What’s Going On

For the week of August 23-29…

Milwaukee Fringe Festival, August 27-28, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St and Pere Marquette Park, 900 N Plankinton Ave (mkefringe.com)

As summer winds down, so is Milwaukee’s festival season.  But wait!  There are still some goodies left in the bag, including this weekend’s ever-popular Mexican Fiesta at Maier Festival Park (mexicanfiesta.org).  And there’s a brand-new festival having its maiden voyage this Saturday and Sunday, which gets its inspiration from a festival first staged in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1947.  Yes, this weekend marks the first Milwaukee Fringe Festival, taking place at the Marcus Center and Pere Marquette Park, which is directly across the river.  Local theater, music and dance groups will presenting performances, many of them FREE!  One of the highlights will be the Milwaukee premiere of Renaissance Theaterworks’ Lucky Numbers, Madison playwright Gwendolyn Rice’s piece which RTW triumphantly premiered Off Off Broadway in New York last year.  The performance takes at 6:15 pm Saturday in the Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater (usually the home of First Stage Theater).  Putting it another way, the festival is like Gallery Night and Day for performing arts groups.  So your best bet is to click the link above for the festival website to get full performance information…and support Milwaukee’s performing arts scene!

What’s Going On

For the week of August 16-22..

Sonia and Vanya and Misha and Spike, now-August 28, Cabot Theater, 158 N Broadway (milwaukeechambertheatre.com)

Three of the titular characters’ names are taken from Chekhov, but there are plenty of laughs to be found in Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s season opener, which is MCT Associate Artistic Director Marcella Kearns’ rollicking staging of Christopher Durang’s Tony-winning comedy.

Baby boomer siblings Sonia (Jenny Wanasek) and Vanya (MCT Artistic Director C Michael Wright) reside in a country house in Bucks County, PA, bought and paid for by their movie-star sister Misha (Carrie Hitchcock).  They lead rather humdrum lives which are broken up by visits  from their clairvoyant housekeeper Cassandra (the uproarious Rana Roman) but things get stirred up in a hurry when Misha arrives for a visit with her “Boy Toy” Spike (JJ Phillips).  Hunky Spike’s main claim to fame is auditioning for the second season of Entourage, and his wandering eye quickly turns its attention to aspiring actress Nina  (Elodie Senetra), Sonia and Vanya’s neighbor who’s also named after a Chekhov character.  Nina, on the other hand, seems more interested in the play “Uncle” Vanya has been working on, a staged reading starring Vanya, Nina and Cassandra  forms the climax of the show.  Oh, and there’s a costume party where Sonia indulges her inner Maggie Smith.  After watching the show, I could just imagine Sonia starring on Downton Abbey and Cassandra as a meteorologist on local Milwaukee TV!

The characters’ idiosyncrasies combined with abundant pop culture references make for a late-summer treat.  Or as Cassandra might put it, “Beware if you fail to see this show!”

The Whiskeybelles, August 16, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (marcuscenter.org)

No, the Belles don’t come out only at night, as Milwaukee’s favorite Americana trio will be featured this week during the Marcus Center’s free Lunchtime Tuesdays series at the Peck Pavilion.  If you’re downtown, make sure to stop by for a generous helping of their spirited covers and originals.  And given they just opened for Charlie Daniels’ appearance at the Ozaukee County Fair, don’t be surprised to hear a rendition of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia!”

Irish Fest, August 18-21, Maier Festival Park (irishfest.com)

For the 36th year, Milwaukee Irish Fest returns this weekend to the lakefront.  Arguably the world’s largest Celtic festival, for my money it’s Milwaukee’s best ethnic music festival.  From traditional to rock, Irish Fest’s music runs the gamut.  And there are plenty of acts to choose from:  returning stars like Gaelic Storm and Red Hot Chili Pipers, local favorites (including Frogwater, Reilly, Athas, Leahy’s Luck), popular acts returning after a lengthy hiatus (Solas, along with Clannad vocalist Moya Brennan’s band De Barra) and the usual complement of first-time acts at the Fest eager to make a great impression (Wrigley Sisters, Dallahan, Runa, Jigjam, Barrule and Next Generation Leahy).  Music and dance may be the main stars of Irish Fest, but by no means the only ones:  the Irish Cultural Village features a plethora of theatrical plays performed by groups from both here and across the pond.  And don’t forget to visit the Celtic Canines near the lagoon on Saturday and Sunday!  And if you’re not partial to Irish Soda Bread, Corned Beef or Irish Stew, Wong’s Wok will be on hand with their Chinese version of fast food!  And if you being several non-perishable food items (boxes of Mac & Cheese are always a winner) to Sunday morning’s mass at the Marcus Amphitheater, you’ll get free admission to the fest after mass!  Also new for 2016:  $10 discount tickets are available all day Friday!

What’s Going On

For the week of August 2-8…

Julius Caesar, August 4-7, 11-14, 18-21, Selig-Joseph Holz Amphitheater at Kadish Park, 308 E Lloyd St (optimisttheatre.org)

Besides the much-publicized (and deservedly so) Wisconsin State Fair, another Milwaukee summer tradition of more recent vintage gets underway on Thursday.  Optimist Theater’s annual FREE Shakespeare-In-The-Park series presents its 2016 production of Julius Caesar, the classic tragedy of political intrigue during the days of the Roman Empire.  Optimist’s always top-notch productions boast great casts drawing from the cream of Milwaukee’s theatrical talent, and this year is no exception.  Allen Edge has the title role, and he’s joined by many local theater favorites, including Laura Gray, Angela Ianonne, Libby Amato, Leslie Fitzwater, and many more.  If you’re a first-timer to the Kadish Park experience, it is highly suggested you check out the group’s website (listed above) for information on how to get to the park, seating, when to arrive, etc.  If you enjoy seeing classic theater performed under starry summer skies (except for the brunch matinee on August 14), you are in for a real treat!

Milwaukee Festival Brass, August 7, Peck Pavilion at Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (marcuscenter.org)

Fresh from their gold-medal winning performance (in keeping with the Olympics opening on Friday) at recent National Brass Band Convention, Milwaukee’s Festival Brass presents a special FREE outdoor performance on Sunday at Marcus Center’s Peck Pavilion along the Milwaukee River in downtown Milwaukee.  Although the group’s programs is a guarded secret, rest assured the repertoire will run the gamut from Sousa marches to John Williams showpieces, from modern pieces to classics from the revered British Brass Band literature (including compositions from esteemed English composer Gustav “The Planets” Holst!).  It’s part of Marcus Center’s Summer Festival of free events that includes Sunday afternoon band concerts, Tuesday lunchtime shows and Friday Family Film Favorites under the stars!  Check the Center’s website above for the full lowdown on festival events!

What’s Going On

For the week of June 28-July 4…

Summerfest, June 29-July 3 and July 5-10, Maier Festival Park (summerfest.com)

What began as an idea by Milwaukee mayor Henry Maier to replicate the Oktoberfest celebrations in Munich in 1968 in the wake of Milwaukee’s racial riots the previous summer, has become in its 49th year the “World’s Largest Music Festival”, a claim few would dispute.  For 10 solid days (with a break for the 4th of July), Milwaukee’s lakefront explodes with music, food, and other libations.  And while the big star attractions like Paul McCartney are already well-known, Summerfest also provides big time exposure for many of the area’s most talented acts.  For many of them, their Summerfest gig will be their greatest highlight.  With that in mind, I am listing some of those acts along the dates they’ll be performing.  They are all deserving of your support!

June 29:  Leroy Airmaster with Junior Brantley

June 30:  GGOOLLDD, Evan Christian, Jon Paris, Bad Boy

July 1:  Sammy Llanas, Trapper Schoepp, Consult the Briefcase, Willy Porter

July 2:  Peter Mac, Naima Adedapo, Clyde Subblefield All-Stars

July 3:  Mrs Fun, Bodeans, Streetlife

July 5:  Tallan Noble Latz, Tritonics, Doghouse Flowers, The Cavewives

July 6:  52nd Street-A Billy Joel Tribute, Southbound, Nora Collins, Jaill

July 7:  Violent Femmes, Tweed Funk, Harvey Scales and the Seven Sounds, Colin O’Brien, Greg Koch

July 8:  Dr Woo, Joe 2.0, 5 Card Studs, Litmus Vinyl, Katie Mack and the Moan

July 9:  Reyna, Sigmund Snopek, Mike Benign Compulsion, Failure to Launch, Gabriel Sanchez and the Prince Experience, De La Buena

July 10:  Jesus on the Mainline, Whiskeybelles, Paul Cebar Tomorrow Sound

For full festival and schedule information, check the link listed above!

Here’s Doc!, July 1-3, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)

While most of the musical action is taking place at Summerfest this week, downtown’s Marcus Center will be hosting a very special concert this weekend as the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra winds up its season by welcoming back former Principal Pops Conductor (and music legend) Doc Severinsen, celebrating 60 years in show business!  Doc will lead the orchestra along with showcasing his always impeccable trumpet!  As usual, the program is a secret with Doc, but rest assured there will be the usual surprises for the audience!  So be a cool cat (figuratively and literally!) and head over for some musical fireworks from Doc and the MSO!

Have a Safe and Happy Fourth, Everybody!

What’s Going On

For the week of June 21-27…

MSO at Chill on the Hill, June 21, Humboldt Park

Humboldt Park’s Chill on the Hill launched its 2016 season a few weeks ago, and this Tuesday the free festival presents one of the highlights of the season when the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra makes its annual appearance.  MSO Associate Conductor Yaniv Dinur leads the program which features music from Dvorak, Bernstein, Piazzolla and many more.  It’s not too often you can enjoy a picnic lunch with a world-class orchestra, so come on down and celebrate summer with music under the stars!

Thank You.  Next?, June 23-26, 10th Street Theater, 628 N 10th Street (milwaukeeoperatheatre.org)

Fresh from its sensational performance of 1776 at Turner Hall Ballroom, Milwaukee Opera Theater winds up its current season with a world premiere production at In Tandem Theater’s home at the cozy 10th Street Theater.  Thank You.  Next? is Alicia Berneche and Tim Rebers’ story about…auditioning for an opera!  Eleven singers take their turns performing before a judges’ panel and along the way we learn about that gut-wrenching path to the big moment!  MOT Artistic Director Jill Anna Ponasik and veteran Milwaukee actor David Flores co-direct the production, and the talented cast includes Milwaukee favorites Natalie Ford, Diane Lane and Nathan Wesselowski, accompanied by Milwaukee’s “Liberace,” Jack Forbes Wilson (who was also Music Director for 1776).  The score includes a mix of familiar arias along with new music from the Berneche-Rebers duo.  Not to be missed!

All-Tchaikovsky Spectacular, June 24-26, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra literally finishes its classical season with a bang with this weekend’s performances which feature Tchaikovsky’s immortal 1812 Overture!  It’s pretty amazing that a piece which celebrates the Russian army’s victory over Napoleon would become an American 4th of July tradition, thanks to the Boston Pops’ annual performances along the Charles River Esplanade, assisted by US Army howitzers and surrounding church bells!  Now the howitzers may not be part of the MSO’s performance, but rest assured Uihlein Hall will be rockin’ nonetheless!  And that’s not all!  Guest Conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto welcomes back virtuoso pianist Joyce Yang (who has previously performed the Rachmaninoff concerto cycle with the MSO) as soloist on the composer’s First Piano Concerto, sure to set off more musical fireworks!  Rounding out the program is the Polonaise from Eugene Onegin along with the lovely yet seldom-heard First Symphony (Winter Daydreams), making for an unforgettable way to ring down the curtain on the 2015/16 season!

Greek Fest, June 24-26, State Fair Park (annunciationwi.org)

Before there was Festa Italiana, German Fest, Irish Fest and all the other ethnic fests that are part of Milwaukee’s summer landscape, there was the granddaddy of them all, and that’s Greek Fest!  And, along with Bastille Days, it’s the only free festival on the schedule, and it’s back this weekend at State Fair Park!  So chow down on the lamb gyros and baklava,  and enjoy the Greek music and dancing (not to mention the carnival rides!) this Friday through Sunday!  Full information available at the above link!  Opa!!

What’s Going On

For the week of June 14-20…

Rhapsody in Blue, June 17-19, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra winds down its season with three straight weekends of concerts  beginning this Friday with a crowd-pleasing program with guest conductor/piano soloist Jeffrey Kahane.  The music includes George Gershwin’s headlining classic mashup of classical and jazz, along with his friend Maurice Ravel’s equally jazz-influenced Piano Concerto in G., both featuring guest conductor Kahane at the keyboard as well!  The balance of the program includes Aaron Copland’s majestic tone poem Appalachian Spring (with its majestic “Shaker Song” conclusion) and Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story”, the composer’s setting of familiar themes from the classic musical for full orchestra.  What a rousing way to welcome summer!

2016 Metro Jam, June 17-18, Washington Park, Manitowoc, WI (metrojam.org)

For 38 years, “Manty’s” Washington Park has been the setting for one of the best free summer music fests in the state, and this weekend’s event promises more of the same!  This year’s fest headliner is the Pat Travers Band, a classic band from the golden days of Album Rock radio with their anthem “Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights).”  The good news is that he’s still layin’ down the riffs and releasing fine new blues albums, and I’m certain we’ll be hearing material both old and new on Saturday night!  Also on the festival bill are several acts familiar to Milwaukee audiences.  The great classical rock band Joe 2.0 (featuring a string quartet, rock rhythm section and Bad Boy’s Xeno on vocals) tops the bill on Friday night, while Brew City power pop icons the Mosleys and Americana/Roots band Devil Met Contention hold down the fort Saturday afternoon.  Preceding the Travers Band Saturday evening are the sounds of Austin Texas retro Soul/R&B act the Greyhounds and hot Nashville Cat guitarist JD Simo.  Imagine all these acts (and more) playing to a gathering that more closely resembles a neighborhood block party than a big time summer  music festival, and you pretty much have the picture of what you’ll get at Metro Jam!  No wonder the Green Bay Press-Gazette calls it “a musical oasis on the Wisconsin festival scene!”  And remember…it’s all free!!

What’s Going On

For the week of June 7-13…

Chill on the Hill, June 7-August 30, Humboldt Park (bayviewneighborhood.org)

With last week’s opening of Jazz in the Park, the 2016 Milwaukee outdoor free festival season is off and running, and we have several more getting underway this week.  First up is Chill on the Hill, the Tuesday evening programs held in the natural bowl in Humboldt Park’s bandshell in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood.  For thirteen weeks, a wide spectrum of music will be presented, including a return visit from the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra on June 21!  Kicking off this year’s lineup is Milwaukee’s iconic power pop trio the Mosleys.  The Bay View High School Drumline will get things off to a rollicking start at 6 pm.  When it’s summer in Milwaukee, you don’t have to wait till the weekend to party!

River Rhythms, June 8-August 31, Marquette Park, 950 N Old World 3rd St (westown.org)

On Wednesday night, The 2016 River Rhythms season gets underway.  The shows take place on Wednesday evenings at Marquette Park in the heart of downtown Milwaukee.  Up first this year is Shonn Hinton & Shotgun, providing a healthy dose of funky R&B to move you on Hump Day!  And there’s plenty more coming after that, so check the link above for the full lineup!

Mel Brooks Presents “Blazing Saddles”, June 11, Riverside Theater, 116 W Wisconsin Ave (pabsttheatre.org)

A rare treat for comedy fans and cinephiles is coming up Saturday night when legendary Oscar, Emmy, Tony and Grammy (EGOT) winner Mel Brooks comes to town to present his classic 1974 Western send-up Blazing Saddles at the historic Riverside Theater. The timing is great since June 11 is also the birthday of movie co-star, frequent Brooks cohort AND Milwaukee native Gene Wilder (The Waco Kid)!  After the movie screening, Mel will host an audience Q&A session (Don’t worry, Mel won’t ask the questions, you will!).  Between that and the actual movie, the venerable vaudeville house will be rockin’ with laughter!

Locust Street Festival of Music & Art, June 12, Locust Street between Humboldt and Holton (locuststreetfestival.org)

Riverwest gets to weigh in to the Milwaukee summer festival lineup on Sunday with this event running the length of Locust Street from Humboldt west to Holton Ave.  The successor to the late, lamented Brady Street Festival of the 70’s, the Locust Street event is celebrating its 40th anniversary in a big way:  Six music stages with free performances from dozens of great local acts, along with a multitude arts and crafts vendors and several children’s areas!  From the music lineup, I would personally recommend Sigmund Snopek’s Beer Show (perhaps the one guy who’s performed at all 40 festivals!), Chicken Wire Empire, Extra Crispy Brass Band, The Mosleys (there they are again!), Tweed Funk, the Whiskeybelles and Delta Routine.  But seriously, you really can’t go wrong with any of the acts, so check the link above for the full lineup and schedule information.  Hmmm…perhaps the Belles will join Tweed Funk for some backup vocals during their show, just like they did on TF’s great new album Come Together!