"Sizzlin' 60s" at the Fireside comes as a groovy surprise
Having driven by it a thousand times and having heard about it occasionally, I was totally unprepared for the reality of the Fireside Dinner Theatre in Fort Atkinson, about halfway between Milwaukee and Madison.
I'll confess that I was expecting a noon dinner of hastily and bulk prepared food followed by a show that would remind me of a cruise ship, "American Idol" auditions or "Disney on Parade."
If they gave out points for being wrong, I would be leading the pack on this one.
I'll get to the dinner later, but since I review theater, that's where I'm going to start.
Fireside has a 650-seat theater that manages to combine intimacy and comfortable seats surrounding a small stage.
The show on tap now, and until February, is something called "Sizzlin' 60s," a revue tribute to the music of the '60s, which just happens to be the music I grew up with. Now, I like plays and musicals better than I like revues, but I may well be changing my mind.
An eight-piece band occupied the pit in the center of the staqe and was on an inventive platform that raised and lowered and even turned around. The singers, dancers and, at least in one case, the actor played around the band, right to the edges of the square stage.
Once the crowd got settled, so smoothly it seemed like a magic trick, the band struck up the song and the eight talented young performers started in on a medley of songs. Here's the lineup, although I may have missed one or two: "Pretty Woman," "Windy," "Sherry," "Hang on Sloopy," "Game of Love," "Sealed with a Kiss," "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," "Whiter Shade of Pale," "I Feel Good," "Take Another Little Piece of My Heart," "Wooly Bully," "Do Wah Diddy," "MacArthur Park," "Satisfaction" and "Wild Thing."
If you are humming along or tapping your foot while reading this, I understand. The crowd was in the mood. For a little over two hours, with Dan Embree acting as our host and guide, we got song after song. Some were slightly better than others. It wasn't a total history of the 60's. (There was no Otis Redding, Sam Cooke or Gladys Knight and the Pips).
But this show was about who was represented. From Jim Morrison and the Doors, who were paid tribute by Steve Watts, the bandleader and a singer of incredible skill and force, to Simon and Garfunkel, with all the singers taking part.
These people are accomplished artists. This an Equity cast and they've earned their stripes. The Fireside regularly auditions in New York to get a cast for its shows.
I may be biased here – okay, I am biased – but Milwaukee's own Beth Mulkerron certainly displayed a wide range of chops as she more than held her own with the New York talent.
First of all, she had more sex appeal than the rest of the cast combined. Shows at the Fireside are good for the whole family, but Mulkerron has this thing about her that managed to capture the sexual innuendo of rock and roll without stepping out of bounds.
In the big closing number she wears a short tunic, green tights and bright yellow heels. All of us boys who were hormonally uncontrolled teenagers back in the '60s got shivers watching her work the stage.
Mulkerron is an actor of considerable skill and she brought a rare sense of theatricality to the musical marathon. She danced like she could easily have performed in a gilded cage in some fancy nightclub in the '60s, taking tips from young businessmen.
Milwaukee audiences know her as a serious actress and as a jaunty, slightly whimsical musical character. If anyone is looking for a sexpot who can sing and dance, they should give her a call. It was quite a surprise.
I know I'm taking this in reverse, but I want to mention the entire Fireside experience.
We were seated smoothly in a dining area that can serve up to 1,000. There were only 600 or so present Saturday. We had some choices. I had a stuffed pork chop, asparagus, the best cinnamon applesauce I've ever had and a great server named Sarah who was helpful, knowledgeable and non-intrusive.
It wasn't fine dining. But it was pretty darn good dining.
The musical revue the Fireside is staging is a rarity. Normally they do Broadway musicals. Next on tap is "Footloose." which opens at the end of February. Until then, though, if you haven't been, call and make arrangements to visit the Fireside. It's a reasonably priced experience that came as a surprise to me. But I won't be surprised again, when I go next time. This theater has long been ignored by Milwaukee area drama critics.
No more. Not if I have anything to say about it.
For more information on The Fireside and "Sizzlin' 60s," visit their website.
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