What’s Going On

For the week of October 10-16…

Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, October 11, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (marcuscenter.org)

Jazz great Wynton Marsalis leads the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra into the Marcus Center this Wednesday for a show that will certainly be a high point for 2017.  With 15 virtuoso musicians (including Oak Creek’s Dan Nimmer on piano!) on board, the LCJO has grown in its 30 years of existence to become the world’s greatest jazz big band!  With a program that includes group originals mixed with classics from giants like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Charlie Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and many others, big band jazz just doesn’t get any better!

Young Frankenstein, October 14, Avalon Theater, 2473 S KK Ave (avalonmke.com)

This month’s Second Saturday Classic at the Avalon also coincides with the Bay View theater’s Shocktober festival leading up to Halloween! And while most of the fest’s offerings would receive the “Very Scary” rating from Count Floyd, this Saturday’s show will draw more guffaws than gasps!  It’s Mel Brooks’ classic 1974 valentine to the Universal Pictures horror classics of the 30’s and 40’s.  Starring Milwaukee’s late, great Gene Wilder in the title role (he also co-wrote the script with Brooks), this movie is packed with so many gags that the Avalon is showing it twice!  The showings are at 10:30 am and 1 pm and remember to ask for Abby Normal!  And watch for Gene Hackman in one of the greatest movie cameos ever!

Speaking of movies, the 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival is in the home stretch, winding up this Thursday,  There are still plenty of movies for you to check out, so go to mkefilm.org to check out the schedule and get in on the fun!


What’s Going On

For the week of October 3-9…

This Above All, October 4, Charles Allis Art Museum, 1801 N Prospect Ave (charlesallis.org)

The Allis Art Museum’s Movie Time’s series on wartime drama and romance continues with this 1942 movie based on the book by Eric Knight (author of the Lassie books).  It takes place in England in the early days of WW II and stars action star Tyrone Power in a rare dramatic performance as a soldier who becomes a conscientious objector.  Also in the cast are Oscar-winning actress Joan Fontaine (Rebecca), Thomas Mitchell (Uncle Billy from It’s a Wonderful Life)  and Nigel Bruce (Dr Watson in the Sherlock Holmes movie series with Basil Rathbone).  It’s a great opportunity to see this rarely seen gem!

Keeper of the Bebop Flame:  The Music of Barry Harris, October 5, Bader Recital Hall, 1584 N Prospect Ave (wcmusic.org)

The Wisconsin Conservatory of Music’s resident jazz ensemble opens their new season with a tribute to this jazz master.  This pianist/composer whose influences include Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Coleman Hawkins was a mainstay of the 1950’s Detroit jazz scene and went on to mentor many other jazz musicians, including We Six pianist Mark Davis!  Come on down for an evening of great jazz in the cozy confines of Bader Hall!

Rent 20th Anniversary Tour, October 3-8, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (marcuscenter.org)

You read that right:  It’s been 20 years since this landmark rock musical inspired by the classic opera La Boheme and set in modern day New York City made its Broadway bow!  And to celebrate, a national tour is underway, which makes a stop at the Marcus Center this week as the season opener of the Broadway in Milwaukee series!  But it’s only here for a week, so hurry to avoid disappointment!

All the Great Books (Abridged), October 6-29, 10th Street Theater, 628 N 10th St (intandemtheatre.org)

It’s an hour before graduation when the class discovers they haven’t passed their English finals!  So the drama professor (Ryan Schabach), gym coach (Doug Jarecki) and student teacher (Chris Goode) take it upon themselves to present reams of material in 60 minutes to ensure the class graduates on time!  If you’re a fan of the hit show The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged), you know where this is heading.  Hilarity and hijinks abound in In Tandem Theater’s season opener!  And boy, we can sure use the laughs now!

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, October 6-November 5, Todd Wehr Theater, 929 N Water St (firststage.org)

Most people associate the name Ian Fleming as the creator of British Super Agent 007 James Bond.  But for generations of kids, Fleming is the author of this delightful tale of an eccentric inventor, his kids and their magical car and their mission to rescue the kids of Vulgaria from the dastardly Baron Bomburst!  The First Stage Family Theater’s season opener is adapted from the 1968 movie starring Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes and featuring songs written by the Sherman Brothers (Mary Poppins).  Local favorites Drew Brhel, Malkia Stampley, Nathan Wesselowski, Elyse Edelman and Rick Pendzich are joined by the enormously talented young actors that make Fist Stage productions so special!  It’s a guaranteed fun time for kids of all ages!  And take note:  A special Pay-What-You-Can performance takes place at 7 pm on October 10!

Finally, if you haven’t checked out my special blog on the 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival, make sure you do!  There’s still over a week and hundreds of screenings yet to come, including additional screenings of films you may have missed earlier that are creating lots of buzz around town!  Go to mkefilm.org for all the info!


Special Edition: The 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival

2017 Milwaukee Film Festival, now-October 12, various venues (mkefilm.org)

For the past several months, Milwaukee has had a parade of festivals that make the city’s summer special.  But now the calendar has turned to autumn (although the thermometer would make one think otherwise), and the festival going has moved indoors with the 9th Milwaukee Film Festival.  This event has the same scope of the aforementioned summer fests, with five historic movie venues hosting screenings of nearly 300 films over two weeks.  Since this blog focuses mainly on music-oriented events in the area, the following is a list of personal recommendations of festival offerings that feature music in one form or another.  The website link above provides information on all the films and events included in this year’s fest.  So without further ado, here are my choices for films that are “must-see”…

The Lost World, October 3, Oriental Theater

In what has become a festival tradition, this year’s special silent film classic is the 1925 adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s tale of the prehistoric world, featuring the pioneering special effects work of Willis O’Brien (preceding his Hall of Fame work on King Kong in 1933).  And once again, Alloy Orchestra will be on hand to provide the musical accompaniment for the film, and it’s certain the results will again be stunning.  When you’re aware that all this sound is generated by just three musicians who perform non-stop during the entire movie, it’s easy to see why this is a one-time only screening that’s not to be missed!

Score:  A Film Music Documentary, October 4, Fox-Bay Cinema Grill

And speaking of movie music, here’s a fascinating look at the composers whose work has provided the accompaniment to films since the beginning of talkies.  And speaking of King Kong, director Matt Schrader’s film acknowledges Max Steiner’s pioneering work that made King Kong an all-time classic.  Scores (pun intended) of composers including giants John Williams and Hans Zimmer appear onscreen along with many of their contemporaries to offer their thoughts on their own work, along with comments on their fellow composers and the great predecessors (ie, Steiner, Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith, Alex North) that influenced them.  Of course there are plenty of classic clips to complement the comments, making Score “nothing short of nirvana for cinephiles,” according to the festival’s program notes.

Stop Making Sense, October 7, Oriental Theater

In memory of late director Jonathan Demme, the Film Festival once again presents a Saturday night screening of his 1984 Talking Heads concert film, arguably the greatest rock music film ever made.  Band member David Byrne and Demme set out to construct a movie that was a film first, not just a filmed concert performance, and in the process set the template by which all succeeding concert films are measured.  And it’s a good thing it’s being screened in the historic Oriental, whose wide aisles provide plenty of room for dancing, which this film makes impossible to resist!

Aladdin, October 8, Oriental Theater

It’s Family Sunday at the Film Festival, and rest assured there will be another full house at the Oriental for this one-time 25th anniversary screening of the Disney classic.  It’s one of the quartet of films comprising the Second Golden Era of Disney Animation which also includes The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. But it’s the only one featuring the manic voice performance of the late Robin Williams as the Genie.  It’s jaw-dropping to see how the Disney artists took the challenge of Williams’ work to create animation that’s totally complementary.  It’s also the final work of the great songwriting team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman.  Seeing it again on the Oriental’s big screen is a treat for kids of all ages!

Rumble:  The Indians Who Rocked the World, October 9, Oriental Theater

In what might be the festival’s most revealing music film, directors Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana do a stellar job in demonstrating the pervasive influence of Native Americans in American Pop music.  The film’s title comes from the Link Wray guitar shredding classic which had its roots in tribal music, and is the only instrumental record ever banned by radio stations which feared it would incite their young audiences.  Others who get their due are Jimi Hendrix, jazz singing pioneer Mildred Bailey, blues pioneer Charlie Patton, guitar wizard Jesse Ed Davis (whose story will move you to tears), 70’s rock band Redbone (“Come and Get Your Love”), folk legend Buffy Sainte-Marie, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Robbie Robertson (Bob Dylan, the Band) and rock drumming greats Randy Castillo (Ozzy Osbourne) and Robert Trujillo (Metallica).  Among those providing commentary are Tony Bennett, Taj Mahal (repeating his performance from the recent TV music documentary series American Epic), and legendary director Martin Scorsese (The Band’s classic concert film The Last Waltz and Bob Dylan:  No Direction Home).  If that sounds like there’s a lot jammed into this film’s 103 minutes, you’re right!  For any pop music fan, this is a film that is not to be missed.

Well, that should get you started…Remember, this is just a small sampling of the vast array of movies on the festival program, embracing a plethora of genres.  Program guides are available at the festival venues (Oriental Theater, Downer Theater, Avalon Atmospheric Theater, Fox-Bay Cinema Grill and Times Cinema) and all Milwaukee Public Libraries, or as I mentioned before at the festival website mkefilm.org.

See you at the movies!

What’s Going On

For the week of September 26-October 2…

The Who and the What, September 27-November 5, Stiemke Studio, 108 E Wells St (milwaukeerep.com)

When it comes to the hot names in contemporary American theater, nobody has been attracting more buzz these days than playwright Ayad Akhtar, whose previous plays (and Rep productions) Disgraced and The Invisible Hand have earned Pulitzer prizes and worldwide praise.  He’s also a hometown guy, born and raised in Brookfield and is an Artist Associate with the Milwaukee Rep who’s been commissioned to create a piece for the Rep.  In the meantime, the Rep Studio season opens with another recent Akhtar play that could pass as a Muslim sitcom.  It’s about the family of Afzal, a widowed father.  But instead of My Three Sons, he’s raising two headstrong daughters, Zarina and younger sister Mahwish.  Mahwish has a longtime boyfriend and is eager to get married but Afzal (who Akhtar says was inspired by Archie Bunker) won’t give his blessing until her older sister gets married first.  Sound familiar?  Remember Fiddler on the Roof?  In the meantime, Zarina has been busy preparing a manuscript that calls into question no less than the prophet Muhammad.  And she has indeed met somebody, a convert named Eli who doesn’t quite meet Afzal’s standards for a husband for his daughter, to put it mildly!  Well, not to give too much away, but suffice it to say it’s a comedy that could be truly described as an Islamic All in the Family.  And the cast of Brian Abraham (Afzal), Soraya Broukhim (Zarina), Nikita Tewani (Mahwish), and Ben Kahre (Eli) deliver the goods!  If you felt Akhbar’s previous plays might have been a bit too intense, don’t hesitate to see this show, which will make you laugh and think at the same time!

Hot Mikado, September 29-October 15, Cabot Theater, 158 N Broadway (skylightmusictheatre.org)

If you enjoyed the Milwaukee Opera Theatre’s acclaimed staging of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado in which the characters appeared in contemporary dress and played toy instruments, get ready for another re-working of the classic operetta as Skylight Music Theatre opens its new season with Hot Mikado, which was inspired by a 1930’s show starring the legendary Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.  WS Gilbert’s story and the G&S songs remain intact, but the setting is a 1940’s nightclub called the Hot House, and the songs have taken on arrangements worthy of the Golden Age of Swing!  Local theater favorites Rana Roman and Chris Klopatek are featured in the strong cast, which should help make this show every bit as fun as MOT’s production!  Sounds like a nice complement to the Rep’s current hit production of Guys and Dolls!

Silent Sky, September 29-October 22, Next Act Theater, 255 S Water St (nextact.org)

Are you a fan of the recent hit movie Hidden Figures?  Then make sure you head to Next Act’s season opening production.  As the movie told the story of the women who played a key role in the early days of the American space program, Laura Gunderson’s play tells the story of a group of women in the early 1900’s who work as human “computers” studying astronomy at Harvard.  The group is headed by Henrietta Leavitt (Deborah Staples), who is bound and determined to bring her female colleagues along with her as they enter a world long considered a men’s club much like NASA in Hidden Figures.  Along with Ms. Staples, director David Cescarini’s cast is filled with Milwaukee theater favorites, including Karen Estrada, Reese Madigan, Carrie Hitchcock and Kelly Doherty.  Yet another strong production on the Milwaukee theater scene this fall!

Edo Returns, September 29-30, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)

The worst part of the past Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s season was that it brought to a close Edo de Waart’s tenure as the MSO’s Artistic Director, during which he helped transform the MSO into one of the world’s truly great orchestras.  However, de Waart was named Conductor Emeritus before he departed, and it is in that role he returns to conduct this weekend’s MSO performances.  And it’s a delightful program that’s in store, featuring works of Mozart, Haydn and American composer Charles Ives (continuing the MSO’s programming of American music in every program this season in celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday).  Ives’ short piece The Unanswered Question opens the program, followed by Haydn’s Sinfonia Concertante, which spotlights a number of the MSO’s finest, including Associate Concertmaster Ilana Setapen (who’s also currently performing in the orchestra for the Rep’s Guys and Dolls!), cellist Susan Babini, oboist Katherine Young Steele and bassoonist Catherine Chen.  The program concludes with Mozart’s Symphony No. 39, one of his great final symphonies, making this a most welcome return for Maestro de Waart indeed!

And if that weren’t enough, be on the lookout for a Special Edition featuring the 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival, coming later this week!!

What’s Going On

For the week of September 19-25…

Guys and Dolls, September 23-October 29, Quadracci Powerhouse Theater, 108 E Wells St (milwaukeerep.com)

Continuing his tradition of opening the season with a musical, Milwaukee Rep Artistic Director Mark Clements has selected a real gem to launch the 2017-18 season:  Frank Loesser’s 1950 classic Guys and Dolls, the show that features the colorful characters of Damon Runyon’s Broadway plus some of the catchiest songs ever heard on the Great White Way!  Amazingly, some of the actors featured in Clements’ first Rep musical (2010’s Cabaret) are back for this show!  Also, a number of featured actors from last season’s acclaimed production of Man of La Mancha are on hand as well.  Rounding out the huge cast are talented actors from near and far making their Rep debuts, and Clements has surrounded the cast with a veteran creative team whose members include several folks who helped make previous Rep musicals smashing successes (Just wait till you see the sets and costumes!).  Even if you’ve seen the show before, and Clements admits this is the most joyful and tuneful musical he’s staged at the Rep, this production does show an underlying dark current with these denizens of Broadway, and the female characters are portrayed as independent and empowered.  But not to worry, the great score that includes classics like “Fugue for Tinhorns,” “Luck Be a Lady,” “Adelaide’s Lament” and “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat”  are all present and accounted for!  In times like these, we sure can use the magic of “Guys and Dolls” right now!

Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, September 22-October 15, Studio Theater, 158 N Broadway (milwaukeechambertheatre.com)

If you enjoyed Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s previous hit production of Terrence McNally’s Master Class, you’re in for a treat as MCT’s next production is McNally’s bittersweet comedy about two restaurant co-workers who hook up for a date and spend the night together… and that’s it as far as Frankie’s concerned.  Ah, but Johnny-Well, he’s a hopeless romantic who’s convinced that there are real sparks with this couple.  And so the play allows us to eavesdrop on their conversation as they slowly reveal themselves to each other.  Milwaukee theater favorites Marcella Kearns and Todd Denning shine under the direction of another Milwaukee stage veteran, Mary MacDonald Kerr.

2017 Doors Open Milwaukee, September 23-24, various locations (doorsopenmilwaukee.org)

During its brief history, Doors Open Milwaukee has grown into one of our city’s most anticipated events.  Dozens of Milwaukee’s architectural gems are open to the public during the event and last year, over 31,000 people took advantage of the opportunity.  Full information about this year’s event are available at the website listed above, but keep in mind that a block party will be taking place each day from 10 am-5 pm at event headquarters at 200 E Michigan St.  WMSE DJ’s will be spinning tunes, area food trucks will be on hand, Suzuki students from the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music will be performing, and WCM will have an Instrument Drop-off where you can donate gently used instruments which will be restored and given to schools and individuals that wouldn’t have them otherwise.  In short, it’s a true Milwaukee celebration!

Remember the Day, September 20, Charles Allis Art Museum, 1801 N Prospect Ave (charlesallis.org)

The Allis Museum’s long-running Movie Time series curated and introduced by local film historian Dale Kuntz is currently observing the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I with movies that focus on the World Wars’ impact on the homefront.  This week’s entry is 1941’s Remember the Day, starring Claudette Colbert (Oscar-winner for It Happened One Night) and John Payne (best known as the lawyer Mr Gaily in the original Miracle on 34th Street) in a story that’s set during World War I.  The movie’s director is Henry King, the master of Americana on the Silver Screen.  It’s a  rare opportunity to view this wartime classic.

Almost Famous, Times Cinema, September 22, 5906 W Vliet St (timescinema.com)

This month’s entry in WMSE’s Friday Night Freakshow at the Times is Cameron Crowe’s classic semi-autobiographical film from 2000.  Set in 1973, it’s the story of 15 year old William, an aspiring journalist who wants to write about rock bands for the super-hip Rolling Stone magazine.  And he lands the gig, setting the wheels in motion for his many adventures of a time when rock music was making the transition to Big Business.  Writer/Director Crowe’s cast includes Billy Crudup (as William), Kate Hudson (groupie Penny Lane)  and Patrick Fugit (leader of the ficticious  band Stillwater).  In 1973, Crowe got his big break by landing an interview with Led Zeppelin which became a cover story in Rolling Stone…and the rest is history!  Before the 9 pm screening, WMSE DJ Good John will be spinning 70’s rock classics starting at 8 pm, so make sure you get there early!


Next week, I’ll be featuring new productions from the Rep, Skylight and Next Act theaters, as well as a special program from the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

Also, watch for a special bonus edition spotlighting the 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival!

What’s Going On

For the week of September 12-18…

Beethoven’s 7th, September 15-17, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra launches its new season by opening its season-long celebration of American music great Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday with his festive Candide Overture.  Guest Conductor Cristian Macelaru also leads the MSO in Beethoven’s energetic Seventh Symphony, which contains some of the most famous melodies in classical music!  From the jig-like dance of the opening movement to the somber melody of the 2nd movement to the finale which will have the house rocking, it’s truly one of those pieces that really must be experienced live!  Also included in this orchestral showcase are two pieces from contemporary composers:  Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick Suite (Macelaru conducted the piece’s world premiere performance) and Anna Clyne’s Masquerade.  Sounds like a perfect kickoff program for another great MSO season!

Prometheus Trio Season Opener, September 18-19, Bader Recital Hall, 1584 N Prospect Ave (wcmusic.org)

The Wisconsin Conservatory of Music’s resident piano trio launches its 18th season with a typically eclectic program:  Great pieces from Brahms and Haydn, with a piece from 20th century Hungarian composer Lazlo Lajtha in between.  Sadly, Lajtha’s music fell out of favor with the ruling communist regime during his lifetime, so hardly anyone outside of Hungary was even aware of his work.  Kudos to PT for shining the spotlight on his Trio Concertant alongside the pieces from the two classical giants!


What’s Going On

For the week of September 5-11…

Souvenir, September 8-November 5, Stackner Cabaret, 108 E Wells St (milwaukeerep.com)

The Stackner Cabaret launches its 2017-18 season with Stephen Temperley’s play about Florence Foster Jenkins, the real-life 1940’s socialite who was convinced she was a great opera singer.  The only problem was that she was the only person who believed it because, well, she really couldn’t sing.  But that didn’t top her from selling out Carnegie Hall in two hours during World War II.  If that sounds familiar, it’s because Meryl Streep received an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the character last year.  The two characters in this production are Marguerite Willbanks as Florence, and Jack Forbes Wilson (the title character in the Rep’s smash Liberace!) as her long-suffering accompanist Cosme McMoon.  These two talented performers will make Souvenir a delight in the cozy confines of the Stackner, and a great start to an exciting new season!

Cabaret, September 9, Avalon Atmospheric Theater, 2473 S KK Ave (avalonmke.com)

Continuing their popular Saturday Classics series, the Avalon this weekend presents the 1972 movie version of the Broadway classic, which holds the record for winning the most Oscars (seven) and not winning Best Picture (The Godfather)!  They include Best Actress Liza Minnelli (as English music hall Sally Bowles) and Best Supporting Actor Joel Grey (Best Supporting Actor, reprising his Broadway role of the emcee).  They both perform at Berlin’s notorious Kit Kat Klub during the early days of the Nazi regime in the early 30’s.  Director Bob Fosse created a musical unlike anything Hollywood had produced previously.  While the Kit Kat denizens carry on, seemingly oblivious to what was going on outside in the real world, a menacing atmosphere settles over the bawdy musical numbers.  As often happens, there are differences in the stage and movie versions (a fact I learned when attending the Milwaukee Rep’s production in 2010).  But the fact remains that Fosse’s film is a Hollywood milestone, not to be missed on the Avalon’s big screen!