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!

What’s Going On

For the week of March 17-23…

WCM Jazz Festival, March 19-21, Bader Recital Hall, 1584 N Prospect Ave (March 19, 21), Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (March 20) (wcmusic.org, marcuscenter.org)

In recent years, Milwaukee’s East Side Jazz Festival has showcased outstanding national and local jazz talent at various venues around town. Now, the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music has picked up the torch with their first 3-day Jazz Festival this weekend. Starting the festivities on Thursday the 19th is WCM’s faculty jazz sextet We Six’s annual “All Our Own” show which, as the title says, features all original compositions by band members, always making for an interesting evening, to say the least. Following the next evening, the festival heads down to the Marcus Center’s Vogel Hall as We Six steps back to provide backing for two Grammy-winning jazz stars: WCM alum Brian Lynch on trumpet and sax legend Phil Woods (he toured Russia with Benny Goodman in the early 60’s to cheers of “Pheel, Pheel!”; and that’s his a cappella solo that closes Paul Simon’s song “Have a Good Time”)! The festival winds up on Saturday back at WCM as jazz ensembles from area schools perform in competition with We Six members and Mr Lynch sitting on the jury! Why, it sounds to me like WCM’s version of “March Madness!”

The Mikado, March 20-29, Next Act Theater, 255 S Water St (milwaukeeoperatheatre.com)

For decades, Milwaukee’s venerable Skylight Music Theater has presented superbly staged productions of Gilbert & Sullivan’s classic comic operas. In fact, Skylight had a hit production of The Mikado just several seasons ago. So what’s up with Jill Anna Ponasik and her feisty Milwaukee Opera Theater tackling this chestnut on the cozy stage of Next Act Theater? Well…the venue should give you a big hint in that it’s a small cast on a small stage. Eleven singers cover all the roles in the opera, but that’s not all! The singers also double as the production’s orchestra, playing an arsenal of percussion instruments when they’re not singing. So the array of instruments you see on stage would definitely be at home with Spike Jones and His City Slickers or the Roots’ school instruments band on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. And the singers playing the instruments include some of the most familiar names on Milwaukee’s music scene…and to find out who they are, you’ll just have to come to the show! So enjoy G&S classics including “I’ve Got a Little List,” “A Wan’dring Minstrel I,” “Three Little Maids from School” and “Here’s a How-Dee-Do” with a new twist at MOT!

Low Down Dirty Blues, March 22-May 24, Stackner Cabaret, 108 E Wells St (milwaukeerep.com)

Following hit shows Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Blues in the Night, the Milwaukee Rep’s Stackner Cabaret closes its season with another hot show featuring 22 blues and jazz classics from the American Songbook! A cast of four talented performers get together for an afterhours party, and you’re invited to join the fun! You’ll hear songs associated with music icons including Muddy Waters, Ma Rainey, Sophie Tucker, Howlin’ Wolf, Pearl Bailey…and many more! They’re all done to a “T” by this energetic cast, and you’ll be leaving the Stackner singing the blues…but feeling sooooo good!!

What’s Going On

For the week of March 10-16…

Steely Dane, March 14, Shank Hall, 1434 N Farwell Ave (shankhall.com)

Since they emerged in the 70’s, Steely Dan has always maintained an intensely loyal worldwide following. Even when they were dormant in recording and touring during the 80’s (and the band were down to founders Donald Fagen and Walter Becker), the fans couldn’t get enough of their complex jazz/rock and cryptic lyrics. It was enough to motivate the duo to get the band back together and resume touring in the early 90’s and actually release new material at the dawn of the new century. In fact, their first “comeback” album, Two Against Nature, with the surprise hit single “Cousin Dupree,” won the Best Album Grammy!
Nearly two dozen of those fans, all of them musicians based in Madison, decided to take the next step and form Steely Dane (from Dane County, get it?), devoted to the music of Steely Dan and arguably the best Steely Dan tribute band anywhere! The members all have other gigs with other Madison acts, but they do a handful of performances annually as Steely Dane. Included in those shows are several gigs here in Milwaukee, including their first well-received gig at last year’s Summerfest (where they performed the classic Aja album in its entirety!). They’ve also performed frequently at iconic Shank Hall; in fact, their gig this Saturday is their second in less than six months, so their fan base away from Madison is definitely growing! And why not, considering they play note-perfect renditions of songs from the Steely Dan songbook, complete with full horn section and backup singers…pretty much what you’d see at an actual Dan show! And it truly is a labor of love for the band…They’ll be tackling many songs from the classic 1976 Royal Scam album at this gig, plus a generous helping of other Dan classics! So if “there’s gas in the car” (Yes, there’s gas in the car!), head down to Shank Hall on Saturday night for a show you won’t soon forget!

Five Presidents, March 13-April 5, Quadracci Powerhouse Theater. 108 E Wells St (milwaukeerep.com)

The Milwaukee theater scene sees two world premiere productions begin their runs this weekend. First off, the Milwaukee Rep presents Five Presidents, a new play from Rick Cleveland, a writer for the classic TV shows The West Wing and House of Cards. As you might expect, there’s a political tone in the play, and it is based on an actual event in 1994. Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush and Bill Clinton all gathered in California for the funeral of Richard Nixon. To date, it’s the largest gathering of former living presidents in US history. Although there are no transcripts of what was actually said when they gathered at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda in Orange County, Cleveland has collected reports of what they were thinking and saying publicly and privately at the time to construct his script. And though Reagan would wait six more months before disclosing publicly he was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, he was already exhibiting its symptoms at the gathering, unbeknownst to his fellow Chief Executives, and resulting in some puzzling dialogue to say the least. The account of this profound moment in US history actually includes many comedic moments to balance the weightier topics that one would expect.
If you’re interested in American history and/or just enjoy an evening of great theater, do not miss this outstanding production from the Milwaukee Rep!

The Snow Dragon, March 13-29, Cabot Theater, 158 N Broadway (skylightmusictheatre.org)

Our second premiere opening is Skylight Theater’s chamber opera about abused schoolboy Billy, who escapes to a fantasy world in order to confront an even greater evil and challenges his counselor Dora to accompany him on his quest. Of course, we get to go along for the ride as well. The opera is described as “tuneful and accessible,” but also draws on several musical traditions. In fact, the music used for the dragon’s theme is reminiscent of the epic movie scores of composers including John Williams. While the story is considered too intense for very young children, all others should find this show most engaging. Once again, Skylight continues its recent trend of presenting challenging new works or giving intriguing tweaks to familiar classics. And here’s a headsup: Skylight will be tackling Stephen Sondheim’s classic Into the Woods for its season finale…Stay tuned!

What’s Going On

For the week of February 24-March 2…

13th Annual Rockabilly Chili Contest, March 1, Kern Center, 1245 N Broadway (wmse.org)

So are you finally fed up with this seemingly never-ending winter? If you are, there are 50 area restaurants and 7 MFD firehouses that agree with you! And on Sunday they will join forces with WMSE Radio to present (for the 13th time) Rockabilly Chili. It’s Milwaukee’s biggest party since New Year’s, and it will take MSOE’s entire Kern Center to hold it all! If there’s anything that can lure Milwaukeeans out of their cabin fever, it’s chili…lots of chili! Every kind of chili is there for you to sample…traditional chili, veggie chili, super hot chili! And after making their debut last year, 7 MFD firehouses will be back for their own competition, and as most of you know, firefighters know how to cook up great chili! Both the fieldhouse and arena levels of the Kern Center will be utilized for the party…Veteran WMSE DJ’s Dietrich and Jonny Z will be spinning tunes, and hot local band Split Lip Rayfield will be playing live…and back by popular demand, the Racing Chili Peppers will return for a renewal of their rivalry, with several heats (good one there!) preceding the final race around the fieldhouse running track! And the popular Kids Area is back to keep the young’uns occupied while their elders are imbibing in the chili. And the chili loving public will have the opportunity to vote for the best traditional chili, veggie chili, hottest chili, booth display, and firehouse chili too! Most importantly, it’s the station’s biggest single day fundraising event of the year, which goes a long way to keep this Milwaukee cultural treasure going strong! Yours truly will be part of the volunteer army to ensure the event goes smoothly, so I hope to see your face in the place this Sunday! Yes, there are other chili cookoffs around town, but there’s only one Rockabilly Chili!!

All-Strauss Program, February 27-28, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)

Celebrating the 150th birthday of the “other Strauss,” or the composer not known as the “Waltz King,” Edo de Waart and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s weekend program consists entirely of some of Richard Strauss’ most audience-pleasing works. Headlining the concert is the magnificent tone poem Don Quixote, which features MSO principal cellist Susan Babini and principal violist Robert Levine in a musical retelling of the legend of Don Quixote and his faithful companion Sancho Panza and their quests of chivalry (which would later form the basis of the classic Broadway musical Man of La Mancha). Also on the program, Katie Young Steele is featured soloist in the composer’s Oboe Concerto, the kind of showcase you don’t hear every day. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find another piece in which the instrument is featured so prominently, unless you count the Duck character in Peter and the Wolf! Along with the opening Metamorphosen for String Orchestra, it’s not only a showcase for this great Romantic Era composer, but also for the wonderful MSO!

Big Nate the Musical, February 27-March 29, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (firststage.org)

The Battle of the Bands is a time-honored tradition of Rock & Roll, and it’s also the basis for First Stage Family Theater’s World Premiere production based on the popular comic strip. Sixth grader Nate’s band Enslave the Mollusk! seems like a shoo-in to take the crown at the school’s contest. But Nate has also racked up lots of detention time. Can he keep on the straight and narrow through the championship round, or will he knock himself and his band out of the running? The suspense is killing me! Once again, First Stage’s skillful mix of adult and youth performers will ensure this garage band battle will engage rockers of all ages!

Come Back, February 27-March 22, 10th Street Theater, 628 N 10th St (intandem.org)

Following up their rollicking holiday hit A Cudahy Caroler Christmas, In Tandem Theater presents a world premiere of a new musical from Neil Haven, the composer of another Milwaukee holiday favorite, the murder mystery musical Who Killed Santa? In Tandem describes the play as a “quirk comedy about grief, understanding and moving forward.” Without giving away too much of the story, let me say I couldn’t have put it better myself! The cast includes Milwaukee favorites Karen Estrada, Carrie Hitchcock and T Stacy Hicks. So if you enjoyed the Cudahy Carolers, “come back” to the 10th Street Theater for more hilarity!

The Train Driver, February 27-March 15, Studio Theater, 158 N Broadway (milwaukeechambertheatre.com)

Milwaukee Chamber Theater Artistic Director (and director of this show) C Michael Wright feels a special kinship to this latest play from the great South African playwright Athol Fugard. Back in the 80’s, Wright performed alongside Delroy Lindo and James Earl Jones in the Broadway production of Fugard’s classic Master Harold…and the Boys. Despite the fact apartheid ended in South Africa in 1990, Fugard continues to find dramatic grist for the mill. This is the story of white train driver Roelf, whose train accidentally struck and killed a black woman and her child. He embarks on a search to find the graves and identity of the pair, which leads him to the elderly black man Simon, a gravedigger who works in a squatter camp outside Port Elizabeth. The ensuing confrontation between the pair results in one of Fugard’s most powerful works, perfectly suited to the Studio Theater’s intimate setting. In a New Year already loaded with many powerful theater dramas, add The Train Driver to the list.