What’s Going On

For the week of February 9-15…

Picture of Dorian Gray, February 12-14 and 19-21, Pabst Theater, 108 E Wells St (milwaukeeballet.org)

An annual highlight of the Milwaukee Ballet’s season are their performances in the cozy confines of Milwaukee’s historic Pabst Theater, and this season is no exception.  But this season’s presentation at the Pabst will be truly special.  It’s the premiere of Artistic Director Michael Pink’s adaptation of the Oscar Wilde classic and it marks the first time in its history the MBC is doing a full story production at the Pabst!  It’s also the first time the Ballet Orchestra will be performing at the Pabst as well!  Teaming up again with Pink to bring this classic tale to life are Milwaukee theater veteran James Zager (in the speaking role of Lord Henry Wotton), composer Philip Feeney and scenic and costume designer Todd Edward Ivins…and of course, the great MBC dancers! Given the success of previous Pink works like Dracula and Peter Pan, not only will this be a high point of the MBC season but Milwaukee’s 2016 arts calendar as well!  And considering the Pabst is a much smaller venue than the Marcus Center, tickets are going fast!

Festival of Films in French, February 12-21, Union Cinema, 2200 E Kenwood Blvd (uwm.edu/french-film-festival)

For the 19th year, the UWM Union Cinema hosts this showcase of French language films embracing many genres from around the world.  This year’s festival features 13 programs over 10 days, and once again all the screenings are free, thanks to the UWM French Department along with many other community partners.  Click the link above for full program and schedule information, but I did want to mention in particular a rare screening of the 1927 silent film Verdun on February 16, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the bloodiest battle of World War I.  This epic features many veterans of the battle (including Marshal Petain himself!), and live musical accompaniment will be provided by Renato Umali.  And a word to the wise:  Thea theater quickly fills for many of the screenings (especially single-screening films like Verdun), so make sure to get there early to avoid disappointment!

My Way, February 12-14, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)

Celebrating Valentine’s weekend and Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday, the Milwaukee Symphony Pops present My Way this weekend.  The MSO will be joined by vocalist Cary Hoffman, a devoted Sinatra fan who will be presenting his acclaimed PBS one-man show that tells the life story of Ol’ Blue Eyes and features 20 Sinatra classics…perfect timing for Valentine’s Day!  Ring-a-ding-ding!

Lonely Hearts of Sacred Heart Hospital, February 14, Alchemist Theater, 2569 S KK Ave (thealchemistheatre.com)

Also celebrating Valentine’s Day are Wisconsin’s favorite purveyors of old-time radio drama, Wisconsin Hybrid Theater, whose plays are heard every first Sunday of the month on WMSE’s Frontier Radio Theater.  This live outing takes the 1782 French novel and turns it into the long-running WHT soap opera Lonely Hearts of Sacred Heart Hospital.  It’s anyone’s guess (including the WHT folks!) how the story will end up after they get through with it, but suffice it to say General Hospital was never like this!  Don’t miss this opportunity to step back in time to revisit the days of the “Theater of the Mind!”

What’s Going On

For the week of February 2-7…

Twilight:  Los Angeles 1992, now-February 21, Next Act Theater, 255 S Water St (nextact.org)

One of the hallmarks of Next Act Theater’s history is its willingness to present plays that confront social issues head-on, and its current production is no exception.  Twilight:  Los Angeles 1992 is comprised of transcripts from interviews conducted with eyewitnesses following the Rodney King riots (You remember:  “Can’t we all just get along??”).  For Next Act’s staging, the roles of 37 characters are divided up among a strong cast of six actors (including Milwaukee favorites Marti Gobel and Angela Ianonne) under the direction of Next Act Artistic Director David Cecsarini and veteran Milwaukee actor Jonathan Smoots (Scrooge in Milwaukee Rep’s Christmas Carol).  The actors’ parts cut across race and gender, resulting in some of the most provocative theater you’ll see in Milwaukee this year.  For me, the words of George Santayana come to mind:  “Those who cannot recall the past are condemned to relive it.”

Steely Dane, February 6, Turner Hall Ballroom, 1034 N 4th St (steelydane.com)

Madison’s fabulous Steely Dan tribute band pays a return visit to Brew City with their first-ever performance at the historic Turner Hall Ballroom!  In addition to their bullseye renditions of tunes from the Dan canon, songs from Donald Fagen’s solo work (ie, “IGY” and “New Frontier”) have been recently added to the band’s setlist.  After wowing festival crowds at Summerfest and Jazz in the Park, the band will have no problem filling the venerable dance hall, so get there early!  Rather than staying home and watching “NFL Honors” and “The Greatest Super Bowl Commercials,” seeing this band up close and personal is a much better way to celebrate Super Bowl Eve!

Prometheus Trio, February 8-9, Bader Recital Hall, 1584 N Prospect Ave (wcmusic.org)

Take a break from the winter doldrums by attending the annual Winter program from Wisconsin Conservatory of Music’s resident piano trio on Monday and Tuesday!  And the Tuesday performance is the PT’s annual “Brunch” concert at 11 am, providing an ideal opportunity for those that don’t want to brave the cold winter evenings.  Speaking of brunch, the PT’s program is a musical cornucopia, featuring works by Haydn, Schumann and American composer Charles Ives (but not his Variations on “America”).  So come down and warm up to the sounds from this venerable Milwaukee cultural treasure!

What’s Going On

For the week of January 26-February 1…

Bowie Tribute, January 28, Fire Pit Lounge, 1721 W Canal St (paysbig.com/shows)

In the wake of the news of David Bowie’s death, scores of tribute events are being announced (including two Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concerts at the Riverside Theater in December and a Milwaukee musicians tribute at Shank Hall on March 5).  But the first Milwaukee Bowie event takes place on Thursday night at the Fire Pit Lounge at Potawatomi.  Joe 2.0, Milwaukee’s best chamber-rock band (featuring Bad Boy’s Xeno on vocals), has changed its already scheduled gig at the venue and will include an entire set of Bowie tunes in addition to their usual fine mix of Classic Rock covers and originals.  With a full string section in addition to a rock rhythm section, this band is totally capable of doing justice to the Thin White Duke’s songs.  BTW, if you’re attending the Blue Oyster Cult/Jefferson Starship show at Northern Lights Theater, head over after the show…this is a FREE gig!

Powder Her Face, January 29-February 14, Cabot Theater, 158 N Broadway (skylightmusictheatre.org)

Skylight’s new production and their previous show, the holiday hit My Fair Lady, are both set in England but that’s about all they have in common.  While MFL was a family-friendly show (and I saw plenty of families at the matinee performance I attended), Powder Her Face is most definitely “for mature audiences only.”  Thomas Ades’ contemporary opera is the story of Duchess Margaret Campbell of Argyll who became notorious as a result of a scandalous public divorce in 1963.  Director Robin Guarino’s production empathizes with the Duchess’ plight, but it does contain explicit language and sexual subject matter.  Cassandra Black, who wowed Skylight audiences in the title role of Tosca, returns in the role of the Duchess.  If you’re adventurous when it comes to performances you see, Powder Her Face will be a most rewarding choice.  Preshow background presentations and postshow talkback sessions are available for all performances.

Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique, January 30-31, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)

After last weekend’s satisfying program featuring scintillating violinist Karen Gomyo, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra turns up the heat this weekend with a program led by guest conductor Hans Graf.  The headliner is Tchaikovsky’s final work, his 6th Symphony (known as the “Pathetique”).  Composed under great personal agony, there’s more smoldering passion in this work’s first movement than in many entire symphonies combined!  And it just goes on from there.  For decades, the Russian/Soviet government has used the theme from the final movement as its go-to music when making broadcast announcements of deaths of national heroes.  Also on the program, pianist Orli Shaham joins the MSO for Bela Bartok’s final composition, the Piano Concerto No. 3, a brilliant showcase of dazzling lyricism.  The power of music is on vivid display at the MSO this weekend!

What’s Going On

For the week of January 19-25…

Holes, now-February 14, Todd Wehr Theater, 929 N Water St (firststage.org)

One of the biggest hits in First Stage’s history returns to get 2016 underway.  Louis Sachar’s story about a boy falsely arrested and sentenced to a reform camp in the American desert explores social issues confronted often in First Stage productions:  Prejudice, racism, abuse of power and authority.  As such, it is recommended for ages 9 and up.  And here’s a special tip:  In order to make it possible for everyone to see this production, First Stage is presenting a special Pay What You Can performance at 7 pm on January 20!

Of Mice and Men, January 22-February 21, Quadracci Powerhouse Theater, 108 E Wells St (milwaukeerep.com)

Mark Clements’ tenure as Artistic Director of the Milwaukee Rep has been filled with great productions of literary classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird, Diary of Anne Frank and Death of a Salesman, to name just a few.  You can now add John Steinbeck’s tale of Depression-era America to the list.  Rep favorites Jim Pickering, Jon Daly and Kelley Faulkner feature in this production, but the key roles belong to Jonathan Wainwright as George and Scott Greer (who was acclaimed in Clements’ Philadelphia production of the play) as Lennie.  It promises to be one of the 2016 highlights of Milwaukee theater.

The Devil’s Music:  The Life and Music of Bessie Smith, January 22-March 20, Stackner Cabaret, 108 E Wells St (milwaukeerep.com)

Continuing its tradition of stellar productions showcasing American musical legends (Billie Holiday, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Woody Guthrie,Liberace), the Stackner now turns its attention to the blues singer whom Janis Joplin named as her primary inspiration, Bessie Smith.  Portraying the blues legend is Zonya Love, returning to the Rep following her highly acclaimed performance in The Color Purple.  For Joplin and/or blues fans, this production is a must-see!

Agnes of God, January 22-February 14, Studio Theater, 158 N Broadway (r-t-w.com)

Renaissance Theaterworks begins 2016 with John Pielmeier’s 1982 play which became an acclaimed film starring Jane Fonda, Anne Bancroft and Meg Tilly.  RTW’s production features a great cast in this story of a young nun (Rana Roman), a dead newborn, and the Mother Superior (Flora Coker) and court-appointed psychiatrist (Laura Gordon) who wrangle over the nun’s fate.  It’s a powerful exploration of the mystery of faith and the consequence of truth.

The Firebird, January 22-23, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (mso.org)

The Milwaukee Symphony returns to its Uihlein Hall home to begin 2016 with a program guaranteed to heat up a cold winter’s night.  Guest conductor Christopher Seaman welcomes the return of the exciting Karen Gomyo as soloist on Sibelius’ lyrical Violin Concerto.  Headlining the program is Igor Stravinsky’s dazzling Firebird Suite, which also served as the climax of Disney’s Fantasia 2000.  Short pieces by Elgar and Dukas round out this engaging program.

What’s Going On

For the week of January 5-11…

Disney’s Newsies, now-January 10, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (marcuscenter.org)

There’s an old adage that says touring productions of Broadway musicals usually don’t hold a candle to the Broadway version.  Well, with the production of the Tony-winning Newsies playing at the Marcus Center through Sunday, I beg to differ!  The show, featuring songs from award-winning composer Alan Menken (Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin), tells the story of the 1899 strike by New York City newsboys against mogul Joseph Pulitzer.  The mostly youthful cast has plenty of energy to burn, and they need it to perform the demanding choreography by Tony-winner Christopher Gattelli.

It’s also said that a hit stage musical loses something when translated to the Big Screen.  Well,  those that saw the 1992 film that inspired this stage adaptation will be pleasantly surprised.  Everything clicks in this production, and if you want to see a group of young performers destined for bigger things down the road, get yourself down to Uihlein Hall this week!  And judging from the packed house on Opening Night, you’ll want to book your tickets soon before they’re all gone!

Rep Lab, January 8-12, Stiemke Studio, 108 E Wells St (milwaukeerep.com)

For the past several seasons, one of the highlights of the Milwaukee Rep schedule has been the annual showcase of the Rep’s Intern Acting Ensemble.  This year’s run begins this Friday at the Rep’s cozy Stiemke Studio Theater.  The eight short plays run the gamut from drama to musical to comedy, allowing the talented interns to show their considerable acting chops.  For the uninitiated, one can approach the show like Milwaukee weather:  If you don’t like it, wait a while, things will change.  This theatrical potpourri combined with very attractive ticket prices make this showcase one of the most popular events on the Rep schedule.  In fact, seats have been going so quickly that the run has been extended to January 12, so the same advice given above for Newsies holds here as well!

Before signing off on the 1st post of 2016, I wanted to mention I had the pleasure of attending the student matinee preview performance of the Milwaukee Ballet’s Nutcracker on December 11.  I don’t know how many of the audience members had previously attended a classical music performance, but it was apparent a good number of the kids had been to a rock show.  As the house lights went down before both acts, the audience erupted with cheering and yelling.  I’m sure the ovations weren’t lost on the cast, orchestra and crew (many of whom were youngsters themselves!), as they responded with a brilliant, energetic performance that was much appreciated.   Kudos to MBC for staging these special student performances that provide valuable exposure to the wonders of ballet!

What’s Going On

For the week of December 15-21…

Love for the Holidays, December 15, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (marcuscenter.org)

Darlene Love is a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  She is best known for her vocals on Phil Spector classics like “He’s A Rebel” and “Christmas (Please Come Home),” as well as being featured in the award-winning documentary 20 Feet From Stardom.  And for many years she appeared annually on the Late Show with David Letterman’s Christmas show, where she performed the aforementioned Christmas song with Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra.  Now that the Letterman show has ended its run, combined with the fact Darlene has a brand-new album (the ironically titled Introducing Darlene Love) produced by Little Steven of the E Street Band, it just makes sense she would take her act on the road.  This Tuesday she makes her Milwaukee debut at the Marcus Center where she and her band will mix songs from the new album along with oldies, including classics from the Spector Christmas album (of course!).  It’s your chance to see a member of the Rock Hall of Fame in what should be a great show!

Star Wars Episode VII:  The Force Awakens, opening December 18 (officially), various locations

At last, the new Star Wars saga opens this week.  And while I cannot tell you any details about the film’s plot, what I can tell you is there’s no shortage of Milwaukee area venues showing the movie.  Which begs the question:  Where to go see it??  I have a few recommendations:  The AMC Mayfair Mall will be the only place you can see it in 3D IMAX.  Other theaters showing it in 3D are Bay View’s historic ( and newly renovated) Avalon Theater and Tosa’s Rosebud Cinema (featuring those comfy sofas, something not to be overlooked for this 2.5 hour movie!).  Also showing it in the traditional format is the East Side’s historic Oriental Theater, which will be showing it continuously for over 24 hours straight beginning on Thursday evening!  And in addition to its star-filled ceiling (with shooting stars!) in its Atmospheric Theater, the Avalon has a special treat:  For the first screening at 7 pm Thursday, the first 200 patrons get in FREE as a Thank You from the Avalon management in celebration of the renovated theater’s first anniversary!  May the Force be with you as you’re waiting in line!

7 Days of Christmas Film Series, December 18-24, Avalon Backstage Theater, 2473 S KK Ave and Times Cinema, 5906 W Vliet St (timescinema.com)

And if you’re not in the mood to stand in line and would rather see some classic Christmas films on the Big Screen, both the Avalon and Times are ready to oblige!  For a full week beginning Friday, the theaters will be presenting their 7 Days of Christmas film festival.  Showing at the Avalon Backstage Theater will be It’s a Wonderful Life,  A Christmas Story, Home Alone and Bad Santa.  Over at the Times, the lineup includes It’s a Wonderful Life, Gremlins and Die Hard (Yes, many consider it a Christmas classic!).  Complete showtimes for each day are listed at the website listed above.

And don’t forget, holiday productions are continuing all over town, including the Rep’s Christmas Carol, Mousetrap and Guys on Ice, Milwaukee Ballet’s Nutcracker, the Milwaukee Symphony’s holiday performances of Handel’s Messiah, First Stage Theater’s Charlie Brown Christmas, Skylight Music Theater’s My Fair Lady and Milwaukee Chamber Theater’s Love Stories.  Information for all shows available at the presenting groups’ websites.

Merry Christmas!

What’s Going On

For the week of December 7-14…

Prometheus Trio, December 7-8, Bader Recital Hall, 1584 N Prospect Ave (wcmusic.org)

With all the holiday hustle and bustle going on, why not take a break and enjoy some great classical music played by some of the best musicians in the area?  That’s what you’ll get this Monday and Tuesday when the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music’s resident piano trio presents its annual December performances.  Featured on the program are works from Grieg, Beethoven and Ravel…A veritable musical feast indeed!  It sure sounds good to me!

Downer Theater 100th Birthday Party, December 10, 2589 N Downer Ave (landmarktheatres.com)

On December 3, 1915 (Two years before the US entered World War I), Milwaukee’s Downer Theater movie house opened for business.  Today, it’s Milwaukee’s oldest operating movie theater, which will be celebrated on Thursday night.  A full evening of festivities are planned, highlighted by a screening of the 1919 German classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the film generally acknowledged to be the first horror movie.  The film stars Werner Krauss and Conrad Veidt (the evil Major Strasser in Casablanca).  Plenty of goodies from local businesses (including birthday cake, of course) are on the agenda as well.  After all, it isn’t every day that you turn 100!!

The Nutcracker, December 12-27, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (milwaukeeballet.org)

We’ve seen plenty of holiday shows and performances come along in the past few weeks, but leave it to the Milwaukee Ballet to save arguably the best for last.  Starting this Saturday, the Milwaukee treasure known as the Milwaukee Ballet’s production of the beloved holiday classic The Nutcracker begins its annual run at the Marcus Center.  The Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra plays Tchaikovsky’s score, and the dancers of the Company (and Ballet School) fill the stage with the magic of Artistic Director Michael Pink’s adaptation.  Sumptuous sets and gorgeous costumes complete the picture for this Christmas favorite, which has served as the introduction for generations of kids to the wonders of dance…Watching them (particularly the newbies) watching the show is nearly as much fun as the show itself!

The Sleighriders, December 14, Shank Hall, 1434 N Farwell Ave (shankhall.com)

On a night in December for over the past 30 years, Milwaukee’s biggest rock band takes the stage to lay down the jams to benefit Variety of Wisconsin Children’s Charities.  The 2015 edition takes place Monday (the one night of the week when all these folks are available to play!), December 14,  when the Sleighriders return to the Shank Hall stage.  Forty-count ’em, forty-musicians will fill every nook and cranny (and then some) of the stage, including a horn and string section and backup singers!  And some very familiar names are on the roster, including Steve Grimm, Xeno, Sigmund Snopek, Steve Cohen (hey, you gotta have a blues harp player!), Warren Wiegratz…Well, you get the idea.  This is a show not to be missed!  And like many other Milwaukee holiday traditions like “Nutcracker” and “Christmas Carol,” fans just keep returning year after year.  And as long as there are kids that need help, the Sleighriders will keep coming back.  And do you really have to ask if this show will sell out??