio door.  His appearance and situation prompt Frank to fire up the transmitter, with an appeal for the listeners’ help.  It’s a production filled with holiday nostalgia, but also has a poignant message that’s relevant for us in 2016.  Next Act Artistic Director David Cecsarini stars as Frank, with able support from Doug Jarecki, Andrew Muwonge and Molly Rhode.

Milwaukee Holiday Folk Fair International, November 18-20, State Fair Park (folkfair.org)

Milwaukee’s iconic summer ethnic festivals have long been a part of the local scene.  But long before the gates opened on Festa Italiana, German Fest, Irish Fest, Mexican Fiesta, etc, their catalyst had been in existence for decades.  In 1943, during the height of World War II, the first Milwaukee Folk Fair was held at the Milwaukee Auditorium (the Arena hadn’t even been built yet!).   It was created as a way to showcase all of Milwaukee’s diverse ethnic communities in one place, a true “melting pot” in contrast to the conflict raging throughout Europe and the Pacific.  It has since become a Milwaukee holiday tradition, and this year’s event will spotlight 50 ethnic groups, with nearly 50,000 expected to attend.  If you crave the music, crafts, culture-and food (of course!) at the summer festivals, the Folk Fair offers a taste of all of them in one place!  No wonder it draws  fans from far and wide!!

Milwaukee Holiday Parade, November 19, downtown Milwaukee (milwaukeeparade.com)

Yes indeed, the Man with the Bag arrives in downtown Milwaukee this Saturday morning.  And to make Santa feel right at home after traveling from the North Pole, the local weather forecast predicts a chilly November day with highs in the 40’s (Don’t say you weren’t warned!).  This being the 90th annual parade is proof  Milwaukeeans are a hardy bunch, and the cold weather won’t dampen the spirits and warmth of the throngs expected to line the parade route.  Especially with over 100 units including bands, floats, giant balloons…with Santa and his reindeer as the Grand Finale!  The event is free of course, but the Hunger Task Force will again be on hand to accept non-perishable food donations during this most high demand season!  So remember to bring some cans and boxes of food along down to the parade…Santa (and many others) will be glad you did!

One more reminder this week…PBS’ pop music history series Soundbreaking continues its run at 9 pm from now through Friday, and also from Nov 21-23.  Monday’s opening episode was awesome…For music fans (and who isn’t?) it’s not to be missed!!

 

What’s Going On

For the week of November 8-14…

Frank Almond Plays Mozart, November 11-12, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)

Fresh from their hit performance at the recent Thursday night Packers-Bears game at Lambeau Field, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra returns to its “home field” at the Marcus Center for a program best described as “musical comfort food.”  Guest Conductor Cristian Macelaru (a possible candidate to succeed Edo de Waart as MSO Music Director) gets things underway with Haydn’s lively Symphony No. 96.  Then, the always capable MSO Concertmaster Frank Almond (I’ll bet that’s the first time Frank has been described with adjectives usually attributed to AWA wrestler Kenny Jay!) steps in the spotlight as soloist in Mozart’s glorious Violin Concerto No. 1.  After the break, the second half features Prokofiev’s majestic music for Romeo & Juliet.  The Milwaukee Ballet recently staged an enthusiastically received production of this work, and the MSO presents an opportunity to hear this fabulous music on its own, offering ample proof why it’s one of the composer’s most popular works!  All told, a great way to warm up on a chilly fall evening!

Miracle on 34th Street, November 12, Avalon Theater, 2473 S KK Ave (avalonmke.com)

I would circle November 12 on your calendar, as I would consider it the official start of Milwaukee’s holiday season.  Is it because Santa will be making his annual arrival downtown during the Christmas Parade?  Sorry, that’s coming up on the 19th.  Will the switch be thrown for the lights in the downtown parks and the city’s Christmas tree in City Hall?  Nope, that’s on the 17th.  Are local radio stations flipping to the all-Christmas music format?  Uh-uh.  But Christmas will definitely be in the air as Bay View’s beautifully renovated Avalon Theater presents the 1947 classic Miracle on  34th Street as part of its ongoing Second Saturday Classics series.  This is the movie featuring little Natalie Wood as skeptical Susan Walker, convinced that Kris Kringle (magnificently portrayed by  Edmund Gwenn) is just another in a series of Macy’s Santas hired by her mom (Maureen O’Hara).  But Kris has other ideas for Susan and her mom, their neighbor (John Payne),  and all of New York City!  Could Kris be the Real Mr Claus?  Can Macy’s get along with Gimbels?  When Kris begins conversing in perfect Dutch with a war orphan girl at Macy’s, you’ll be assured he’s the Real Deal!  But can he convince thousands of hard-nosed New Yawkers?  Come on down to find out and enjoy some early holiday cheer (and prepare for Santa’s arrival the following Saturday)!

Soundbreaking, November 14-18 and 21-23, PBS TV (check local listings)

Here’s an early Christmas present for pop music fans, as PBS presents eight one-hour films focusing on the ins and outs of pop music production that spans decades and features over 150 pop stars, producers, engineers, songwriters, etc, in an unprecedented look at the world of pop music.  I can’t possibly list all those seen throughout the series (but there are lots familiar faces as well as many folks whose names will be well-known to fans who enjoy reading Album Credits), but suffice it to say this was Sir George Martin’s final project, when he gave the film producers a Q&A interview featured in the series’ opening episode on record producers.  If you love music, I would strongly suggest setting the video recorder for all 8 crazy nights!

Before signing off, I need to give kudos to some recent Milwaukee musical productions that got under the “Tuning In” radar due to circumstances beyond my control.

Continuing their tradition of staging a big musical production to open the Powerhouse Theater season, the Milwaukee Rep was up to the challenge with a magnificent production of the Tony Award winning classic Man of La Mancha, the musical that gave the world the song “The Impossible Dream” (and Jim Nabors a second career!).  Rep Artistic Director Mark Clements directed a powerhouse cast, led by Nate Stampley in a marvelous turn in the dual role of Cervantes/Don Quixote, and the stage and lighting design and onstage orchestra perfectly complemented the talented cast.  In a few weeks, Clements will be taking the wraps off a brand-new staging of the Rep staple A Christmas Carol that promises to be a truly dazzling treat.  I expect to hear lots of buzz about this show, but I don’t think “Bah Humbug!” will be among the comments!

Over at the Skylight, director Shari Williams Pannell’s staging of the award-winning musical Violet presented an engaging look at the South during the early 60’s through the eyes of a young woman on a journey of self-discovery, accompanied by a score featuring the musical melting pot of blues, country, bluegrass, R&B and gospel  that permeates the region.

Artistic Director Jill-Anna Ponasik’s feisty Milwaukee Opera Theatre launched their season with a brand-new musical Victory for Victoria, appropriate for the election season by telling the story of the first woman to run for US President in the 1870’s, nearly 50 years before women had the right to vote!  Kudos to composer Alissa Rhode and writers Susan Peterson Holmes and Peggy Peterson Ryan for creating an enlightening and entertaining show and to MOT for finding yet another special venue, this time the historic Wauwatosa Womans Club, which has a stage perfect for this show!  How is Jill Anna going to top this?  Well, coming up in January is a production of Mozart’s Magic Flute, which will be staged in Milwaukee’s Tripoli Shrine Temple!

I must also mention the title roles in both Violet and Victoria were performed by the same person, Allie Babich, a rising star who was most convincing in both shows!  Remember that name, I know I’ll be eagerly looking forward to her future endeavors!

What’s Going On

For the week of November 1-7…

Roger Hodgson in Concert, November 1-4, Northern Lights Theater, 1721 W Canal St (paysbig.com/shows)

The last time Supertramp founding member Roger Hodgson played the Northern Lights Theater, it was for three sold-out shows.  For his return this week, he’s been booked for four nights, and it looks like they will all be sellouts!  Good reason:  Using his own band plus an orchestra featuring some of the area’s finest musicians, Hodgson presents a program mixing newer material as well as Supertramp classics, the result being a glorious sound the original band could never duplicate onstage that leaves audiences ecstatic and wanting more!  In fact, many fans are attending all four shows; as a result, Hodgson has been mixing a number of songs into the sets each night that won’t be played the other nights.  However, it’s a good bet that no matter which show you attend, songs like “School,” “Hide in Your Shell,” “Take the Long Way Home,” “Dreamer,” “Fool’s Overture,” “Breakfast in America” and “Give a Little Bit” are sure to be on the setlist.  Most definitely not to be missed!

I Love a Piano, November 4-January 15, Stackner Cabaret, 108 E Wells St (milwaukeerep.com)

This year’s holiday offering from the Milwaukee Rep’s Stackner Cabaret is a revue devoted to the songs of arguably America’s greatest pop music composer, Irving Berlin. Berlin’s songs are the musical story of America in the 20th century, and dozens of them are featured in what could be called the ultimate “jukebox musical.”  Rep favorite Kelley Faulkner heads the cast and with songs that include “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “Blue Skies,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “Cheek to Cheek,” “This is the Army,” “Easter Parade,” “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” “Anything  You Can Do (I Can Do Better),” “God Bless America” and (of course) “White Christmas,” you just can’t go wrong!  Like the Stackner’s previous holiday smash Liberace!, this sounds like the perfect way to celebrate the season!

The Royale, through November 6, Stiemke Studio, 108 E Wells St (milwaukeerep.com)

Watching the Rep’s first Stiemke Studio production of the season may conjure up memories of the late great Muhammad Ali, and that’s certainly understandable.  But Marco Ramirez’ action-packed 75 minute play was actually inspired by Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champ who accomplished the feat in the early years of the 20th century when Jim Crow laws made it virtually impossible for any black athlete to reach the heights Johnson did.  You won’t see fight choreography as seen in movies like Raging Bull and the Rocky films, but clever use of sound and lighting patterns have great impact, while we also see insideJay “The Sport” Johnson’s personal life and how he dealt with the public as well as those in his inner circle.

The Drowning Girls, now through November 13, Studio Theater, 158 N Broadway (r-t-w.com)

Renaissance Theaterworks opens its new season with this crime drama inspired by the infamous “Brides in the Bath” murders that rocked Britain over a century ago.  Unseen serial killer George Joseph Smith’s modus operandi would be to prey on vulnerable single women who dreaded the prospect of spinsterhood, marry them, and then murder them by drowning in the bathtub.  Marcee Doherty-Elst, Susie Duecker and Elyse Edelman play the three women who tell their individual stories as well as “compare notes” with their fellow victims.  And yes, three filled bathtubs are part of the stage props.  Perhaps not the best choice for a “date night” outing, but this true story makes for an evening of truly chilling theater.

Goosebumps The Musical:  Phantom of the Auditorium, now through November 13, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (firststage.org)

First Stage Family Theater opens its 30th season with its 57th World Premiere production, this one based on the popular children’s book series.  Milwaukee theater favorite Niffer Clarke directs, and veteran performers Carrie Hitchcock and Chris Klopatek are joined by the usual cast of talented young performers that make First Stage productions so special.    Our heroes, Zeke and Brooke, are cast as leads in their school play about a phantom.  Strange things begin happening during the play’s rehearsals, leading one them (and the audience) to believe there’s more than a play going on here.  What happens from there will keep audiences, old and young alike, on the edge of your seats to the very end (and no fair if you’ve already read the book)!

One last departing thought:  While spooky themes permeate the just mentioned two productions, what would really be scary is if you don’t get out and make your voice heard in the election on November 8!  Many have made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure you have this precious right…You owe it to them to do your civic duty and VOTE!!

What’s Going On

For the week of October 18-24…

WMSE Fall 2016 Membership Drive, now-October 28 (wmse.org)

Six months have passed since the last fundraising drive at Frontier Radio WMSE…a record-breaking drive that reached its goal a full 24 hours ahead of schedule!  Now it’s time for the MSE community (that’s y’all!) to once again pledge its support to reach the $91,700 goal (as in 91.7 FM…pretty good, eh?)  So tune in or fire up the stream and check out the great variety of music and craziness that go hand in hand during the pledge drive!  And while you’re at it, call us at 414-799-1917, where we’ll be standing by to take your pledge and tell you how great you are!  Or if that sort of thing embarrasses you, you can make your pledge securely at wmse.org.  And check out the Thank You gifts that are available, including the NEW 35th Anniversary Fireside Coffee Mug with a pound of our famous Radio Roast blend, known for keeping our graveyard shift DJ’s super-alert, and it will do the trick for you too!!

The Taming, thru October 23, Next Act Theater, 255 S Water St (nextact.org)

Laura Gunderson’s clever political satire makes for an appropriate opener for Next Act’s new season.  A conservative senator’s aide (Marti Gobel), a liberal blogger (Sara Zientek) and a beauty pageant contestant (Bree Beelow) are whisked back in time to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and magically are transformed into James Madison, Charles Pickney, and George Washington, among others, with their task to hammer out a final draft of the Constitution that can effectively replace the Articles of Confederation and set the standards by which this country has run ever since!  (Apparently Alexander Hamilton was busy with that Broadway show of his, but he sure does get mentioned!)  It’s thought-provoking as well as entertaining, but keep in mind that, like the election itself, the show’s run will soon be over!

Scheherazade and Angels in the Architecture, now-October 23, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (milwaukeeballet.org)

The Milwaukee Ballet opens its new season with a program featuring the return of an old favorite and something new.  Mark Godden’s  Angels in the Architecture makes its MBC premiere, a work that features the glorious music of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring.  Finishing things off is the return of Kathryn Posin’s Scheherazade, first performed by the MBC in 2003 and featuring Rimsky-Korsakov’s sumptuous orchestral tone poem inspired by the Tales of1001 Arabian Nights.  It’s about a princess who must spin stories (including those featuring Aladdin and Sinbad) in order to stay alive.  And her tales, as told through the talented MBC dancers, will leave you entranced as well!

Brass Band Animated, October 22, St John’s Lutheran Church, 20275 Davidson Road, Brookfield (mfbrass.org)

Milwaukee’s award-winning Festival Brass opens its 32nd season (and follows up its First Place showing at last spring’s National Brass Band Convention in Fort Wayne and enthusiastically received performance at Marcus Center’s Peck Pavilion Summer Series) with a truly unique concert.  All fans of animated films (and admit it, who doesn’t love cartoons?) will want to be on hand for this unique program of music (original and adapted) used in films ranging from recent Disney hits (Frozen, Little Mermaid) to Michael Giancchino’s jazzy theme from Pixar’s The Incredibles to the finale of Rossini’s William Tell Overture (aka “The Lone Ranger Overture”), which has been used in scores of cartoon classics (most notably Disney’s 1930’s hit The Band Concert-which inspired conductor Leopold Stokowski to contact Walt Disney to propose teaming up for a classical music cartoon starring Mickey Mouse, which resulted in the feature film Fantasia-and the rest is history, but I digress).  Add to the music the virtuosity of the Brass members, and you just can’t go wrong!  Be there or be square, Doc!

And before signing off, I want to take a moment to congratulate the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and Chorus for their well-received performances of the National Anthem and John Williams music during Thursday’s Packers-Bears game at Lambeau Field.  The 78,000 fans on hand were the largest single audience in MSO history!  And you can watch video of the performances at the MSO website (mso.org)…Go Pack!  Go MSO!!