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The Mollusk Cast brings Big Nate to joyous life at First Stage
The Mollusk Cast brings Big Nate to joyous life at First Stage (Photo: Paul Ruffolo)

First Stage has a solid grasp of sixth-graders with "Big Nate: The Musical"

Think back, if you will, to that special time in life, the time when you, or a child of yours, was in the middle of the turbulence of being a sixth-grader, filled with both the hopes and the fears of that period of life.

Those moments are the key to "Big Nate: The Musical," which opened a month long run Friday night at First Stage.

The hero of a comic strip and a series of books, Nate has now become the hero of his very own musical, and what a hero he is. Nate is honorable, he has his principles, he won’t compromise, he’s a little shy and he always tries to tell the truth.

Goals are relatively fluid things when you’re in sixth grade, but Nate has two of them firmly in sight.

One is that he wants his band, "Enslave the Mollusk," to win the school battle of the bands. The other goal is Jenny, the girl of his life.

Like every good story, this one has plenty of obstacles in front of our hero.

The band doesn’t have enough time to rehearse, and the growing pile of detentions threaten the ability of the band to even compete. If Nate has 25 detentions, the band is out, and he is at 24. Not much room for error.

As if the detentions aren’t enough, there is Artur, a classmate from Belarus who has his eyes set on Jenny and who has the kind of foreign born appeal that has melted American hearts throughout the world of literature.

Nate is a brave hero, however, and he steers his three-piece band through rehearsals, manages to keep detention 25 at bay and managed to keep his hidden pursuit of Jenny on fire.

In typically realistic fashion, the First Stage production doesn’t end with happily ever after. Oh the band does great, but Jenny ends up with Artur, which Nate has to keep his mouth shut as he watches the boy and girl start to go steady.

The Mollusk cast opened the show, and Darius Gaskin took full charge of the role of Nate. He is a warm and expressive singer and led this pack of young actors both musically and theatrically.

The actors were blessed …

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Michelle White (left) and Donna Lobacz play wives in "God of Carnage" at Off the Wall Theatre.
Michelle White (left) and Donna Lobacz play wives in "God of Carnage" at Off the Wall Theatre. (Photo: Donna Welter)

Off the Wall's "God of Carnage" plagued by faulty memories and overacting

The ultimate voyeur play may well be "God of Carnage," the comedy written by Yasmina Reza about two couples who descend from civility to the horrors of barbarity right before our eyes.

The play opened at Off the Wall Theatre Thursday night under the direction of Jeremy C. Welter. It's a play that has great good humor that – both subtle and over the top, almost at the same time. It’s a play with four equally strong characters. Unfortunately in this production, there is a vast cavern between these characters.

The men, Welter and Max Williamson, bring savvy and comedic timing to their roles, but they are like two rowboats trying to head upstream without any oars. Because the two women in this production, Michelle White and Donna Lobacz, are beset by two of the worst enemies any actor can have: a faulty memory and a profound desire to overact.

White and Williamson are visited in their apartment by Lobacz and Weller to discuss a fight their young sons had at school. What starts as a civilized discussion soon becomes a descent into shifting alliances, one couple against the other, the men against the women, brief alliances between the two opposite spouses.

There is an element of slapstick to the whole thing, but like every comedy, timing is a critical element to both get the jokes and to move the story along.

The obvious flustering with lines by the women managed to put the brakes on any kind of rhythmic movement of the play. Far too many times, there were gargantuan pauses as one or the other woman struggled to remember what the line was. And far too many times, they stumbled over lines once they got started.

Perhaps the uncertainty over their lines also led to the sudden examples of over the top acting. It was almost as if the women had decided that the more they exaggerated their characters, the less we might recognize the weaknesses.

Actors have several obligations, but chief among them is to at least know their lines. Before you can make a playwright’s…

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Jason and Peter share their love for each other despite the fears that circle their relationship.
Jason and Peter share their love for each other despite the fears that circle their relationship. (Photo: Sue Northey)

"Bare: A Pop Opera" doesn't have the kind of urgency we'd expect

Think back to the days of high school, when hormones raged and everything was oh so serious, from pimples to study hall to learning how to kiss like an adult.

It was a time, for so many of us, full of the angst that is peculiar to teenagers, a time of uncertainty and wonder.

That’s the setting for "Bare: A Pop Opera," which opened over the weekend at Soulstice Theatre under the direction of Matthew Northey.

There is tremendous potential in the story of two gay boys in a Catholic boarding school. Jason (Shane Skinner) is inside the closet, holding onto the doorknob to keep it shut. His boyfriend, Peter (Doug Clemons) is outside, pulling on the same doorknob, trying to crack the door open.

The boys are surrounded by the expected clan: the easy girl, the girl who thinks she’s too fat, the kindly priest, the nun with the biting sense of humor, the ditzy blonde and assorted other kids who are both having fun and suffering through life.

The kids in this cast have all the earnestness that you would expect from young people let loose on a stage with a very difficult and complex score to sing. They all worked hard to make us believe in the story they were telling.

The problem may be that they, like any high school kid, took themselves too seriously.

There is hardly any dialogue in this play. There are, however, 36 songs. And they are incredibly uneven. Some have some bite and emotion. A lot of them are cliches and border on absolutely trite.

Watching this reminded me of nothing so much as an overwrought episode of "Glee" where everyone danced and sang around whatever the crushing issue of the day was.

Perhaps the biggest difficulty with this production was an inability to hear all the singers. Soulstice is a small space, but frequently lyrics were lost before they got to where I was sitting. In a play with nothing to move the story forward except lyrics, this was a crushing problem.

In addition there was such a predictability about the play that nothing this co…

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The play of Khris Middleton is one of the reasons for the buzz about the Milwaukee Bucks.
The play of Khris Middleton is one of the reasons for the buzz about the Milwaukee Bucks. (Photo: David Bernacchi)

Numbers provide proof of Bucks' turnaround

Statistics don't always tell the entire story in sports, but they can be indicators of what's going on with a particular team.

Take a look at a few numbers that offer lots of proof that there is a buzz, not just in Milwaukee but around the league, about this edition of the Bucks.

Last year the Bucks ranked 27th, next to last, in attendance on the road. Nobody in any city wanted to come out and see this team. So far this season the Bucks have the ninth-best road attendance. Basketball fans in 27 other cities want to see this team.

The Bucks have also increased their average attendance at home by about 1,500 per game. There is room to go, but it's not a bad jump.

And finally, last year the Bucks' winning percentage was .183. This year their winning percentage is .549.

They'll try to increase that tonight against the Brooklyn Nets at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

I'm just sayin'.