What’s Going On

For the week of July 19-25…

Jersey Boys, July 22-23, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (marcuscenter.org)

First of all, I hope you’re enjoying the summer with all the festivals like Summerfest, with many more yet to come including Wisconsin State Fair and Irish Fest. But I did want to take a break from my summer hiatus to make sure you knew that this Broadway smash is returning to the Marcus Center for a quick weekend visit beginning tonight. By weaving the true story of four boyhood friends who managed to avoid reform school to become worldwide superstars Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons in the Sixties has become the blueprint for “jukebox musicals” ever since (Prime Example: Carole King’s Beautiful). With their plethora of hits it was no problem to stock this show but the book is equally compelling. I must confess I have never seen this stage show but am well aware of the show’s legendary pre-Broadway run in Chicago (on a par with Wicked). I did see director Clint Eastwood’s film version which is a different animal so it’s a case of comparing apples and oranges vs the stage production. Bottom Line: If you’re looking for something to enjoy while cooling off from this crazy heat wave tonight or tomorrow afternoon or evening, see Jersey Boys! I also advise there’s likely to be heat generated inside the theater as well. And as an extra treat, this National Touring production features Greendale native Katie Goffman Mary Delgado along with her husband Devon Goffman, who portrays the late Four Seasons member Tommy DeVito!

What’s Going On

For the week of May 17-23…

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, May 20-June 12, Cabot Theater, 158 N Broadway (skylightmusictheatre.org)

One of the most anticipated productions of Milwaukee’s theater season finally opens this weekend when Skylight Musical Theater unveils its production of Dennis DeYoung’s Hunchback of Notre Dame. It’s the first musical composed by the Styx founding member, seeking to create a musical similar to the worldwide success of Les Miserables, and began working on the score back in 1994, around the same time Skylight Artistic Director Michael Unger was with Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater. The Styx fan’s chance meeting with DeYoung resulted in his getting the opportunity to hear a private performance of the entire score and planting the seed to produce it onstage. Alas, Disney released an animated musical production of the story in 1996, so DeYoung shelved his work indefinitely. But based on the impression DeYoung’s songs made on him, Unger never gave up hope to present a fully staged production of Hunchback. Fast forward to 2020, Unger is the newly appointed Artistic Director of Skylight Music Theater, and he puts Hunchback on the fast track for a Skylight production, and begins work with DeYoung on mounting a revised staging of the original 2008 Chicago production. The production was again delayed by the COVID pandemic, but it was scheduled to close the 2021-22 Skylight season, and that’s where we are now. Unger, who’s directing this production, has assembled an impressive cast and creative team to bring the musical to life, and is working with a score DeYoung calls “(songs) I love as much or more as any I have ever done.” Everything about the production is designed to match the high caliber of the show’s music, and needless to say, performance tickets will be among the hottest for a Milwaukee production this year, especially with many Chicago fans making the trip north to see the show!

Beauty and the Beast, May 19-22, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (milwaukeeballet.org)

Another much-anticipated Milwaukee production arrives this weekend when the Milwaukee Ballet presents Artistic Director Michael Pink’s original staging of Beauty and the Beast. First, this is not a stage adaptation of Disney’s beloved animated classic, so don’t expect to hear the familiar strains of “Be Our Guest” or “Gaston” in this show. But given Pink’s successful track record with past adaptations of classic stories such as Dracula and Peter Pan, anticipation is running high for this new Pink production. Backed by the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra, Philip Feeney’s original score will be brought to life by the immensely talented Milwaukee Ballet dancers, with gorgeous sets and costumes to match! Attendees of the MBC’s annual Nutcracker performances will find a lot to like in this family-friendly production!

And now to wrap up this edition, some kudos…First, congrats to Milwaukee Film for an extremely successful 2022 Milwaukee Film Festival! The blending of streamed and in-theater screenings was a big hit, with Sundance sensation Navalny repeating its success by winning the MFF’s Selig Audience Award. But for me, the real Fest winner was the return of in-theater screenings before thousands of eager film fans. Festival organizers, the staffs at the three fest venues (The flagship Oriental, Avalon and Times Cinemas), and the tireless volunteer army were all up to the task. Their boundless energy, friendliness and enthusiasm went a long way to add to this festival’s reputation as one of the nation’s very best!

And thanks to all the listeners who came through to support the recently concluded WMSE Spring Membership Drive! The eight day drive reached its $80K goal, which means another six months of great uninterrupted programming at both 91.7 fm and online at wmse.org! Thanks to all the listeners, staff and volunteers for helping to keep “The Mighty 91” going strong!

What’s Going On

For the week of May 3-9…

May the 4th be with you…Yes it’s Star Wars Day, and the Milwaukee Brewers are celebrating with tonight’s “Star Wars Night” with all fans with a special ticket package get a special Brewers/Star Wars T-shirt that features a headshot of Yoda surrounded by the words “My Crew This Is”…The 2022 Milwaukee Film Fest is winding down to its conclusion on the 5th, and the 2022 WMSE Spring Membership gets underway on Friday the 6th, plus there’s other shows on the docket for this week, so here’s a closer look…

Get Happy: Angela Ingersoll Sings Judy Garland, May 5-July 1, Stackner Cabaret, 108 E Wells St (milwaukeerep.com)

After being delayed due to the pandemic, this Chicago actor’s acclaimed portrayal of the legendary singer/actor is finally arriving as the Milwaukee Rep’s cozy Stackner Cabaret’s final show of the season. First of all, this is a different show from End of the Rainbow which the Rep presented in the Quadracci Powerhouse Theater several years ago. This is a recreation of a Judy Garland nightclub show, which makes the Stackner the perfect venue! And while Ms Ingersoll has a lengthy list of credits to her name, she has become best-known for this role, for which she collaborated with Garland’s son Joey Luft to ensure the show’s authenticity. “Over the Rainbow,” “The Trolley Song” and “The Man That Got Away” are just a sampling of the cornucopia of songs you’ll hear during this show! While it has an extended run, it’s certain tickets will go fast so don’t hesitate to get yours so you can see for yourself what made her Emmy-nominated performance a show not to be missed!

Prometheus Trio Spring Concert, May 9-10, Bader Recital Hall, 1584 N Prospect Ave (wcmusic.org/concerts-events)

The Wisconsin Conservatory of Music’s Resident Piano Trio concludes its current season with a typically eclectic program, which features several pieces by contemporary composer Augusta Read Thomas, whose works have been previously performed by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (Two trio members are also MSO musicians). The program also features works from Trio favorites Beethoven and Brahms, making for an enjoyable evening of chamber music at its best, the Prometheus Way!

2022 WMSE Radio Spring Membership Drive, May 6-13, 91.7 fm or wmse.org

Hot on the heels of its recently successful 20th Rockabilly Chili fundraiser, Frontier Radio WMSE takes to the airwaves for its 2022 Spring Membership Drive beginning at 6 am on Friday. WMSE listeners are the main source that “drives” this station’s incredibly eclectic programming (which includes a healthy portion of locally produced music!). And as usual, a variety of live in-studio performances will be heard as part of the drive festivities. While it is only one of two times annually that regular station programming is interrupted, the Mighty 91’s volunteer DJ’s will be presenting special theme shows especially for the occasion, making the fundraising effort a truly fun time at the station. And in return for your generous support, there are a number of special unique Thank You gifts available! You can call in your support at 414-277-9673. BTW, I’m a WMSE Volunteer myself, so chances are you may be speaking to Yours Truly when you call. But don’t let that stop you! If you prefer, you can donate securely online at wmse.org. Whichever method you choose, you can either become a Sustaining Member by setting up a monthly donation or by making a One-Time gift. Either way, please tune in (to both your favorite shows and trying out some new ones as well) and consider helping keep the plethora of music genres coming without commercial interruption as we have for over 40 years!

And finally, I’d be amiss if I didn’t remind you that the 2022 Milwaukee Film Fest is winding up its great 15 day run on Cinco de Mayo with two more days of great films, concluding with the Milwaukee premiere of the French film Petite Manan, which has been getting rave reviews, including Rolling Stone and RogerEbert.com, as well as a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes! You can get information on all the films left on the schedule by going to mkefilm.org/mff. In the meantime, see you at the movies!

Special Edition: The 2022 Milwaukee Film Fest Preview

The 14th Annual Milwaukee Film Fest, April 21-May 5, Oriental Theater, 2230 N Farwell Ave; Avalon Theater, 2473 S Kinnickinnic Ave; Times Cinema, 5906 W Vliet St (mkefilm.org/festival)

It’s been over 900 days since the Milwaukee Film Festival welcomed movie lovers to in-person screenings. Starting today, the Festival welcomes audiences back for two weeks’ worth of dozens of films at three vintage area theaters: The East Side’s Oriental, the festival’s flagship venue; Bay View’s beautifully restored Avalon; and the recently reopened Times in Washington Heights. All of them are great places to watch movies. My only regret is that the Oriental’s newly acquired vintage theater pipe organ will not be installed in time for the festival, as was projected last fall. On the other hand, it will be interesting to have the festival taking place in the springtime, rather than when autumn winds are descending upon Milwaukee. Either way, the popcorn will still taste great!

Like I said, dozens of titles are on this year’s schedule…Full program and ticket information is available at the link listed above. Also, if you prefer streaming your movies, many of the festival offerings have a streaming option available through the conclusion of the festival on May 5. Again, check the link above for information on what movies are available and information on how to stream them. What follows is my list (in no particular order) of festival films I’m eagerly anticipating.

The Pez Outlaw, April 21-22 (Oriental)

Seinfeld fans will be attracted to the Fest’s Opening Night selection, but don’t let that stop the rest of you from checking out this rollicking documentary about Midwesterner Steve Glew, who embarks to Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall to illegally smuggle limited-edition Pez dispensers into the US! Sounds like a scheme Kramer and Newman would concoct! This earned Glew the nickname which also serves as the film’s title, and also made him a wealthy man (something that would probably never happen to Kramer and Newman!). But things take a nasty turn when he becomes embroiled in the cutthroat world of Pez dispenser collecting. No, Hollywood couldn’t come up with a script this crazy…and it didn’t! The filmmakers and Steve Glew himself will be on hand for the Opening Night screening.

The Martha Mitchell Effect, April 23 (Avalon)

Back in the day, she was the butt of jokes by standup comedians on TV talk shows. But she was the linchpin of the unraveling of President Richard Nixon’s White House. When Martha Mitchell, wife of Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell (and also chairman of the infamous Committee to Reelect the President-aka CREEP), became a whistleblower for what was going on behind the scenes at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, people listened. And as ex-president Nixon himself said in 1977, “If it hadn’t have been for Martha, there would have been no Watergate…” This documentary is her story.

Vinyl Nation, April 23 (Avalon)

April 23 is Record Store Day, which over the years has grown into a worldwide celebration of independent record stores featuring live music performances and DJ sets along with oodles of special new vinyl releases sought by collectors of stacks of wax (Sadly, this will be the final RSD for Wisconsin’s decades-old Exclusive Company chain, as all its store locations will be closing shortly after this RSD). To mark the occasion, MFF presents this documentary about the recent resurgence of vinyl and presents, in Mister Rogers style, the history of the beloved LP and what drives collectors to scour crates of albums in their insatiable quest to find those golden nuggets of sound.

Ali & Ava, April 23 (Avalon), April 25 (Oriental)

This charming story from 2021 features music from Milwaukee’s Sylvan Esso and scored BAFTA nominations for the film’s director and screenwriter Clio Barnard. Ali and Ava are two lonely people who share an affection for a young boy-She’s his teacher, he’s the boy’s family’s landlord who gives him rides home from school. Slowly the pair build a closer connection, if only their past relationships don’t get in their way. You’ll have to check out the movie to see how this story gets resolved.

The Exchange: Kaukauna & King 50 Years Later, April 24 (Oriental), May 1 (Times)

Veteran Milwaukee TV news reporter Joanne Williams directs what is one of the festival’s most fascinating offerings. In 1966, during the heights of American Civil Rights unrest, a student exchange was arranged between white students from Kaukauna High School and black students from Milwaukee’s Rufus King High School. This interaction resulted in Martin Duberman’s play In White America. This film reunites many of the students from both schools over 50 years later, reviving the play featuring themselves along with a new generation of students, injecting the play with a new burst of energy during these uncertain times.

The Automat, April 25 (Avalon), May 2 (Oriental)

Long before the fast-food restaurants that transformed America, there was the humble Automat. It was a mainstay of urban America, vending machines that provided servings of fresh food from lemon meringue pie to creamed spinach (No doubt Popeye frequented these places!). This fun and quirky 2021 documentary shows how these self-service places were a pervasive part of the American scene, along with reminisces from Automat fans including Mel Brooks, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Colin Powell, Carl Reiner and many others.

Finding Loren, April 26 (Oriental), April 29 (Avalon)

This film had its Milwaukee premiere last September as the first event held in the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s new home, the downtown Bradley Symphony Center. This viewer knew the moment I saw it that this remarkable film was a prime candidate for the Milwaukee Film Fest. And so it is the film is getting two screenings on the fest schedule. This documentary tells the story of Bay View native Loren Hintz, who was a fighter pilot shot down over Italy in the waning days of World War II in Europe. But it doesn’t end there. More than 70 years later, many of Hintz’s descendants, spearheaded by grandson Hans Wronka, traveled to Italy in an effort to retrieve Hintz’s remains in order to give them a proper military burial. Loren’s son, the late Milwaukee writer Marty Hintz, was also part of the efforts to “find Loren,” and his widow, Pam Percy, produced, wrote and directed this amazing story. Not to be missed.

We Feed People, April 26 (Avalon), May 4 (Oriental)

Since the start of the Ukrainian War, we’ve been hearing a lot about World Central Kitchen and its mission of providing food to disaster areas worldwide. Group founder/chef Jose Andres and his grassroots volunteers have been at it for 12 years, never more than right now. This film tells their amazing story.

Buddy Guy: Chase the Blues Away, April 28 (Oriental), May 2 (Times)

As usual, the Milwaukee Film Fest will be presenting several great music film presentations. Among the best is this biography on Buddy Guy, one of the last of the great classic blues guitarists. This Chicago guitar slinger (who will be appearing later this year at the Riverside Theater with Special Guest John Hiatt with Sonny Landreth) continues to tour tirelessly, as well as holding court at his Chicago club called-what else?-Buddy Guy’s. This film traces his journey from Louisiana to Chicago, winning eight Grammy Awards and induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame along the way. Carlos Santana, Gary Clark Jr and John Mayer are among those paying homage to this blues giant.

Navalny, April 29 (Oriental)

Definitely the Centerpiece Selection of this year’s fest, this documentary film was the surprise winner of the 2022 Sundance Festival. It follows Alexei Navalny, the foremost opposition leader to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, particularly during a 2020 episode where he was poisoned on a plane flight returning to Russia. No doubt much to Putin’s chagrin, Navalny survived and wound up being thrown into a prison in the Russian gulag. Yet he continued to speak up against Putin from prison, like a Russian Nelson Mandela. He also ran against Putin in the last several Russian presidential elections, only to be punished with additional prison time, most recently getting another 9 year sentence. President Zelenskyy isn’t the only hero of the Ukrainian War, with Navalny encouraging dissidents from prison to voice their opposition to the war. If you can see only one film during this fest, this is it.

For the Left Hand, April 22 (Times), April 30 (Oriental)

Another outstanding music selection in this year’s fest, this biography tells the story of Norman Malone, a piano prodigy who at age 10 was attacked and ended up having his right side paralyzed. Undaunted, he carried on, becoming a master of piano works composed for the left hand, keeping his quest a secret. Now, 70 years later, he has emerged from his exile to resume his career as a concert pianist, an artistic triumph this film celebrates.

David Byrne’s American Utopia, April 30 (Oriental)

You may have seen this film during its many showings on HBO, but chances are you haven’t seen it the way it should be seen, on the big screen. This year the fest is giving the always-popular Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense a break by making Spike Lee’s 2020 film of David Byrne’s hit Broadway show one of its special one-night-only presentations. Byrne and his amazing band (including Milwaukeean Angie Swan on guitar) present a program featuring Talking Heads classics and Byrne solo songs with an incredible sound mix and Lee’s camera work placing you onstage alongside the performers in a way that the Broadway audiences could never experience! And you can dance to it!

The Good Boss, May 1 (Oriental)

In what could be described as a Spanish-language version of The Office, Javier Bardem stars as Blanco, the charismatic owner of a family-owned factory, who is feverishly pursuing a local award for business excellence. Of course, everything myst be perfect. Inevitably, the best laid plans of mice and factory owners go awry when unending roadblocks and landmines are strewn in Blanco’s path. This wickedly funny social satire was a huge success in Spain, garnering an eye-popping 20 Goya (the Spanish Oscar awards) nominations, winning six of them. Brush up on your subtitle reading skills, and enjoy this cinematic treat!

Cha Cha Real Smooth, May 1 (Oriental)

The comedy continues with this 2022 film from writer, director and star Cooper Raiff, as Andrew, who finds his calling as a DJ at bar and bat mitzvahs. Dakota Johnson, Brad Garrett and Leslie Mann are along for the ride in this Sundance Audience Award winner!

Klondike, April 24 (Oriental), May 1 (Oriental)

This drama from Ukrainian filmmaker Maryna Er Gorbach is essential viewing for anyone interested in learning the roots of the current Ukrainian War. It’s the story of expecting parents Irka and Tolik who live in Ukraine’s Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine at the onset of the Donbas war in 2014. Compounding their nervous anticipation of the birth of their first child is the nearby crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 after being shot down by Russian missiles. Again, your efforts in reading the English subtitles will be well rewarded in this gripping, intense film.

Messwood, April 23 (Oriental), May 3 (Times)

This fascinating 2021 film chronicles the 2018 joint venture of predominantly white Shorewood High School and predominantly black Milwaukee Messmer High School to field a football team representing both schools. It focuses on the 2019 season, when a number of graduating players from the 2018 season need to be replaced. As it follows the ups and downs of the 2019 season, the film also zeroes in on these teenage athletes’ attempts to make sense of their adolescence along with the perceived and tangible racial fissures in southeast Wisconsin.

Barbara Lee: Speaking Truth to Power, April 25 (Avalon), May 4 (Oriental)

In a time when politicians are not among those listed on the world’s most admired people, this outstanding 2020 profile of California congresswoman Barbara Lee is a breath of fresh air. She is the highest-ranking black woman in the US Congress and a true pioneer of American civil rights who was the lone voice in opposition of authorizing military force following 9/11. It also profiles her current work (which includes a Milwaukee visit to meet with Rep Gwen Moore) that shows her uncompromising and conscientious voice for economic and racial justice and peace. This is especially recommended to fans of the film RBG.

Calendar Girls, April 23 (Times), May 5 (Oriental)

For all of you familiar with the Dancing Grannies, the senior ladies dance team who make appearances at various events around the Milwaukee area, meet Florida’s answer to the Grannies! This 2022 Swedish profile shows a group who perform to pop hits and literally shake up any images of “little old ladies.” Beneath the surface, it also shows the deep human need for creativity and friendship at all ages, especially at a point in life where identity and gender roles may be changing. As you may have surmised, this film works on a number of levels.

The Job of Songs, April 22 (Oriental), May 5 (Oriental)

Attention Irish Fest fans: This film is for you! This 2021 documentary is set in the west of Ireland, specifically Doolin in County Clare. The soulful, acoustic sounds emerging from the pubs of living rooms of Doolin attract music lovers from the world over. And the residents of this unspoiled coastal village of tight-knit neighbors and unlocked doors revel in the passion and history of their traditional folk songs, using music as a thread to create community, connection, and joy. Not to mention it’s a fantastic way to get ramped up for this year’s Milwaukee Irish Fest in August!

Petite Maman, May 5 (Oriental)

The Closing Night selection of the 2022 Milwaukee Film Fest is starting to build a very loud buzz, and you’ll be among the first Americans that get to see this French gem! This followup of director Celine Schiamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire is getting raves from Rolling Stone and rogerebert.com, but it’s a story that could hardly be more different. It’s the fairytale story of 8 year old Nelly (Josephine Sanz) who travels to her mom’s childhood home following the death of her grandmother. During the cleaning out of grandma’s house, Nelly finds her mother inconsolable, so she begins exploring the neighborhood around the house. It is there where she meets Marion (played by Josephine’s sister Gabrielle Sanz), another girl she connects with instantly, although she bears a striking resemblance to Nelly. You can get more details by seeking out the RS review at rollingstone.com, but better yet, come and see the film yourself and prepare to be amazed by this movie worthy of closing this year’s festival!

So see you at the movies, but before I wrap up, the MFF isn’t the only opening on the agenda this week!

The Amazing Lemonade Girl, April 22-May 15, Todd Wehr Theater, 929 N Water St (firststage.org)

First Stage’s spring production is a world premiere production written by veteran Wisconsin actor James DeVita and directed by First Stage alum and another Wisconsin veteran actor Molly Rhode. It’s the story of Alex Scott, and she truly has a story to tell-about her life and her legacy, her humor and her heart. She is a young girl who is fiercely determined to make a difference despite the challenges she faces. Her true story reminds us all that a single person can change the world-one act, or even one cup, at a time. Featured in the cast are First Stage favorites Karen Estrada, Rick Pendzich and James Carrington. So what role does lemonade play in this story? You’ll just have to check out the play for yourself to find out….You’ll find it will be well worth your (and your family’s) time!

What’s Going On

April showers bring…A boatload of new shows to the Milwaukee theater scene, so let’s dive in! And speaking of boats…

Titanic the Musical, now through May 14, Quadracci Powerhouse Theater, 108 E Wells St (milwaukeerep.com)

The pandemic may have kept her docked an extra year, but at long last this Milwaukee Rep production has set sail, and the wait was well worth it! Like the ship itself, this show is among the biggest productions of Artistic Director Mark Clements’ Rep tenure. First of all, if you’re expecting a musical version of James Cameron’s classic 1997 movie, forget it. This Tony-winning musical plays more like an opera in the same way George Gershwin’s classic Porgy and Bess did. The focus is on far more characters than the movie (but Molly Brown is not among them-sorry), yet the show does not let you lose track of the multiple storylines. Music Director Dan Kazemi’s onstage orchestra does a great job of measuring up and supporting up to 30 actors onstage at any given time, providing a resounding performance of the show’s score. The cast is a mix of the cream of Milwaukee talent (ie, Andrew Varela, Rana Roman (co-stars in Skylight’s recent production of Kiss Me Kate), Matt Daniels, Kelley Faulkner, Carrie Hitchcock) complemented by a stellar group of musical theater veterans (One of them, Emma Rose Brooks, portrayed Sarah Brown in the Rep’s memorable production of Guys and Dolls a few years back). Given the demands of this show, the kudos for this cast are well-earned indeed! Now I know you are chomping at the bit to know how the main star-the ship itself-fares in this production. Here’s a hint: If you’ve seen recent performances of the Rep’s annual production of A Christmas Carol with its remarkable moving stage set, you have a pretty good idea of what you get in Titanic. And as the ship begins its descent into the deep, make sure to hang on to your seats as the projected backdrop images gradually tilt and will likely disrupt your center of gravity if you’re not ready for it-all without spilling a single drop of water! Now I don’t want to disclose any spoilers, but suffice it to say that the Rep’s Titanic is without a doubt one of the best musical productions you’ll see-anywhere!

Raisin, now through April 24, Cabot Theater, 158 N Broadway (skylightmusictheatre.org)

First, here are some Rep-Skylight connections: Several years ago, the Rep presented Raisin in the Sun, the original groundbreaking 1950’s classic about a Chicago black family’s attempt to move into a white neighborhood, as well as the more recent play Clybourne Park, which tells the same story from the white residents’ point of view. Now, Skylight Music Theatre presents the Tony-award winning 1974 musical adaptation. The score is filled with songs that combine jazz, gospel and 70s pop, and even if you’ve seen either of the aforementioned plays, this show is a fresh and powerful experience, thanks to the great cast director Kenneth L Robertson has assembled for this Skylight gem.

The Island, now through May 1, Studio Theater, 158 N Broadway (milwaukeechambertheatre.org)

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre winds up its current season with this gripping drama from South African playwrights Athol Fugard, John Kani, and Winston Ntshona. It’s based on a true story about two black men incarcerated in the infamous Robben Island prison during the height of the Apartheid Era of the early 70’s, the same facility where Nelson Mandela was held for 27 years. By day they toil at brutal hard labor; by night, they rehearse for a prison production of Sophocles’ Antigone. Thanks to a great response to this play during MCT’s previous virtual season, it now gets a full-scale production and it results in a great finale to MCT’s season. Kudos to Dimonte Henning and Sherrick Robinson (guided by director Mikael Burke), two of Milwaukee’s finest actors, for delivering performances equal to this modern classic.

New Age, now-May 1, Stiemke Studio, 108 E Wells St (milwaukeerep.com)

The Rep’s final production in the intimate Stiemke Studio this season is a play from playwright Dael Orlandersmith, whose well-received play Antonio’s Song was recently featured in the Stiemke. This production features a diverse group of four women that are linked by confrontation of advancing age. While they range from teen to octogenarian, their monologues ably prove age is just a number. The cast features four actors, all Rep newcomers, and based on their strong performances here, I’m hopeful we’ll see them again in the not too distant future!

The Last White Man, April 14-May 8, Next Act Theatre, 255 S Water St (nextact.org)

If any single current playwright can be considered champion of the feisty Next Act Theatre, it’s arguably Bill Cain. Next Act’s season finale is its fourth production of a Cain play, with a fifth (God’s Spies) scheduled for next season. Unlike the previous three productions, this was developed with audience feedback before going into full rehearsals. It’s the story of a theater troupe’s staging of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Next Act fans already know Shakespeare is no stranger in Cain’s plays. The Bard was a character in Next Act’s first Cain production, 2018’s Equivication. That was followed by the autobiographical How to Write a New Book for the Bible and 9 Circles, inspired by Dante’s Inferno. All were well-received by Next Act audiences, so this world premiere production featuring a cast of Next Act newcomers directed by Next Act Artistic Director David Cecsarini is highly anticipated to say the least! Don’t miss this chance to see something totally new in the cozy confines of Next Act’s Water Street theater!

Next, it’s time to backtrack to take look back at some recent productions…

First, a tip of the hat to Milwaukee Opera Theatre’s Artistic Director Jill-Anna Ponasik long-delayed production of Dave Malloy’s 2015 Preludes, which recently completed a string of performances at the Woman’s Club of Wisconsin. It’s based on an actual episode in the life of legendary Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, brought to life by MOT’s fine cast along with outstanding keyboard work from Music Director Ruben Piiranien. In addition to Rachmaninoff’s music there were performances of Mussorgsky and Beethoven, plus Malloy’s original songs inspired by Rachmaninoff’s music, all performed with great aplomb by Ruben and the cast!

Next, kudos go to the Marcus Center’s National Tour production of the Tony-Award winning Broadway hit Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations that completed a five day Milwaukee run on April 10. This was one of the best Broadway shows I’ve seen at MPAC, featuring more Motown classics than you could stuff a jukebox with! The show itself earned a Tony for Best Musical, as well an award for Sergio Trujillo’s amazing choreography, all performed with boundless energy by a cast that was truly up to the task! The audiences responded in kind with rousing cheers and ovations!

Also, it was another great weekend for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra at their new home at the Bradley Symphony Center. Music Director Emeritus Edo de Waart was back for his second and final performance this season in a delightful program that featured Brahms’ Variations on a Theme of Haydn, Beethoven’s crowd-pleasing Coriolan Overture, plus an overlooked gem by Austrian composer Franz Schreker, his Kammersymphonie which provided impressions reminiscent of his contemporary Ravel. The evening concluded with the MSO return of pianist Ronald Brautigam in a sublime performance of Mozart’s majestic Piano Concerto No 25 in C Major. It was his first time back with the MSO since 2009…Hopefully we won’t have to wait as long for his next visit!

Finally, many thanks to all of the over 2000 chili lovers of all ages and 30 vendors and their crews who turned out last Sunday for WMSE Radio’s 20th Rockabilly Chili Contest, returning to its MSOE Kern Center home for the first time since 2020. The vendors served up 50 varieties of chili, while DJ’s Dietrich and Jonny Z kept things hopping. While it was a slightly scaled-back event this time around, the great weather and pent-up chili hunger made for a great combination as nearly all the chili had disappeared when things wrapped up around 4 pm! A great time was had by all and the event provided a great boost for Frontier Radio!

Coming Up Next Week: The Preview Edition of the 2022 Milwaukee Film Festival! Yes indeed, Spring is busting out all over!

What’s Going On

For the week of March 1-7…

Pretty Woman: The Musical, now-March 6, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (marcuscenter.org)

Following its recent run of the National Tour of Mean Girls, the Marcus Center’s Broadway at the Marcus series follows up with another Broadway musical based on a hit movie. In the 1990 movie that made Julia Roberts a superstar, this modern Cinderella story had its Broadway premiere in 2018 and launched its national tour in October 2021 and is now in Milwaukee for a week’s run. The show’s book was written by film Director Garry Marshall and screenwriter J.F. Lawton, with songs by Bryan Adams (yeah, that Bryan Adams) and his longtime co-writer Jim Vallance. It’s a spirited and delightful cast that performs in the Marcus Center production, led by Olivia Valli as Vivian Ward and Tony nominee Adam Pascal as Edward Lewis. Milwaukee audiences get the added bonus of seeing MHSA alum Kyle Taylor Parker in the key role of Happy Man! The Chick Flick has become a Chick Show, with a female majority in the Opening Night audience, but I consider it a great Date Night idea. Two-time Tony winning director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell delivers a production that’s a winner in its own right, and the Adams-Vallance score definitely keeps things moving along, although you may find yourself, like I did, humming the Adams classic “Heaven” in your head during Edward’s showcase ballad “Freedom”-and it’s performed several times in the show! Whether or not you’re a fan of the original movie, you’ll find lots to like in this production with performances continuing through Sunday!

My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra, March 4-May 1, Stackner Cabaret, 108 E Wells St (milwaukeerep.com)

My, that Nygel D Robinson is one busy fellow. He recently wowed audiences in the Rep’s just-completed Stackner Cabaret hit Piano Men. But he had to depart that show midway through its run in order to begin rehearsals for the next Stackner show, which opens this weekend! Nygel is part of a four-person cast in this tribute to “Ol’ Blue Eyes” himself, which features a cornucopia of Sinatra classics including “I’ve Got the World on a String,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” and “New York, New York,” and is directed and choreographed by veteran Rep performer Kelley Faulkner. The show also marks the return of Tiffany Topol, making her first Rep performance since appearing in the Rep’s hit production of Guys and Dolls several years back. I’m holding out hope that “Love and Marriage” (NOT because it served as the theme song for the long-running sitcom Married…With Children!), “Summer Wind,” “That’s Life,” and “Somethin’ Stupid”-songs that were a big part of MY childhood-make the set list. Regardless, with such a treasure trove of American classics to draw from, My Way sounds like a great way to spend an evening in the cozy Stackner Cabaret!

The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors, March 5-April 3, Todd Wehr Theater, 929 N Water St (firststage.org)

From the “Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted” Department: Back in March, 2020, First Stage (Milwaukee’s premier Family Theater) unveiled its rocking world-premiere production based on the iconic children’s game. Yours Truly was on hand to see one of the opening week performances, and I enjoyed myself as much as the kids! As it turned out, it was the final performance before COVID wiped out the rest of the show’s run. But there’s good news: The show makes its triumphant return this weekend for a hopefully uninterrupted run! Veteran Milwaukee theater performers Kelly Doherty (director) and Molly Rhode (choreographer) are back to lead the cast that also includes the onstage return of Milwaukee favorites Karen Estrada (Scissors) and Rick Pendzich (Rock), along with the usual complement of talented First Stage Young Performers. So if you want to take the kids out for a show that’s an alternative to The Batman, you couldn’t do better than the delightful Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors! It’s a fun outing for kids of all ages!

What’s Going On

For the week of February 15-21…

As You Like It, February 18-March 20, Quadracci Powerhouse Theater, 108 E Wells St (milwaukeerep.com)

February marks the anniversary when Beatlemania invaded America, so the timing couldn’t be better for the opening of Milwaukee Rep’s unique production of Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It. While the Bard’s familiar words (“All the world’s a stage…”) are all there, they are enhanced by the inclusion of nearly two dozen Beatles classics, performed by the actors backed by an onstage rock combo. Also, the play’s setting has shifted to 1960s Vancouver in the midst of the Age of Flower Power. Directed by adapter Daryl Cloran, the show had a smash run at Chicago Shakespeare last fall, and now it’s our turn to succumb to its charms! Whether you love Shakespeare, the Beatles, or both, this is a show not to be missed! As an added treat, veteran Milwaukee actor Norman Moses appears in the show’s cast!

Edo Returns!, February 18-20, Bradley Symphony Center, 212 W Wisconsin Ave (mso.org)

Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Music Director Laureate Edo de Waart returns to lead this weekend’s MSO concerts. And there’s nothing like music depicting a beautiful summer day in the country to headline a mid-winter’s concert! And so it is that this program is topped by Beethoven’s memorable Symphony No. 6 (“Pastoral”), a treat to hear any time of the year! Also on the program is Elgar’s Cello Concerto, one of the great showcases for the instrument, which features MSO Principal Cellist Susan Babini as soloist. Add Delius’ delectable tone poem In a Summer Garden as the program opener, and you have the makings of a fabulous evening (or Sunday afternoon) at the Allen-Bradley Hall!

Then They Came for Me: Incarceration of Japanese Americans During WW II and The Demise of Civil Liberties, February 18-May 29, Jewish Museum Milwaukee, 1360 N Prospect Ave (jewishmuseummilwaukee.org)

Among Milwaukee’s many cultural gems is Jewish Museum Milwaukee, located on the city’s Lower East Side. Along with its many permanent exhibits, the museum has been host to many special exhibitions through the years. Jews in Rock, assembled by the museum’s own curator Molly Dubin, as well as a touring national exhibition focusing on the 1950’s Red Scare and its accompanying blacklist. are just two that come to mind. Opening this Friday is Then They Came for Me, the title taken from German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoeller’s classic essay that describes how the German vise tightened its grip on “undesirable” minorities during the Nazi regime. In this case, this exhibit presents a fascinating look at one of the most shameful moments of American history: The incarceration of Japanese Americans into internment camps following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the US into World War II. In many and varied ways, including photos, newsreel footage and recorded interviews with camp survivors, the exhibit paints a vivid picture of how these American citizens’ lives were changed forever. And thanks to a gift from the Exhibit Presenting Sponsor Yabuki Family Foundation, admission is free to the general public through the end of the exhibit on May 29. In fact, the free admission isn’t just for this special exhibition, but also covers the JMM’s permanent collection as well! Don’t miss this opportunity to see this informative and educational presentation!

Finally, I close this column by expressing my condolences on the passing of veteran Milwaukee jazz musician Neal Chandek, who recently succumbed to complications of COVID. Not only was he a friend and co-worker, this trumpet man and piano player was a beacon to a multitude of local jazz musicians and was also a fixture at Transfer Pizza’s weekly jazz jam sessions. Plans are underway for Transfer to host an outdoor celebration of Neal’s life in June…Stay tuned to this column for further details as they become available. RIP, Neal…

What’s Going On

For the week of February 1-7…

2022 Black History Month Film Festival, February 3-26, Oriental Theater, 2230 N Farwell Ave (mkefilm.org/bhm/films)

The Oriental Theater celebrates Black History Month be presenting a festival of acclaimed films (both feature-length and short films) making their Milwaukee premieres. The feature film list includes:

The One and Only Dick Gregory, February 5

Stand-up comedian turned social activist, this fascinating documentary presents how Dick Gregory evolved during the height of the Civil Rights movement to become a self-described ‘agitator’ demanding social justice. Using his platform as an entertainer, he was outspoken on issues including hunger, gender equity and civil rights, and the film presents recollections from Gregory himself along with archival footage. The film also shows his influence on latter-day comedians like Wanda Sykes, Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle.

Citizen Ashe, February 12

This is an acclaimed documentary of tennis legend Arthur Ashe, the only black man to win singles championships at Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open. After retiring, he continued to be an outspoken advocate for the oppressed until succumbing to complications from AIDS at 49. Today the US Open is contested at the Arthur Ashe National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, NY.

Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America, February 17

Filmmakers Emily and Sarah Kuntsler present this two-hour documentary based on attorney Jeffery Robinson’s history of American racism, utilizing a timeline from slavery to the myth of a post-racial America. The wide-reaching film draws on lectures, personal anecdotes, interviews and shocking revelations, resulting in a thought-provoking work to say the least.

The Loyola Project, February 24

The last team to win the NCAA Men’s Basketball championship before John Wooden’s UCLA teams created a dynasty in the 1960’s was Chicago’s Loyola Ramblers in 1963. This Milwaukee premiere tells the remarkable story of this team featuring participation from Rambler player and co-captain Lucas Williamson. The film explains that during this time, the NCAA had an unspoken rule in which no team could have more than one black player on the floor at any time. The Ramblers clearly flaunted this rule by fielding a team that featured a majority of black players to win the title. It was a feat matched by the all-black Texas Western team in 1967, which won the title by beating all-white Kentucky in the championship game (and was the only team besides UCLA to win the title between 1964-1973). But this entertaining film sets the record straight by showing Loyola was the first to do it in ’63.

Please note that free tickets are available for Citizen Ashe and Loyola Project, go to the link above for ticket and film info on all the festival offerings. Also note that all films are single screenings, so it’s advised to order your tickets ASAP (even for the free films) to avoid disappointment.

Prometheus Trio Mid-Winter Concert, February 7-8, Bader Recital Hall, 1584 N Prospect Ave (wcmusic.org)

Milwaukee’s premier piano trio presents its annual mid-winter concert, and as is their tradition, the February 8 performance is an 11 am matinee for those who prefer to attend wintertime concerts during the daytime. Day or night, this musical potpourri is most definitely worth checking out! The program includes works from Mozart and Dvorak, plus two pieces from contemporary American composer Joan Tower. Come in from the chill and warm up with some great classical chamber music!

What’s Going On

For the week of January 25-31…

Mean Girls, January 25-30, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (marcuscenter.org)

It may be freezing cold outside, but things will get hot when Tina Fey’s 2004 smash movie comedy turned hit Broadway musical gets its Uihlein Hall premiere this week as the latest offering in the Marcus Center’s Broadway series. You know the story: New girl arrives in town and becomes a target for the cool girls’ clique at her new high school. Hilariousness ensues, thanks to the efforts of the creative team who were also behind hits 30 Rock, Incredible Kimmy Schmidt, Legally Blonde and The Book of Mormon! New York magazine said “Hilarious! A smart, splashy new musical that delivers with immense energy, a wicked sense of humor, and joyful inside-jokery!” Fetch!! Special note: $25 Student Rush tickets are available for every performance of Mean Girls. Tickets are available in person 2 hours before each show at the Marcus Center’s box office!

Antonio’s Song/I Was Dreaming of a Son, January 27-March 6, Stiemke Studio, 108 E Wells St (milwaukeerep.com)

This premiere production in the Milwaukee Rep’s intimate Stiemke Studio is a one-actor tour de force directed by Rep Artistic Director Mark Clements. Featuring Antonio Edwards Suarez, it’s a personal solo/movement drama by Suarez and Pulitzer Prize finalist Dael Orlandersmith that explores the sins of our parents as well as the gifts they bestow upon us in a poetic journey that will question/challenge the legacy of stereotypes. As with many previous Stiemke shows, performances will be followed by an Act II conversation session that features dialogue conducted by prominent community figures focusing on topics explored in the show.

MALA, January 28-February 13, Studio Theatre, 158 N Broadway (milwaukeechambertheatre.org)

Here’s another one-actor show that’s opening this week as the latest offering from Milwaukee Chamber Theatre in the Broadway Theater Center’s intimate Studio Theater. If you’re a frequent Milwaukee theater-goer, the name Rana Roman is sure to be a familiar one. Her excellent work has graced many local productions, most notably her performances as Mrs Cratchit in the Rep’s annual production of A Christmas Carol. Now audiences will see another side of this multi-dimensional performer as the sole character in Melinda Lopez’s play directed by MCT Artistic Director Brent Hazelton. Roman portrays the adult daughter striving to live up to the unpredictable demands of being caregiver to her aging mother while navigating this new stage of their lives and relationship. Maddening and moving, hard and hopeful, trying and triumphant-it’s only in letting go of trying to be the perfect child that Mala becomes a good one. In the words of MCT Marketing Director Nicole Acosta, “MALA invites us to be vulnerable, to forgive ourselves and others, express compassion, and lets us know there is no one who will teach us how to navigate life-we just have to move through it the best we can.” And Rana Roman’s performance is the perfect complement to this darkly funny and unsentimentally poetic tour de force! Please note there will be a special Pay What You Can performance on Monday, January 31!

John McGivern’s Main Streets Premiere, January 30, FOX6 and other stations (mainstreets.tv)

This Sunday marks the premiere of Milwaukee actor John McGivern’s successor to his award-winning show Around the Corner with John McGivern. The new show broadens the horizons for Johnny Mac and the Around the Corner crew, as they travel around the Midwest, seeking out the cities and towns that give the region its special flavor (literally AND figuratively!). As such, the show itself will be seen on 16 stations, including flagship FOX6 in Milwaukee at 10 am Sundays, plus stations in Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio and Indiana. Check local listings for time and station in your area or the website listed above. Which leaves only one question: Will Milwaukee historian/cyclist John Gurda be trolling-er, following the crew to their many destinations?

What’s Going On

For the week of January 18-24…

Happy New Year! Now that the busy holiday season is over, the Milwaukee performing arts community has unleashed a bevy of productions to welcome 2022…Let’s Go!

Piano Men, now-February 27, Stackner Cabaret, 108 E Wells St (milwaukeerep.com)

Following the Rep’s hit production of Dad’s Season Tickets in the Stackner Cabaret, Rep Artistic Director Mark Clements has concocted a brand-new production that pays tribute to those musicians that toil in airport piano lounges, karaoke bars, and the like. The concept is clever: Take a couple piano players/vocalists and turn them loose for 90 minutes to regale audiences with a wide range of songs selected with audience participation in mind. The twist is that every performance’s setlist is truly unique in that audience members are invited to submit their requests upon arriving for the show. But when you have “piano men” as talented as Nygel Robinson and Steve Watts, the end result is a high-wire act that engages performers and audience alike! The night I attended the setlist included “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Bennie & the Jets,” “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl),” “Yesterday,” “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “Crocodile Rock,” “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” and “Bohemian Rhapsody!” Even though Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” was inevitable, the duo served up a medley of Joel requests including “It’s Still Rock & Roll to Me,” “The Longest Time,” “The River of Dreams” and “My Life” (I did request one of those tunes!). It’s a great way to melt away those mid-winter blues!

Toni Stone, now-January 30, Quadracci Powerhouse Theater (milwaukeerep.com)

Opening the new year in the Rep’s primary venue is a co-production with Atlanta’s Alliance Theater that’s a tribute to the first woman to play professional baseball. It’s the true story of Toni Stone who, after she hit a home run off legendary pitcher Satchel Paige in an exhibition game, joined the Negro League’s Indianapolis Clowns in 1953 when Hank Aaron signed a minor-league contract with the Boston (soon to be Milwaukee) Braves. It’s a fascinating story performed by a crackerjack cast led by Kedren Spencer as Toni. But be forewarned, A League of Their Own it ain’t. While she had the talent and attracted crowds to justify the Clowns signing her, being the only woman trying to coexist on an all men’s team certainly presented challenges, all of which are vividly presented here. On the other hand, the team’s nickname more than suggests they were a baseball version of the legendary Harlem Globetrotters and their eternally entertaining shtick. (By the way, several women are included in the Globetrotters’ current roster) Keep in mind that this show is recommended for audiences 12 and up and be aware the show’s run must end on January 30, as the entire production will be departing for Atlanta for their run at the Alliance!

Ernest Shackleton Loves Me, January 21-February 7, Cabot Theater, 158 N Broadway (skylightmusictheatre.org)

The Skylight follows up their holiday production of Little Shop of Horrors with the Midwestern premiere of a musical that’s truly unique. But that’s to be expected when you know the show’s director is Milwaukee Opera Theater Artistic Director Jill Anna Ponasik, who previously helmed Rep productions of Oklahoma! and Carmina Burana. This 2017 off-Broadway hit criscrosses time and continents to tell the improbable but enchanting love story of a frustrated modern day single-mom composer/violinist and the early 20th century Antarctic explorer (and banjo player) Ernest Shackleton. With astounding ingenuity, modern pop songs and great video effects and a cast featuring Milwaukee favorite Matt Daniels and multi-talented Janice Martin, this show must be seen to be believed! In the words of the Huffington Post, it’s “A welcome rarity-whimsical and so original that spectators sit through it with jaws dropped!” And rest assured you won’t see it on National Geographic Channel!

The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963, January 21-February 13, Marcus Center, 929 N Water St (firststage.org)

With Black History Month just around the corner, Milwaukee’s premier family theater presents a musical inspired by a milestone in American history. The time is 1963, and the Watson family of Flint, Michigan, embarks on a cross-country trek to visit grandma in Birmingham, Alabama and find themselves in the center of several pivotal events of the American Civil Rights movement. Veteran Milwaukee actors Cynthia Cobb, Krystal Drake and Sherrick Robinson lead the cast which also includes several talented First Stage Young Performers. It’s ideal for the entire family, both entertaining and definitely educational!

Steely Dane and the Milwaukee All-Stars, January 21, Pabst Theater, 144 E Wells St (pabsttheatre.org)

Madison’s great Steely Dan tribute band are certainly no strangers to Milwaukee, making annual visits to Summerfest and New Year’s shows in January at the historic Pabst Theater, and 2022 is no exception. But this year’s Pabst show has a twist. In addition to their great lineup of musicians and vocalists, the band will be performing with a one-time only lineup of guest Milwaukee-based singers, including Willy Porter, Donna Woodall, Carmen Nickerson, Bobby Rouse, John Calarco, Tony Goff, Joe Richter, Stan Lukasz and Rich Hoffman! This show is sure to help get you fired up for Saturday’s Packers playoff game!