What’s Going On

For the week of March 21-27…

US Navy Band Concert, March 22, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (marcuscenter.org)

Last year, the Marcus Center brought in the US Air Force Band for a well-attended performance.  On Wednesday night, it’ll be the Navy’s turn as the Marcus Center presents the US Navy’s Concert Band in a FREE performance.  As you would expect from an ensemble representing one of the nation’s military services, the musicianship is not just “ship-shape”:  It’s absolutely top-notch!  And given the fact this group performs for hundreds of functions over the course of a year, you can expect a wide-ranging program featuring everything from the classics to popular hits to patriotic songs and marches, all designed to showcase the virtuosity of this ensemble.  And you can bet your bottom dollar that “Anchors Aweigh” will be on the playlist!

An Evening with Groucho, March 24-May 28, Stackner Cabaret, 108 E Wells St (milwaukeerep.com)

Following up the sold-out run of McGuire, the Rep’s Stackner Cabaret presents another one-man show featuring a New Yorker, but with a slightly more comedic twist.  Frank Ferrante brings his acclaimed portrayal as (“the one, the only”) Groucho Marx to Milwaukee.  Plenty of Groucho’s famous one-liners and songs are sure to be included (but no guarantees a duck will appear if someone says the secret word!), and though it’s a one-man show, don’t be surprised if you in the audience are part of Groucho’s notorious ad-libs!  It’s also a nice coincidence this show opens as the Milwaukee Opera Theater’s smash hit The Mikado continues through Sunday (an additional performance just added for Thursday the 23rd!):  It’s no secret the Gilbert & Sullivan operettas had a profound influence on Groucho and the  Marx Brothers’ comedy style!

Mockingbird, March 24-April 9, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (firststage.org)

The next offering from Milwaukee’s favorite Family Theater is an adaptation of Kathryn Erskine’s acclaimed book whose main character, fifth-grader Caitlin,  who’s affected by Asperger Syndrome.  It takes place in the aftermath of her protective older brother Devon’s tragic, unexpected death, complicating the grieving process for Caitlin.  While this might perhaps  sound like a morbid story for youngsters, Caitlin’s character displays great strength throughout despite her autism.  Director Marcy Kearns is assisted by Brenna Kempf, director of First Stage’s Next Steps program for autistic children.  Kempf brings her expertise to coaching the young actors who portray Caitlin.  In addition, the April 8 performance is sensory-friendly, especially designed for audience members with autism, Asperger’s and other sensory disorders.  As is First Stage’s trademark, this show provides a satisfying theatrical experience for family members of all ages.

Finally, following up on my item about the Navy Band, I have Breaking News:  Milwaukee’s fabulous Festival Brass has repeated as National Champion at the recent Brass Band convention in Fort Wayne, Indiana!  Congrats to all MFB members and personnel on this spectacular achievement!  Their next local performance is coming up on April 29…Stay tuned to this blog for further details!

What’s Going On

For the week of March 14-20…

A bunch of great dramatic plays leads the St Pat’s parade of local arts events, so off we go!

Deconstructing the Beatles’ Revolver, March 15, Oriental Theater, 2230 N Farwell Ave (deconstructingthebeatles.com)

Following on the heels of filmed lectures about the making of The White Album and Sgt. Pepper, Beatlecologist Scott Freiman is back with another one-night-only presentation, this one featuring the Fab Four’s arguably greatest album, Revolver.  Over the course of 90 minutes, Freiman skillfully blends multimedia elements to show how this 1966 classic came together.  Whether you’re a diehard Beatlemaniac or novice, this presentation promises something for everybody.  And you’ll leave the theater enjoying this album anew with a fresh perspective!

Time Stands Still, now-March 19, 10th Street Theater, 628 N 10th St (intandemtheatre.org)

Operation Enduring Freedom serves as the starting point for this intense, thought-provoking play at In Tandem Theater.  The story focuses on war photographer Sarah (Kay Allmand), who has just returned to the States after being nearly mortally wounded while pursuing a story in the war zone.  Waiting for her are longtime companion and writer James (David Sapiro), their editor Richard (Richard Ganoung), and his new, much younger girlfriend Mandy (Jordan Watson).  While Richard intends to marry and start a family with Mandy, Sarah resists James’ desire for matrimony while desiring to return to the action, even after this close call.  As you might expect, many issues are explored between the four characters, not the least of which is, When do you stop snapping pictures when your subject(s) are crying out for help?  This very able cast pulls it off with great aplomb.

Grounded, now-April 2, Stiemke Studio, 108 E Wells St (milwaukeerep.com)

Another current local production that’s set during the war on terror is this gripping one-character play.  Chicago actor Jessie Fisher makes a stunning Milwaukee Rep debut as a fighter pilot who truly relishes her job attacking terrorist targets from the skies in her “sky tiger,” until a pregnancy causes her to be “grounded.”  She is relegated to the despised “Chair Force,” working out of a trailer in the Nevada desert, remotely directing drone attacks on the same targets that she recently attacked directly from her fighter plane.  The dilemma that confronts her is how she reconciles being a warrior by day, returning home to be a wife and mother by night.  Elements of both soon begin to blend into her life, which causes a mental breakdown.  It’s a relatively short play, but so much is packed into its 90 minutes that one actually needs the release provided by the show’s conclusion.  It’s an amazing performance, complemented by the stunning stage and video monitors.  Both Grounded and Time Stands Still offer searing perspectives on how the war affects those who participate in it, both in country and at home.

The Few, now-March 19, Studio Theater, 158 N Broadway (milwaukeechambertheatre.com)

Set during the Internet’s infancy in 1999, this Chamber Theater production takes place in a northern Idaho outpost off I-90, where a trio publish a newsletter that helps truckers that travel along the freeway find relationships.  As it turns out, QZ (Mary MacDonald Kerr), Bryan (James Ridge) and Matthew (Mitch Bultman, making his MCT debut) have issues of their own, notably feeling isolation and seeking to establish connections of their own.  The action plays out on a very smart one-room set, and the scenes are interspersed with rock music from the era.  It’s another highly effective current production that focuses on interpersonal relationships.

The Glass Menagerie, now-April 9, Quadracci Powerhouse Theater (milwaukeerep.com)

Following in the footsteps of productions of American classics To Kill a Mockingbird, Raisin in the Sun and Fences, The Rep now offers its take on Tennessee Williams’ iconic Glass Menagerie.  Even if you saw In Tandem’s fine production several years ago, this is one play that’s well worth revisiting.  Especially with a great cast like this one.  It’s the story of Tom Wingfield (Ryan Imhoff), a low-paid, going nowhere warehouse worker who supports his family in their Depression-era St Louis tenement apartment and narrates the story from hindsight.  But it’s the family matriarch Amanda (Hollis Resnik, who previously wowed audiences as Judy Garland in the Rep hit End of the Rainbow) who is the dominant figure in the story.  She’s a fading Southern belle set in her old-fashioned ways who’s obsessed in finding a husband for her invalid daughter Laura (Kelsey Brennan).  By the time the play ends, you’ll be as fed up hearing the phrases “rise and shine” and “gentleman caller” as much as Tom is.  But there’s no denying Amanda’s love for her children, which compensates for the absent father who abandoned the family years before.  In fact, her love is smothering to the point where Tom escapes by bingeing on booze and attending movies at the neighborhood theater.  He does manage to bring home a “gentleman caller” to meet Laura, however.  It turns out Jim O’Connor (Brandon Dahlquist) is Laura’s former high school classmate, a guy she admired from afar but felt was not up to his lofty standards.  Their dinner get-together is the climax of the play, and the Rep has once again done itself proud with a memorable production of an American classic.

Beauty and the Beast, March 17-26, Cabot Theater, 158 N Broadway (skylightmusictheatre.org)

No, this is not the much-ballyhooed live-action remake of the Disney classic that also opens on Friday.  This is Skylight’s take on Andre Gentry’s 17th century French opera that tells the “tale as old as time.”  The Skylight production is in English and along with music features dance choreography and puppets designed by Obie winner James Ortiz.  One of those puppets is the gigantic Beast of the story.  Only seven performances are scheduled, so you may well want to put the movie on hold so you can take the opportunity to see this special theatrical treat!

The Mikado, March 17-26, Next Act Theater, 255 S Water St (milwaukeeoperatheatre.com)

If you were among the unfortunate that missed out on Milwaukee Opera Theatre’s rollicking production of the classic Gilbert & Sullivan operetta in 2015, take heart:  an encore production is returning to Next Act Theater beginning on Friday!  And the good news is the production team and cast is practically intact from the original production!  And in G&S tradition, there will be tweaks in this updated show.  Jimmy Fallon doesn’t have the market cornered on toy instruments, as once again the show will be performed almost entirely on toy instruments.  And while not one kimono is to be seen, the satirical nature of WS Gilbert’s story is clearly on display.  Not to be missed!!

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

The Wisconsin Conservatory of Music’s resident piano trio’s postponed February program will now take place on the 20th and 21st!  So come and welcome spring with this dandy lineup featuring music from Mozart and Shostakovich, along with a new piece from composer Pierre Jalbert!

And finally, since it’s St Patrick’s Week, if you were not lucky to get tickets for the sold-out run of McGuire that finishes on Sunday, you are indeed in luck:  An unprecedented Encore Engagement of the sensational one-man Stackner Cabaret production about the legendary Marquette University basketball coach Al McGuire has been scheduled for June 1-18!  Of course, Anthony Crivello will be back to reprise his fantastic portrayal, so a word to the wise is to order your tickets now, because these tickets are sure to sell out quickly!


Rockabilly Chili Extra!!

15th Annual WMSE Rockabilly Chili Contest, March 5, 1245 N Broadway (wmse.org)

March 5 is the final Sunday you will enjoy that extra hour of sleep you’ve had since last November.  It’s also the date of an annual rite of passage for thousands of Milwaukeeans from far and wide, for it’s time for the 15th annual WMSE Rockabilly Chili Contest!  50 vendors will be on hand to tempt you with their tantalizing chili recipes for you to sample!  And for the 3rd year, five MFD firehouses will be holding their own separate Firefighters Challenge, which has become so popular most of the contenders run out of their chili long before the party ends at 4 pm!  Best of all, you will help determine the winners in Best Meat Chili, Best Veggie Chili, Best Heat, Most Unique Chili and Best Display (You won’t believe the lengths some of these contestants go to draw your attention!).  Remember this event has gotten so big that both levels of the Kern Center Arena are utilized to accommodate it all!  While you’re chowing down all that chili, you’ll be entertained by the Red Hot Racing Chili Peppers (watch the running track on the upper level), and WMSE DJ’s Jonny Z and Dietrich will be spinning the tunes for the 15th year!  In between DJ sets, Milwaukee’s premiere surf band the Exotics (featuring Jonny Z) will be performing live to keep the music going nonstop!  And don’t forget, bring at least 2 non-perishable food items for Hunger Task Force of Milwaukee and get yourself 2 bonus chili sample tickets!  Most of all, remember to bring yourself and your appetite for Frontier Radio’s biggest fundraising event of the year!  And you can save time waiting on the day of the event by ordering your tickets online by Saturday at wmse.org…Be there or be square!!

What’s Going On

For the week of February 21-27…

The Planets, February 24-26, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)

Sad to say, but the number of programs remaining in Edo de Waart’s tenure as Milwaukee Symphony Artistic Director is down to just a handful, and one of the most anticipated is coming up this weekend.  The man who has taken the MSO to a higher level of artistic brilliance will lead performances of a great orchestral showcase, Gustav Holst’s tone poem The Planets.  You may not know the music by the title, but there’s no doubt you’ve heard this music somewhere along the way.  The section known as Mars, the Bringer of War has been used as entry music for countless rock bands over the years (right up there with “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana), but most notably it served as dramatic accompaniment for the scene in the movie The Right Stuff when John Glenn’s Friendship 7 rocket is being launched from Cape Canaveral.  The MSO Women’s Chorus are also part of this performance.  As contrast, the program opens with another classic tone poem, Claude Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, a dreamy example of Impressionist music.  Two great pieces of program music from around the same time period, and you get to hear Maestro de Waart lead the MSO in both this weekend ONLY!

Tweed Funk, February 25, Anodyne Roasting Co., 224 W Bruce St (tweedfunk.com)

Definitely one of Milwaukee’s hardest-working bands is the revivalist soul group Tweed Funk.  And they’re more than ready to throw down on Saturday night, as this show marks the long-awaited return of TF’s lead singer Smokey Holman from his seven month leave to recover from cancer surgery.  If you need a reason to celebrate, you can’t do better than that!  And Smokey and the TF boys will be ready and waiting to help you (in the words of Milwaukee’s late, great Al Jarreau) get your boogie down!!

Lastly, March is roaring in with lots of great new theater shows around Milwaukee, and I’ll tell you all about them next week!


What’s Going On

For the week of February 14-20…

Robin Hood, February 17-March 12, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (firststage.org)

For its 60th World Premiere production, First Stage applies the formula successfully used in their recent hit The Baker Street Irregulars:  Take a classic literary figure (Sherlock Holmes) and populate the cast with mostly young actors from the talented First Stage crew.  This time, Robin of Sherwood is surrounded, not by Merry Men but Marian and the Merry Kids of Sherwood Forest as they set out to rescue the kidnapped Robin, Little John and Friar Tuck.  Sounds like a jolly romp is in store, and if you’re looking for a bargain, keep in mind the 7 pm performance on the 21st is Pay What You Can!

20th Annual Festival of Films in French, February 17-26, Union Cinema, 2200 E Kenwood Blvd (uwm.edu/french-film-festival)

This is one of the best times of the year for Milwaukee film buffs.  For the 20th year, the UW-Milwaukee French Department and Union Cinema present a package of acclaimed French language films new and old FREE to the public!  Twenty films will be screened from the 17th through the 26th, and the films come from Canada and Africa as well as France, so there’s a wide range of genres featured.  It gets underway Friday night with the Journey Through French Cinema, the French version of Martin Scorsese’s history of Hollywood from a few years back.  Your tour guide for the 3 hour-plus journey is acclaimed director Bertrand Tavernier, who injects personal insights as he presents clips from classic French movies, many of which you may recognize.  Another highlight, sure to delight family audiences, is Belle and Sebastian:  The Adventure Continues, with matinee showings on February 19 and 26.  It’s a sequel to the Festival hit from several years back, featuring young lad Sebastian and his faithful dog.  This time the pair sets out to rescue Resistance fighter Angelina whose plane crashes on her way  home following the end of World War II.  Like the first film, it’s sure to please young and old alike…and that’s just a couple of the featured films!  Go to the link above for the complete list of featured films and screening times.  It’s one of Milwaukee’s best movie deals, and with that comes the caveat that you arrive early as the cinema usually is filled to capacity and latecomers  wind up getting turned away…Don’t say you weren’t warned!

What’s Going On

For the week of February 7-13…

Top Brass, February 11, Carney Performing Arts Center, 135 N 76th St (mfbrass.org)

For their first concert of 2017, the National Champion Milwaukee Festival Brass begin preparing to defend their title in Fort Wayne this spring with this program that showcases the virtuosity of this ensemble’s members and also features selections they’ll perform for their title defense.  The program covers a wide range from stirring marches to film scores, including music Richard Wagner’s towering opera Lohengrin…No, that’s not a misprint:  Opera music at a brass concert!  After all, opera excepts were standard repretoire of John Philip Sousa’s renowned band during its heyday.

Also on the program is Joy Webb’s “Share My Yoke,” featuring the MFB’s new Principal Cornet Krystal Esty, and a section of Chris Brubeck’s (Son of jazz great Dave) Concerto for Bass Trombone, which spotlights MFB member Kelly Eshbaugh.

While it may be cold outside, the playing will be hot inside!

What’s Going On

There’s so much happening on Milwaukee’s arts scene this week even Mr Groundhog is stepping out!

For the week of January 31-February 6…

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, February 3-19, Cabot Theater, 158 N Broadway (skylightmusictheatre.org)

Not only is it Groundhog Day this week, but Valentine’s Day is right around the corner!  So instead of chocolate and flowers (or in addition to them!), how does a nice romantic night at the theater sound?  Skylight Theater is here to grant your wish with this production of the second-longest running (over 5000 performances) off-Broadway musical of all time!  This musical traces the ins and outs of romantic relationships (Think the Carl and Ellie sequence in the movie Up), from young love to senior pick-up lines, utilizing all types of songs throughout.  Best of all, the show features a quartet of Milwaukee’s most talented actors:  Karen Estrada, Kathryn Hausman, Rick Pendzich and Doug Clemons.  Another Milwaukee favorite, Jack (Liberace!) Forbes Wilson, is the show’s Musical Director.  Sounds like the perfect show for Valentine’s Day…or any Date Night!

The Other Place, February 3-26, Next Act Theater, 255 S Water St (nextact.org)

A cold winter’s night is the perfect time for an engrossing mystery.  Obviously the folks at Next Act Theater had that idea in mind when they scheduled this psychological thriller starring local favorite Deborah Staples as a researcher poised to make a clinical breakthrough.  When she goes to present her findings to her colleagues at a conference, something happens to her that causes her entire world to begin unraveling.  Like classic Hitchcock, this story will grab you by the neck and won’t let go until its shattering conclusion!  The intimate setting of Next Act’s venue only adds to the ambience of this story!

The Music of John Williams, February 3-5, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)

When the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra made their historic Lambeau Field appearance during last October’s Packers-Bears game, their halftime show featured John Williams music that will be on this weekend’s Pops program led by MSO Associate Conductor Yaniv Dinur.  So if you weren’t at the game (and the MSO’s performance wasn’t shown on TV), here’s your chance to hear the music thousands enjoyed at Lambeau.  Lots of the great Williams film music is promised, including selections from Star Wars (natch!), Superman, Harry Potter and E.T.  If I had my druthers, I would hope the program would include the poignant “Hymn to the Fallen” from Saving Private Ryan, the emotionally gripping Theme from Schindler’s List and the inspiring music from Lincoln.  But this is a Pops concert, after all, but then again, Dinur doesn’t hold back on unpredictable programming choices, so we’ll see.  Either way, it should make for a great show!

Winter Recital, February 6-7, Bader Recital Hall, 1584 N Prospect Ave (wcmusic.org)

Mozart!  Shostakovich!  Need I say more??  Wisconsin Conservatory of Music’s resident Piano Trio draws from music giants for their winter program, sure to heat up Bader Hall!  Please note that the performance on the 7th is PT’s annual matinee at 11 am, so if you’re more apt to venture out during the daytime over the winter, here’s your chance!

Deconstructing the Beatles:  Sgt Pepper, February 6, Oriental Theater, 2230 N Farwell Ave (landmarktheatres.com)

Following up on last November’s film about the making of the Beatles’ White Album, Fab Four expert Scott Freiman continues his series Monday night at the Oriental as he examines what went into the making of the historic album Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.  2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the album’s release, so the timing couldn’t be better.  While many of the anecdotes in this story will be familiar to longtime fans, count on Freiman to dig up interesting factoids bound to amaze even the most diehard Beatlemaniacs!  And remember, this show is One Night Only!

And speaking of recordings, Milwaukee PBS will be repeating the groundbreaking six-part series Soundbreaking for the next three Wednesdays beginning February 1st at 8 pm on channel 36.1.  Two episodes will be shown each evening, so if you missed this look at the history of pop music production when it had its premiere last November, don’t pass up your chance to catch this encore telecast!