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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Nov. 21, 2014

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Hello! "The Book of Mormon" is coming to the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts next season.
Hello! "The Book of Mormon" is coming to the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts next season. (Photo: Joan Marcus)

"Lion King," "Book of Mormon" highlight upcoming Marcus season

The highest grossing musical in history and a Tony award winning, laugh-a-minute riot highlight the 2014-15 season of Broadway shows announced by the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday. 

The season opens with "The Lion King," the spectacular musical with an amazing score by Elton John and Tim Rice. The show will be performed at the Milwaukee Theatre, but will be staged by the Marcus Center. 

After "The Lion King," we return to the Marcus Center with "Anything Goes,"  the Cole Porter favorite that won a Tony in 2011 for Best Musical Revival.

"Mamma Mia," the long-running tribute to ABBA, will make a brief three-day stop in February. Odds are good that the show will sell out, as it does pretty well everywhere it plays.

"Beauty and the Beast" – based on the classic Oscar-winning Disney film – follows, bringing all the spectacular music and action that thrilled Broadway audiences. The title song is one of the most popular title songs of all time.

After "Beauty" comes what is sure to be the highlight of the season, "The Book of Mormon," which The New York Times drama critic Ben Brantley called "the best musical of this century." The play won nine Tony awards and is about as funny – and irreverent – a show as you will ever see.

The Marcus Center will wrap up its season with "Motown The Musical," a tribute show to Berry Gordy, who founded Motown, and to the music that transformed American culture.

Ticket information is available at marcuscenter.org.

A costume from the Rep's production of "Liberace!" in the 2010-11 season.
A costume from the Rep's production of "Liberace!" in the 2010-11 season.

The Milwaukee Rep announces its 2014-15 season

The Milwaukee Repertory Theater continues its reputation for diversity in productions next season with the announcement of a strong Stackner Cabaret season and a variety of other selections for both the Quadracci and Stiemke.

Artistic director Mark Clements has developed a home run reputation for the bookings in the Stackner, which has been home to wonderful musical productions, and next year seems like no exception.

The Rep will open with "The Doyle & Debbie Show," the story of an aging country singer and his new singing partner as they try to build a career. The original musical has gotten rave reviews around the country.

The production will be followed by a remount of "Liberace!", the wonderful production written by Brent Hazelton, the associate artistic director of the Rep. Jack Forbes Wilson will reprise his delightful performance.

Then comes "The Beautiful Music All Around Us," a detailed glimpse into the world of musician Stephen Wade, who is acknowledged as the premier authority on American folk music of the '30s and '40s. The audience will be treated to live music, spoken word and vintage recordings.

The final show at the Stackner will be another one of those rollicking music numbers which brings down the house. "Low Down Dirty Blues" is an after-hours gathering of musicians who swap stories, spit on the floor and play hit music from the likes of Muddy Waters, Pearl Bailey and Ma Rainey. This is one where you might try to hold onto your hat.

The Quadracci Powerhouse is also dotted with some new plays and some absolute classics.

The venerable Pulitzer Prize winner "Harvey," the classic about Elwood P. Dowd and his six-foot rabbit friend, is a delight and a perfect entry into the holiday season menu.

The Quadracci season opens with the powerful musical "The Color Purple," which is going to be directed by Clements himself. The production promises to be full of spectacular music, including blues, gospel and great jazz.

Rounding out the Quadracci season…

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Matt Daniels stars in In Tandem's production of "Chesapeake."
Matt Daniels stars in In Tandem's production of "Chesapeake." (Photo: Ross Zentner Photography)

As man, woman or dog, Daniels impresses in "Chesapeake"

The historical debate about the value and importance of art has simmered and raged for centuries.

There have always been two sides: those who believe in art and those who couldn’t give a damn. The argument gets a tantalizing and probing treatment at In Tandem’s 10th Street theater, through March 16.

The play is "Chesapeake" by Lee Blessing, drawing its title from a Chesapeake retriever that plays an integral role in the story. But the production truly belongs to Matt Daniels, the actor who brings alive a string of disparate characters, all of whom have a role in this discussion of the value of art.

In a turn that has the kind of impact of an earthquake, he plays a performance artist, a southern congressman who drips righteousness, his aide who drips sex appeal, his wife who drips bitter control and, oh yes, a dog named Lucky who drips from his tongue.

Daniels takes command of the inventive set designed by Joe Brehl from the first moment he arrives. He grasps it with his two graceful and powerful hands, and never lets go until two hours have past and he has wrung every bit of intellectual curiosity and emotional connection out of us.

It’s hard to find words to describe Daniels, who had to deal with 49 pages of dialogue for this play. But it’s not his memory on display here. What we see is a glorious example of a man in total control and at exquisite peace with his craft. Daniels has a story to tell, and he tells it with humor, passion and a grace that drives deep into the soul of anyone watching.

At first, the story seems to be a discussion about whether there should be government funding of the arts. The senator, Therm Pooley, wants to strip funding for the National Endowment for the Arts.

Kerr (his only name) is the performance artist who reads the Song of Solomon while each member of his audience strips one item of clothing until he stands unabashedly naked on a stage.

To the political gain of Pooley, Kerr gets a grant from the NEA and Pooley rid…

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Gerard Neugent and a cast of kids star in First Stage's production of "Anatole."
Gerard Neugent and a cast of kids star in First Stage's production of "Anatole." (Photo: Paul Ruffolo)

First Stage's "Anatole" gives the audience plenty to believe in

The lights were down, except for a pair of slightly blurred spotlights against a wall where a mouse was hiding. You could hear a sound behind those spotlights, the threatening purr of a cat on the prowl. And just before the cat made its threatening entrance, while the entire audience held its collective breath, a tiny voice from the rafters was as clear as a bell.

"I’m scared."

It was a little girl in the audience, providing proof that belief ran strong at the Todd Wehr Theater during the opening weekend of "Anatole," an original musical staged by First Stage through March 16.

That little girl who was scared was in full belief that what she was seeing in front of her eyes was really a very funny mouse who had a wife, a bunch of kids, a good friend, a cat, big lumps of cheese and all sorts of magic created by John Maclay and Lee Becker, who combined to adapt the famous French story into a play with charm, warmth and a message.

The story is about Anatole, a wonderful French mouse and his best friend, Gaston. The two travel on nocturnal hunts for food to bring home to their families. Anatole has a wonderful and caring wife, Doucette, and six children.

The pair discovers that the humans they have been visiting are beginning to take notice of mice and are taking steps to rid themselves of the pests. So Anatole and Gaston decide to raid the Duval Cheese Factory, which is brimming with abundant cheese but also on its way out of business because nobody besides the mice want this cheese.

With signs stuck into blocks of cheese, Anatole begins to provide guidance for what needs to be done to make the Duval brand as popular as it could. M. Duval follows this advice, even though he has no idea who this "Anatole" might be. And voila! The cheese returns to its rightful place, and everyone is happy.

That is until M. Duval’s cat shows up, threatening the entire arrangement and making little girls in the audience squeal, "I’m scared."

The play is one of the most delig…

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