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!).

What’s Going On

For the week of May 12-18…

Cinderella, May 14-17, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (milwaukeeballet.org)

Well, talk about a great marketing set-up!  Last fall, we had Skylight Theater’s production of Rossini’s opera Cinderella.  And just a few months ago, we got Disney’s new live-action movie version, directed by Kenneth Branagh.  And this weekend, the Milwaukee Ballet’s season finale is the return of Artistic Director Michael Pink’s spectacular production, first performed by MBC in 2009.  And like MBC’s 2013 production of Romeo & Juliet, the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra will be playing a score by the great Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev to accompany the dancers.  And what a great showcase for the supremely talented dancers, headlined by Luz San Miguel and Annia Hildalgo who will be dancing the title role in alternating performances.  And the show runs the gamut from romance to comedy when, in the best English music hall tradition, four of MBC’s male dancers will be portraying Cinderella’s stepsisters!  Hey, if Rachel Malehorn can portray the Mouse King in The Nutcracker, turnabout is certainly fair play!  This production is also the last for MBC Leading Artist Ryan Martin, who has had a major part in making this group one of the truly great ballet companies in America.  Just like last season’s finale Mirror Mirror, this is one production that is not to be missed!

Suddenly Last Summer, May 14-24, Next Act Theater, 255 S Water St (uprootedmke.com)

This production marks the swan song for Milwaukee’s innovative Uprooted Theater, founded by Marti Gobel and Dennis F Johnson in 2009 in order to give many actors and writers opportunities to showcase their talents where otherwise they would not get that chance.  And they’re certainly going out in a blaze of glory, with a production of Tennessee Williams’ rarely seen play, starring Gobel and directed by Johnson.  Like other Williams plays, the story is set in New Orleans, but because of its sensitive subject matter, it is rarely performed, although it’s a favorite of many theater buffs, including Gobel and Johnson.  Don’t miss this opportunity to see this classic from one of America’s greatest playwrights, and help give this little company that could a grand send-off!

The Skylight Ring, May 15-June 7, Studio Theater, 158 N Broadway (skylightmusictheatre.org)

Having lived here for several decades, I cannot recall when or even if there’s been a local production of one of the operas that comprises Richard Wagner’s monumental Ring cycle, the group of four operas inspired by German and Norse legends (and, in turn, the inspiration for the classic Bugs Bunny cartoon What’s Opera Doc?).  Well, if nothing else, Milwaukee’s Skylight Theater can be audacious.  How else to explain The Skylight Ring, with an objective of presenting all of these operas (which usually take around 18 hours total to perform) in their entirety…in two hours.  By four actors.  Hey, Milwaukee Chamber Theater presented The Compleat Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (Revised) in this very same studio theater last fall, so why not?  And, interestingly enough, two of the actors from the production of Cinderella I mentioned earlier-Colleen Brooks and Erin Sura-play all the female parts in this production!  And did I mention that the usual Wagnerian orchestra will be replaced by a single keyboard accompaniment, and there will be a bare bones stage in lieu of the usual opulent sets one normally expects to see in Wagner?  And that the serious moments are nearly matched by those that are pure comedy?  Trust me, The Skylight Ring is unlike any Wagner production ever seen (or not seen) in Milwaukee!

What’s Going On

For the week of May 5-11…

Little By Little, now-May 24, 10th Street Theater, 628 N 10th Street (intandemtheatre.org)

I know I’m channeling Andy Rooney here, but….Ever wonder what a musical version of the classic sitcom Friends might be like?  Well wonder no more, because In Tandem’s season finale will show you!  Now Ross, Phoebs, Monica, Chandler and Joey aren’t here…but Rachael is!  Rachael Zientek, that is…who along with Jenna Vik and Michael Black make up the charming cast of this all-singing, all-dancing musical.  And the twists and turns of the plot bear more than just a little resemblance to the storylines of the TV show.  And just like the TV show, you’ll be hanging on to see if these lifelong friends can make it through all the roadblocks that come their way, both romantic and otherwise!  It’s just the show for springtime…and the perfect date night event for you and your sweetie!

Big Fish, May 8-May 31, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (firststage.org)

First Stage family theater’s season ends with a bang with the hit Broadway musical of the 2003 Tim Burton film, starring Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney.  Milwaukee favorite Jon Daly has the Finney role of aging salesman Edward Bloom who has the gift of spinning fantastic stories about his younger days.  Broadway director Jeff Whiting’s cast also includes other Milwaukee stage veterans including Niffer Clarke, Paul Helm, Rana Roman and John Glowacki, along with Music Director Jeff Schaetzke, who recently directed First Stage’s hit Big Nate:  The Musical.  And of course, the usual crew of First Stage’s talented young performers will be on hand.  If you have yet to experience a First Stage production in person, you couldn’t do better than to start with Big Fish!  Don’t let this one get away!

Season Finale, May 11, Bader Recital Hall, 1584 N Prospect Ave (wcmusic.org)

It’s no holds barred for the final program of Wisconsin Conservatory of Music’s 2014-15 Faculty Artist Series!  WCM’s Resident String Quartet the Philomusica Quartet, fresh from their recent performance accompanying the Wisconsin Lutheran College Chorus’ 2015 Spring Concert (which earned the assembled performers an enthusiastic standing ovation!), will fill the Bader Recital Hall with a doubleheader of works by Beethoven and Brahms.  Beethoven’s unusual six-movement String Quartet No. 13 will be followed by Brahms’ Piano Quintet in f Minor, on which the PM will be joined by pianist May Phang.  Celebrate the finale of WCM’s Faculty concerts with this program of great chamber music in the cozy confines of the Bader Recital Hall!

What’s Going On

For the week of April 21-27…

Peter and the Starcatcher,  April 24-May 24, Quadracci Powerhouse Theater, 108 E Wells St (milwaukeerep.com)

In 2003, composer Stephen Schwartz concocted a musical described as a prequel to The Wizard of Oz.  The show, called Wicked, has gone on to become a Broadway classic.  For its season finale, the Milwaukee Rep has turned to a similar show called Peter and the Starcatcher, a prequel to Peter Pan which itself was a big Broadway hit that garnered a load of awards.  The show tells the story of the boy who became Peter Pan and it has connected with audiences of all ages, similar to the appeal of the Pixar animated classics.  And like Pixar, it’s the story that hooks audiences at different levels.  Elements as diverse as Monty Python, swashbuckling adventure and the operettas of Gilbert & Sullivan weave their way into the show’s fabric.  Staging remarkable musical productions has been a major highlight of Mark Clements’ tenure as Rep Artistic Director, and I’d be willing to bet Peter and the Starcatcher will continue that run!

Disney In Concert, April 24-26, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)

If you need a surefire winner for an orchestra’s Pops season, you can’t go wrong with a program of classics from Disney films.  And that’s what the Milwaukee Symphony will be serving up this weekend.  Four veteran vocalists will join former MSO Associate Conductor Stuart Chafetz (himself a veteran of Disney programs) for this show that includes songs from Tangled, Aladdin, Princess and the Frog, The Lion King and oodles more.  The show also features the Mickey Mouse classic The Band Concert (the cartoon that inspired conductor Leopold Stokowski to seek out Walt Disney for a collaboration that would eventually become the animated classic feature Fantasia) which will feature  the cartoon projected on the overhead screen.  And of course the program includes songs from the latest Disney classic Frozen, including the Oscar-winning “Let It Go.”  If you think big crowds will be on hand for the three performances, you’re right.  The Sunday matinee is already sold-out, so hurry to grab remaining tickets for this special Disney treat!

Italian Film Festival, April 24-26, Union Cinema, 2200 E Kenwood Blvd (italianfilmfests.org)

Let’s see…In recent months, the UWM Union Cinema has hosted festivals featuring films in French and movies from Latin America.  Now it’s time to showcase movies from another great moviemaking tradition, Italian cinema.  Seven recent films will be screened, and thanks to the good folks at Transfer Pizzeria, all the screenings are FREE!  My personal recommendation is the 2013 documentary Oro Macht Frei, which tells the story of the Jewish experience during the Nazi occupation during World War II, and includes interviews with nine survivors mixed with footage from the period.  Check the link above for the full festival schedule…there’s something for everybody!

What’s Going On

For the week of April 14-21…

WMSE Spring 2015 Membership Drive, April 17-24, WMSE Radio (91.7 fm or wmse.org)

Leading off this week’s events is Frontier Radio WMSE biannual appeal to the listening public worldwide to help sustain one of Milwaukee’s greatest cultural treasures for the past 34 years.  One thing that really makes the Mighty 91 unique is the fact that it’s the only Milwaukee radio station that spins records, vinyl and otherwise.  And to drive home the point, the Spring 2015 drive is an “all-vinyl” affair, where all the music you’ll hear will come by spinning the black circle!  And of course, there will be the usual live-in-studio performances and other surprises along the way.  The fact is the station’s only financial support comes from the listeners, and it relies on you to keep the music coming, to the tune of $120K.  So whether it’s Big Band, hip-hop, reggae, Old School, prog, classical, retro, local music…you name it, the chances are good it gets featured on the MSE airwaves, so please help us keep the music spinning (Yes, I will be helping out taking phone pledges again during the drive…We really can’t afford to be without this great music resource)!

Sounds of Brazil, April 16, Bader Recital Hall, 1584 N Prospect Ave (wcmusic.org)

With the promise of warmer weather up around the bend, the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music’s resident jazz ensemble We Six concludes their current season with a celebration of the music that captivated the world in the early 60’s and hasn’t let go.  The band promises to feature music from greats like Antonio Carlos Jobim, Ivan Lins, Luis Bonfa, and many more.  I only hope “Mahnana de Carnaval,” “Mas Que Nada” and “Girl From Ipanema” are on the playlist!

Jeeves Takes a Bow, April 17-May 3, Cabot Theater, 158 N Broadway (milwaukeechambertheatre.com)

The Milwaukee Chamber Theater wraps up their current season with Margaret Raether’s third and final adaptation of PG Wodehouse’s stories featuring the irascible English butler Jeeves and his hapless boss Bertie.  Director Tami Workentin once again will oversee the hilarity, and Matt Daniels is back as Jeeves (Would you really settle for anybody else?).  This time around the setting moves from England to the Great White Way as Bertie aspires to make his mark as a Broadway impresario, and Jeeves is along for the ride (and once again bails Bertie out of whatever entanglements he stumbles into).  MCT veterans Chris Klopatek, Steve Koehler and Chase Stoeger are joined by newcomers Kay Allmand and Anna Cline to round out the cast.  It’s a great way to bid a fond farewell to this beloved character!

Casablanca, April 17-18, Riverside Theater, 110 W Wisconsin Ave (mso.org)

Back in the day, the Riverside Theater was one of Milwaukee’s great downtown movie palaces.  In addition to a full program that featured first-run features along with cartoons, newsreels, “selected short subjects” and the ubiquitous Coming Attractions, patrons were also treated to a stage show featuring some of the top stars of the day like Red Skelton and the Tommy Dorsey Big Band.  In what is believed to be the first film to be screened in the venue in nearly 30 years, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra brings back the Golden Days of the Riverside this weekend by hosting a screening of the all-time classic Casablanca, with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman leading a multi-national cast in the 1943 Best Picture Oscar winner.  In fact, German expatriate Conrad Veidt (Major Strasser) starred in one of the true milestones of cinema, the 1919 film The Cabinet of Dr Caligari!  Other screen legends in the cast include Claude Rains, Paul Henreid, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and SZ “Cuddles” Sakall.  MSO Associate Conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong will conduct Max Steiner’s majestic score live, and who can forget the movie’s legendary theme song “As Time Goes By?”  Here’s lookin’ at you, kid!

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

The Wisconsin Conservatory of Music’s resident String Trio wraps up another great season with a program of chamber music that’s a PT trademark:  Music from greats Haydn and Brahms, plus music of a more contemporary style from composer Daron Hagen.  And don’t be surprised if the trio caps the evening with one of their “surprise” encores…although they’ll have a tall order to fill after the arrangement of the Yes standard “Your Move/All Good People” which closed the last PT program!  Come on out to celebrate spring and see what the Trio may have up their sleeves!

And don’t forget that Saturday, April 18 is Record Store Day, the 8th annual worldwide celebration of that hallowed institution, the Mom and Pop record shop.  There will be plenty of special vinyl releases to mark the occasion, along with DJ’s spinning tunes and live music performances.  But you better get there early (like 7 am!) to score some of the more collectible items, and then stay to join with fellow music fans to celebrate the brick and mortar record shop!  For more information on RSD exclusive releases and where you can find celebrations in your area, go to recordstoreday.com!

What’s Going On

For the week of April 7-13…

Mozart, Schumann and Brahms, April 10-11, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)

Milwaukee Symphony Music Director Edo de Waart leads an exceptional program this weekend, led by Mozart’s glorious Symphony No. 40.  Pianist (and New York Philharmonic Artist in Association) Inon Barnatan makes his MSO debut performing Schumann’s exquisite piano concerto.  And for Saturday’s performance only, the MSO Chorus joins the orchestra for the 4th movement of Brahms’ mighty German Requiem, in tribute to MSO Chorus Manager Nicolas Sluss-Rodionov who tragically died recently.  The Brahms piece opens the program, so be sure you don’t be late for this special tribute performance.

Luchadora!, April 10-26, Todd Wehr Theater, 929 N Water St (firststage.org)

OK, let’s see here…female empowerment, Mexican professional wrestling…Not the kind of topics you would usually associate with a family theater show.  But this is First Stage we’re talking here, Milwaukee’s innovative theater group whose productions often are designed to attract audiences of all ages with topics that appeal to young and old alike.  To sum it up in 25 or words or less, UW-Whitewater theater professor Alvero Saar Rios’ world premiere production is the tale of Mulan set in the world of lucha libre (or Mexican wrestling).  While the majority of the action is set in Texas, there is a Milwaukee link in the story.  And one learns lucha libre is a far different world from what we Americans are accustomed to from the WWE, and is perceived by Mexicans as something far more than the good guy/bad guy rivalries most US fans expect.  Now that I’ve hopefully piqued your interest, you should check out this show, which I believe includes the very first wrestling match on a Milwaukee theater stage!  Can “Mean Gene” Okerlund be far behind??

Lettice and Lovage, April 10-May 3, Studio Theater, 158 N Broadway (r-t-w.com)

Renaissance Theaterworks’ season finale is director Jenny Wanasek’s romp about a tour guide who spices up her narratives about the “painfully uninteresting” but historic Faustian House.  Her exaggerated tales succeed in drawing crowds from far and wide, but as you might expect, there are consequences.  Laura Gordon, who recently triumphed in the Rep’s Good People, and Carrie Hitchcock, who was a hit in In Tandem’s recent Come Back, lead the cast which also includes Bryce Lord and Emily Vitrano.  The combined star power alone should light up the Studio Theater stage!

Ten Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher about Evolution, April 10-May 3, Next Act Theater, 255 S Water St (nextact.org)

To say Deb Staples is one busy actor could be the understatement of the year.  This Milwaukee favorite was featured in last fall’s hit production of the Rep’s Harvey; she then moved to the Rep’s Stiemke Studio stage recently for a tour de force performance as all the characters in The Amish Project; and now she moves over to Next Act to lead the cast in yet another world premiere production.  She portrays high school biology teacher Ms Kelly, who finds herself challenged by student Raymond, who disputes Darwin’s theory of evolution.  Like so many past Next Act shows, Ten Questions will leave you thinking long after you depart the theater.  It’s a great show to ring down the curtain on Next Act’s season!

And don’t forget that hot on the heels of their recent Festival of Films in French, the UWM Union Theater presents the 37th Latin American Film Festival running April 10-16.  The films covered feature a wide panorama of topics, and all screenings are FREE!  For detailed information on festival offerings, go to www4.uwm.edu/clacs/filmseries/filmseries37.cfm.  I myself will be attending Sunday evening’s screening of the Argentine film My German Friend, about Argentina’s German and Jewish communities during the tumultuous 1950’s.

What’s Going On

For the week of March 24-30…

Giselle, March 26-29, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (milwaukeeballet.org)

When it comes to classical ballet, Giselle is the granddaddy of them all, providing the blueprint for Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and all the others that followed.  Its premiere in 1841 featured a score from composer Adolphe Adam, probably best known for composing the music for the Christmas favorite Cantique de Noel, better known as “O Holy Night.”

When Milwaukee Ballet Artistic Director Michael Pink embarked on his career, Giselle was the first classic to receive the Pink Touch in 1996 and featured in the title role one of the UK’s leading dancers at the time, namely Jayne Pink, Michael’s wife.  For this new MBC production, Jayne has served as mentor to the dancers performing the role, Luz San Miguel and Annia Hidalgo. In fact, this production celebrates Pink and San Miguel’s 10 years of collaboration at Milwaukee Ballet.  She will dance Thursday and Saturday’s performances; Hidalgo will dance on Friday and Sunday.

While Pink’s choreography is faithful to the original ballet, he has moved the setting from 19th century France to the World War II era.  While not specifically named, the specter of the Nazis and the Warsaw ghetto hover over this production, adding another layer to the romantic story.  There’s also the usual heartfelt dancing from the MBC dancers, plus solid accompaniment from Andrews Sill and the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra.  If you missed it the last time San Miguel and her 10 year onstage partner Davit Hovhannisyan performed this highly charged ballet, don’t miss your chance this weekend!

And while I’m thinking of it, I may have already featured these current productions in earlier posts, but it’s worth mentioning again these shows continuing this weekend:  the smoldering musical revue Low Down Dirty Blues at the Rep’s Stackner Cabaret; Milwaukee Opera Theater’s exuberant production of The Mikado at next Act Theater; the remarkable world premiere dramedy Five Presidents at the Rep’s Main Theater; the delightful family musical Big Nate at First Stage Theater; and the fantasy world of The Snow Dragon at Skylight Music Theater.  Big Nate, Mikado and Snow Dragon close on Sunday the 29th, so you better hurry so you won’t be kicking yourself later for missing out on some splendid theater.  And don’t tell me there’s nothing to do or see in Milwaukee this weekend!