What’s Going On

For the week of October 18-24…

WMSE Fall 2016 Membership Drive, now-October 28 (wmse.org)

Six months have passed since the last fundraising drive at Frontier Radio WMSE…a record-breaking drive that reached its goal a full 24 hours ahead of schedule!  Now it’s time for the MSE community (that’s y’all!) to once again pledge its support to reach the $91,700 goal (as in 91.7 FM…pretty good, eh?)  So tune in or fire up the stream and check out the great variety of music and craziness that go hand in hand during the pledge drive!  And while you’re at it, call us at 414-799-1917, where we’ll be standing by to take your pledge and tell you how great you are!  Or if that sort of thing embarrasses you, you can make your pledge securely at wmse.org.  And check out the Thank You gifts that are available, including the NEW 35th Anniversary Fireside Coffee Mug with a pound of our famous Radio Roast blend, known for keeping our graveyard shift DJ’s super-alert, and it will do the trick for you too!!

The Taming, thru October 23, Next Act Theater, 255 S Water St (nextact.org)

Laura Gunderson’s clever political satire makes for an appropriate opener for Next Act’s new season.  A conservative senator’s aide (Marti Gobel), a liberal blogger (Sara Zientek) and a beauty pageant contestant (Bree Beelow) are whisked back in time to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and magically are transformed into James Madison, Charles Pickney, and George Washington, among others, with their task to hammer out a final draft of the Constitution that can effectively replace the Articles of Confederation and set the standards by which this country has run ever since!  (Apparently Alexander Hamilton was busy with that Broadway show of his, but he sure does get mentioned!)  It’s thought-provoking as well as entertaining, but keep in mind that, like the election itself, the show’s run will soon be over!

Scheherazade and Angels in the Architecture, now-October 23, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (milwaukeeballet.org)

The Milwaukee Ballet opens its new season with a program featuring the return of an old favorite and something new.  Mark Godden’s  Angels in the Architecture makes its MBC premiere, a work that features the glorious music of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring.  Finishing things off is the return of Kathryn Posin’s Scheherazade, first performed by the MBC in 2003 and featuring Rimsky-Korsakov’s sumptuous orchestral tone poem inspired by the Tales of1001 Arabian Nights.  It’s about a princess who must spin stories (including those featuring Aladdin and Sinbad) in order to stay alive.  And her tales, as told through the talented MBC dancers, will leave you entranced as well!

Brass Band Animated, October 22, St John’s Lutheran Church, 20275 Davidson Road, Brookfield (mfbrass.org)

Milwaukee’s award-winning Festival Brass opens its 32nd season (and follows up its First Place showing at last spring’s National Brass Band Convention in Fort Wayne and enthusiastically received performance at Marcus Center’s Peck Pavilion Summer Series) with a truly unique concert.  All fans of animated films (and admit it, who doesn’t love cartoons?) will want to be on hand for this unique program of music (original and adapted) used in films ranging from recent Disney hits (Frozen, Little Mermaid) to Michael Giancchino’s jazzy theme from Pixar’s The Incredibles to the finale of Rossini’s William Tell Overture (aka “The Lone Ranger Overture”), which has been used in scores of cartoon classics (most notably Disney’s 1930’s hit The Band Concert-which inspired conductor Leopold Stokowski to contact Walt Disney to propose teaming up for a classical music cartoon starring Mickey Mouse, which resulted in the feature film Fantasia-and the rest is history, but I digress).  Add to the music the virtuosity of the Brass members, and you just can’t go wrong!  Be there or be square, Doc!

And before signing off, I want to take a moment to congratulate the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and Chorus for their well-received performances of the National Anthem and John Williams music during Thursday’s Packers-Bears game at Lambeau Field.  The 78,000 fans on hand were the largest single audience in MSO history!  And you can watch video of the performances at the MSO website (mso.org)…Go Pack!  Go MSO!!

What’s Going On

For the week of October 11-18…

Before getting started, I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved with the just wrapped 2016 Milwaukee Film Festival.  I particularly want to thank the army of volunteers whose tireless efforts made the event a joy for all the film fanatics and casual fans too!  Over 75,000 attended the nearly 300 screenings…Hopefully you were one of them!

And now, it’s business as usual…

Delightfulee:  The Music of Lee Morgan, October 13, Bader Recital Hall, 1584 N Prospect Ave (wcmusic.org)

The Wisconsin Conservatory of Music’s resident jazz sextet launches their new season with another program in their popular series dedicated to the icons that inspired the We Six members to follow the jazz path.  This time it’s an evening featuring Lee Morgan, “The Sidewinder” whose many classic albums for Blue Note made him one of the all-time trumpet greats.  Just the thing to heat up a chilly autumn night!

Fantasia Live, October 14-16, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)

The Milwaukee Symphony’s first Pops program of the season is truly a special treat for Disney fans:  The orchestra will be performing selections from both the 1940 classic (the first feature-length marriage of cartoons and classical music) and its 2000 sequel, while the animation will be shown on the giant screen above the stage!  And yes, Mickey Mouse as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is on the program, but so is the breathtaking Firebird sequence from the 2000 film!  Classic animation fans won’t want to miss the opportunity to see this special presentation of this groundbreaking work!

Disenchanted!, October 11-16, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (marcuscenter.org)

Ironically enough, while the MSO’s Fantasia program is going on at Marcus Center’s Uihlein Hall, a special one-week engagement of this off-Broadway hit is holding court at Vogel Hall.  First, let me emphatically say this is NOT a Disney-sanctioned production!  And like another similar show (Avenue Q, the hit sendup of Sesame Street), make sure to leave the kids at home.  Because the six actresses that portray Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Mulan, Pocahontas, Rapunzel and the Princess who Kissed the Frog engage in bawdy jokes and songs that more than likely show the reality of what became of them after the movies ended.  This show wowed audiences during its Chicago run earlier this year, and the Opening Night crowd at Vogel Hall were equally enthusiastic!  But hurry-the show must end on Sunday!

Prometheus Trio, October 17-18, Bader Recital Hall, 1584 N Prospect Ave (wcmusic.org)

The Wisconsin Conservatory of Music’s resident Piano Trio launches their new season with a celebration of fall that features music of Beethoven, Brahms, Ysaye and Lili Boulanger.  These veteran musicians have earned a well-deserved reputation for their exhilarating performances of works from the classical greats as well as their explorations of lesser-known and contemporary repertoire.  The intimate Bader Hall is the perfect setting for their performances which are often sellouts, so make sure you’re not among the disappointed!

What’s Going On Film Festival Edition

2016 Milwaukee Film Festival, now-October 6, various locations (mkefilm.org)

Alas, fall has arrived…Leaves are falling, temperatures are dropping, and festival season is over for another year in Milwaukee, right??  Wrong!  The festival season has moved indoors as the Milwaukee Film Festival celebrates its 8th year by screening nearly a staggering 300 films over 15 days at five of Milwaukee’s most iconic movie theaters (Oriental, Downer, Avalon, Times and Fox-Bay).  Last year, nearly 70,000 people took in the cinematic offerings, and there’s even more in store this year…and there truly is something for everybody!  Whether your taste runs to the classics, experimental cinema, documentaries, movies for kids of all ages, locally made films, short films, animated films, foreign cinema…If you enjoy movies, this festival is like a bag of Jay’s potato chips:  Nobody can see just one!  The following is a list of personal picks from this year’s lineup…

The Last Laugh, September 29, Downer Theater

The very notion of finding humor in the Holocaust appears incredible.  But this 2016 documentary sets out to prove it’s quite possible.  Actual holocaust survivors, along with comedy talents (including Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Rob Reiner, Gilbert Gottfried, Larry Charles and Sarah Silverman) and sometimes both (Robert Clary, a camp survivor who went on to play the diminutive Louis LeBeau on the long-running TV sitcom Hogan’s Heroes) offer their perspectives on how this combination can work.  Plenty of film clips from movies and TV are offered in evidence., making the nearly 2 hour film fly by.

A Song for You:  The Austin City Limits Story, October 2 @ Downer Theater, and October 6 @ the Avalon

Public television’s Austin City Limits, with 40 seasons under its belt, is the longest-running music show in TV history.  This film tells the fascinating story of how the show evolved, going from a showcase for local music in Austin, Texas (including the very first guest, Willie Nelson, the “patron saint” of ACL) to a show that embraces all musical genres (including recent performances from the likes of Alabama Shakes, Beck, the Avett Bros. and Radiohead).  The movie spends quite a bit of time on the 1980 turning point when Ray Charles was featured, sending the strong signal that ACL would no longer be just a show featuring country/Americana  acts.  The interviews with the show’s production staff are just as fascinating as those with the performers.

Miss Sharon Jones!  September 29 @ the Oriental, and October 1 @ the Avalon

Sharon Jones isn’t just one of the greatest purveyors of latter-day R&B, but her battle to conquer pancreatic cancer is truly inspiring.  Oscar-winner Barbara Kopple’s film tells this very riveting personal story which mixes in incendiary performances with Sharon and her hot band the Dap-Kings, culminating in her triumphant return to the stage.  Not to be missed!

The Smart Studios Story, September 29 @ the Oriental

Once upon a time, two rock musicians (Butch Vig and Steve Marker of the band Garbage) converted a Madison warehouse into a recording studio.  Up until the studio’s closing in 2010, it was a home to landmark albums from alternative giants including Smashing Pumpkins, Death Cab for Cutie, Nirvana and the aforementioned Garbage.  This 2016 film uses new interviews with many of the principals involved along with vintage performance clips to tell the fascinating story of how this humble studio became a stalwart force of the rock music scene of the 80’s and 90’s.

Bang!  The Bert Berns Story, September 30 @ the Oriental

The recent inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has his story told in a 2016 release sure to delight fans of previous MFF offerings Wrecking Crew, 20 Feet from Stardom and Muscle Shoals.  Whether as a song composer (“Twist and Shout,” “Under the Boardwalk,” and “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love”) or a producer (Van Morrison’s first solo recordings, the McCoys, Neil Diamond’s earliest recordings), this rough-and-tumble chronicle of the Bronx native’s rise from humble beginnings to rock royalty (with some run-ins with the mob thrown in for good measure) is better than any fictional rags-to-riches story!

When We Were Kings, October 1 @ the Downer

1996 marks the 20th anniversary of one of the truly great sports films, which itself documents the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” between heavyweight champ George Foreman and challenger Muhammad Ali in Zaire.  The movie meticulously follows the paths both fighters take on their way to their date with destiny, as well as the showdown itself.  And for good measure, you get some great musical performances from many soul legends (ie, James Brown, BB King, et al) who flew in to perform at a festival coinciding with the fight.  This film is a fabulous time capsule of its era.

Stop Making Sense, October 1 @ the Oriental

Speaking of great music, the Milwaukee Film Festival just wouldn’t be complete without a screening of Jonathan Demme’s 1984 film of a Talking Heads show, arguably the greatest rock concert movie ever made.  From the outset, the show was designed as a cinematic experience, from the performances of David Byrne & Co to the stage set and lighting.  It’s a dazzling experience which never fails to get audiences up and dancing in the aisles.  So come and behold STS in its 35 mm glory…and just try to stay in your seat!

Metropolis, October 3 @ the Oriental

In an encore of their 2010 MFF appearance, the amazing three-man Alloy Orchestra returns to the grand environs of the Oriental to accompany Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent masterpiece about a futuristic society that’s inspired scores of science fiction films ever since!  And whether you’ve seen it before, you haven’t really had the full experience of Metropolis until you’ve seen it with the amazing soundscapes provided by the Alloy trio.  If you missed it last time, make sure you don’t make the same mistake this time around!

I Am the Blues, October 5 @ Fox-Bay, and October 6 @ the Downer

This 2015 film is a travelogue that takes the viewer through the southern locales that were the cradle of Delta blues music.  You get to meet many of the blues stars from the music’s heyday, most of them now in their 80’s but still keepers of the flame.  It’s an intoxicating collection of richly filmed current performances that capture the essence of the blues.

For full film and schedule information, go to mkefilm.org.  You can also get the 2016 program book at the five theaters or any Milwaukee Public Library location.  And just one additional tip:  Many of these screenings are sellouts, so it’s best you get your tickets in advance!  Or better yet, become a Milwaukee Film member!  See you at the movies!


What’s Going On


For the week of September 13-19…

The Marriage of Figaro, September 17, 18 and 20, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)

Music Director Edo de Waart begins his final season as the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s Music Director in grand style with this weekend’s performances of the final opera of Mozart’s trilogy of comic operas he composed with librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte (Previously performed were Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte). Taken together, they are considered one of the greatest opera trilogies ever.  Maestro de Waart says Figaro …”is the opera I know best and have done the most.  Every number is a masterpiece.”

Like the previously performed operas, the performances of Figaro will be “semi-staged” under the direction of Robin Guarino, which means the characters will be performing on a stage with very few props, with the characters themselves dressed in contemporary style.  The MSO will be the pit orchestra, but the pit will be semi-raised so the orchestra will be visible to the audience.  While some patrons may bemoan the lack of a “grand opera” production, many have applauded the previous productions for their focus on the music and characters over sets and costumes.  Indeed, Mozart’s glorious music is enough of a reason not to miss this special event, sure to be one of Milwaukee’s great cultural highlights of 2016!

Speaking of season openers, I must take a moment to mention that my pal Sandy Maxx and her team is back with a new season of Milwaukee Public Television’s fine long-running program The Arts Page, which focuses on the Milwaukee area’s cultural scene.  For the new season there are new show times, which are the following:  Thursdays at 6:30 pm on channel 36.1 and 10 pm on channel 10.1; Fridays at 12:30 am on channel 36.1; and Saturdays at 11 am on channel 36.1.  Of course, you can always stream the program episodes anytime at mptv.org!

With the arrival of fall is the return of another Milwaukee tradition:  This Saturday and Sunday marks the sixth Doors Open Milwaukee weekend.  This popular event allows the public rare access to hundreds of iconic Milwaukee structures and sites.  Many of the tours and events are free, but because of demand and limited availability, tickets must be obtained for access to some of the most popular sites.  For a full schedule and to order tickets (if necessary), go to historicmilwaukee.org.

In next week’s edition, we’ll preview another Milwaukee Fall tradition:  the 2016 Milwaukee Film Festival!!

Happy Autumn!

What’s Going On

For the week of September 6-12…

Mavis Staples w/the Family Stone, September 9, Northern Lights Theater, 1721 W Canal St (paysbig.com/shows)

Fresh from her triumphant performance at Chicago’s legendary Ravinia Festival, R&B/Gospel great Mavis Staples headlines this Friday at the intimate Northern Lights Theater.  Her show will range from Staple Singers classics like “I’ll Take You There” and “Respect Yourself” to songs from her recent acclaimed albums We’ll Never Turn Back, You Are Not Alone, One True Vine, and 2016’s Livin’ on a High Note.  And her shows prove she’s a true force of nature even as she’s pushing 80…No wonder Bob Dylan had a crush on her back in the day (and she opened for him at Ravinia)!

Opening for Mavis at NLT are The Family Stone (as in Sly and…), who will “take you higher” with classics like “Dance to the Music,” “Everyday People,” “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” and “Thank You (falettin me mice elf agin).”  Sounds like the perfect double bill to me!  Not to be missed!

Mr Smith Goes to Washington, September 10, Avalon Theater, 2473 S KK Ave (AvalonMKE.com)

Jimmy Stewart and director Frank Capra will always be remembered for their holiday classic It’s A Wonderful Life, but it’s not the first time they worked together.  For this month’s Second Saturday Classic at Bay View’s Avalon Atmospheric Theater, it’s the 1938 classic where Jimmy plays the idealistic former Boy Scout who’s been appointed to fill out the term of a senator because he won’t make waves with the political machine running his state.  Or so the bosses think.  Also in the marvelous cast are Jean Arthur (the hardnosed insider who falls for Jimmy), Claude Rains (who also appeared as Louis Renault in a previous Saturday Classic, Casablanca), Beulah Bondi (who also played Jimmy’s mom in Wonderful Life!), and Thomas Mitchell (as a hard-boiled newspaperman best remembered for playing Pa O’Hara in Gone With the Wind).  The story goes that in 1940, as the invading Germans were on the verge of overrunning Paris, local cinemas ran Mr Smith before Hollywood movies were confiscated by the Nazis.  You can start your weekend by seeing the perfect movie for this election year on Saturday morning at the Avalon!

2016 WMSE Backyard BBQ, September 10, Humboldt Park, 3000 S Howell Ave (wmse.org)

Bay View’s popular Chill on the Hill Festival may have ended for 2016, but the music at the Humboldt Park bandshell has not.  On Saturday, WMSE Radio will be bringing their 7th Backyard BBQ summer send-off to Humboldt Park for the first time, after holding the earlier festivals at downtown’s Cathedral Park.  Besides offering more room to roam (not to mention more parking!), the bandshell’s magnificent stage is big enough to hold all the great music on the lineup!  Festivities get under way at noon with the Americana sounds of Milwaukee’s Doghouse Flowers, followed by the multi-genre rock sounds of Midwest Death Rattle, Milwaukee’s own acclaimed singer-songwriter Trapper Schoepp, the Black Keys-like rockin’ sounds of Connecticut’s Balkun Brothers, and capped by the Twin Cities’ mighty show band Sonny Knight and the Lakers to wrap things up with a bang! Plus MSE DJ’s Sonia, Jerry and Good John will be spinning between sets! And by the way, this FREE festival is the station’s gift to its listeners and supporters, so come on down and party!!

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, September 11-October 30, Stackner Cabaret, 108 E Wells St (milwaukeerep.com)

The Rep’s Stackner Cabaret opens its new season by bringing back a previous hit production that presents the songs of Billie Holiday, one of America’s greatest jazz singers, as well as telling the story of the demons that dogged her personal life that eventually killed her at 44 in 1959.  And director Leda Hoffman cast the perfect actor to portray Lady Day.  Alexis J Roston, already familiar with Rep audiences for starring in the recent sensational production of The Color Purple, has also starred in Chicago’s Porchlight Theater’s award-winning production of the show.  Add the intimate setting of the Stackner, and you have an musical experience you won’t soon forget!


What’s Going On

For the week of August 23-29…

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

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

What’s Going On

For the week of August 16-22..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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