The Milwaukee theater season got off to a rollicking and successful start last week with the traditional opening at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre and its production of "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike."
The opening augurs well for what we can expect this season, and browsing through the schedule, I found 24 productions that I’m especially looking forward to this season. I’m sure when it’s all over I’ll be surprised at some shows I should have included, but until then, here’s what you should be excited for over the next theater year.
"Wild Party," All In Productions, Sept. 2
Andrew Lippa’s musical won a slew of off-Broadway awards and is the sexy story of Queenie and Burrs, both vaudeville entertainers and both with healthy appetites for sex. All In has a history of trying to do plays that are outside the norm and kind of live on the edge. This one promises to be a swing for the fences with abundant on-stage sexual play and songs that range from pop sounds to swinging jazz. Robby McGhee directs and Alison Bekoley handles the music direction.
"A Lovely Sunday at Creve Coeur," Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Sept. 23
A rarely produced gem from Tennessee Williams, "A Lovely Sunday at Creve Coeur" features four wonderful women in the cast: Kay Allmand, Molly Rhode, Kelly Doherty and Karen Estrada. It’s a period piece set in the 1930s, a story of women searching for love, friendship and a sense of independence. It’s both funny and full of tender moments that sometimes demand a handkerchief. The marvelous Leda Hoffmann directs.
"The Royale," Milwaukee Rep, Sept. 30
Marco Ramirez’s look back at the boxing career of Jack Johnson, the black heavyweight who has been the subject of movies, plays and even music by Miles Davis. Johnson’s story was one of intense segregation and his battle to overcome it. There is no fighting in the show, at least not in the ring. There is a fight of morality and justice, however, that has been described as packing a punch without throwing a fist. Kevin Ramsey directs, and the wizard Josh Schmidt handles sound design.
"The Taming," Next Act Theatre, Sept. 30
David Cecsarini had a season of immeasurable interest last year, and he’s got a hot one to kick off this year. "The Taming" is about a Miss Georgia, an aide to a conservative senator and a liberal bleeding-heart blogger. Featuring Marti Gobel, Bree Beelow and the always magnificent Sara Zientek, this farce about political gridlock proves that politics is, indeed, a farce. Cecsarini directs.
"Violet," Skylight Music Theatre, Sept. 30
The winner of a Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical, "Violet" is the story of a young disfigured girl riding a bus from North Carolina to Oklahoma to be healed.
"Life in the Theatre," Alchemist Theatre, Oct. 14
Normally I don’t like songs about songwriters or plays about actors. But this David Mamet play is so much more: the story of two actors, one old and one young, and how their relationship changes and develops over the course of their careers. Jim Pickering and David Sapiro, two men at the top of their game, star, and Jill Anna Ponasik steps out of the world of opera to direct.
"Sister Carrie," Florentine Opera, Oct. 16
The Florentine has won Grammy awards when it has recorded its world premieres, and the odds are good for it to happen again with "Sister Carrie," an opera by Robert Aldridge and Herschel Garfein – the team behind "Elmer Gantry." The opera is based on the classic novel by Theodore Dreiser. William Florescue directs.
"Scheherezade," Milwaukee Ballet, Oct. 20
Originally commissioned in 2003, the Milwaukee Ballet brings this lush and romantic piece back to the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts stage. With the wonderful Rimsky-Korsakov score, the show is a feast for the eyes, ears and heart.
"Venus In Fur," Off the Wall Theatre, Nov. 3
The Rep staged this three years ago with Reese Madigan and Greta Wohlrabe in the Stiemke Studio, and it was an absolute rave. It will be interesting to see how Off the Wall handles this searing sexual drama, a story of lust and power. Jeremy C. Welter directs.
"Welcome to Bronzeville," First Stage, Jan. 13
Sheri Williams Pennell's play about Milwaukee’s black community in the era just before the turbulence of the 1960s tells the story of a young boy and his search for guidance to the pathway to manhood. It was a time of jazz, doo-wop and family strengths.
"Disgraced," Milwaukee Rep, Jan. 20
Milwaukee native Ayad Akhtar won a Pulitzer Prize for this play about a Pakistani-American lawyer, his wife and a black guest at a dinner party. Akhtar writes plays about today’s world and has a penetrating eye for both the humor and difficulties of many situations. This is a co-production with the Guthrie and MacCarter theaters. The dynamic and accomplished Marcela Lorca directs.
"Luna Gale," Renaissance Theaterworks, Jan. 21
A powerful play about a social worker and the difficult choices she has to make over custody of a child. A "not everything is as it seems" drama with an absolutely killer cast, featuring Tami Workentin, April Paul, Marques Causey, Laura Gray, Solana Ramirez-Garcia, David Sapiro and Matt Daniels. Mary MacDonald-Kerr directs.
"McGuire," Milwaukee Rep, Jan. 22
Quite a curiosity for Milwaukee theater and sports fans. This portrait of Al McGuire was written by his longtime broadcast partner Dick Enberg, but Cotter Smith and his wife Heidi also played huge roles in its development. Cotter played the part all over the country and Heidi directed. He is unfortunately unavailable because of an Netflix series, but Anthony Crivello, a Chicago actor of great skill, will take on the role. The Rep’s Associate Artistic Director Brent Hazelton directs.
"The Other Place," Next Act, Feb. 3
Last season, Tracy Michelle Arnold was the star at Forward Theater in Madison in this tour de force. It was a memorable performance, and it will be equally exciting to see Deborah Staples do the part this season. It’s a play about imagination, reality and the difficulty in telling them apart. David Cecsarini directs his wife in this one.
"Grounded," Milwaukee Rep, Feb. 24
There is one horrible word that every pilot fears: grounded. This Rep production tells the story of a female jet fighter pilot flying missions in the Middle East. When she finds out she’s pregnant, she is grounded, causing all kinds of personal turmoil. It’s a one-woman play that talks to our world today. Laura Braza directs.
"Time Stands Still," In Tandem Theater, Feb. 24
One of my favorite contemporary playwrights is Donald Marguiles, and this play has all the promise of his other works. It’s the story of Sarah, a photojournalist injured in a war. She is itching to return to action, but her partner, a war correspondent, is thinking about a more conventional way of life for the two.
"The Glass Menagerie," Milwaukee Rep, March 10
In Tandem staged this two years ago with Angela Iannone and Grace DeWolff in the two wonderful female roles written by Tennessee Williams. The Rep will feature Chicago’s Hollis Resnik and Kelsey Brennan, a member of the acting company at APT. Comparison between the two productions are inevitable, but the Rep will certainly be up to the challenges of this spectacular play – one that some people think this is the greatest American play ever written. Artistic Director Mark Clements directs.
"TXT U L8R," First Stage, March 11
One of the things that we all love is the control we have over our smartphones. But what if the phones banded together to form alliances that were outside the control of their humans? The young company at First Stage is a lot of fun to see, and this one promises to be an exciting journey into a weird future.
"The Mikado," Milwaukee Opera Theatre, March 16
MOT is remounting its hit from 2015, the classic Gilbert and Sullivan operetta full of great music and good humor. There is a reason that "The Mikado" is one of the most produced by companies around the world, and this is a chance to see it again by a company that seems to deliver every time it steps on stage.
"Mockingbird," First Stage, March 24
No other company in town could stage something like this play, the story of a girl on the autism spectrum and the black and white world in which she lives. Heart and humor are at the crux of this story of perseverance and how one girl can change an entire community.
"Great Expectations," Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, April 14
A great story, of course, about an orphan boy named Pip, featuring an all-star cast including Jonathan Gillard Daly, Chike Johnson, Deborah Staples and Karen Estrada. Artistic Director C. Michael Wright has also gotten the multi-talented Molly Rhode to direct.
"The Fantasticks," Off the Wall Theatre, April 22
I’ve seen this more than 100 times, and I’m still not sick of it. The Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones musical ran off-Broadway for 42 years. How ‘bout that? Serious theater it isn’t, but it is warm and fuzzy and funny and full of some great songs. Director Dale Gutzman is famous for making a production his own, but this one is pretty good just as it is. Hope he doesn’t stray too far from what has been a huge hit seemingly forever.
"Sweeney Todd," Skylight, May 19
Stephen Sondheim’s magical trip down the lane of horror-filled revenge is an absolute classic, full of great music and a thriller of a story. It is the kind of show that is right in the Skylight wheelhouse, and tickets are going to be hard to get for this one.
"Beautiful," Marcus Center, June 20
If you are of a certain age – or if you love good music – this tribute to Carole King is for you. That means me, too. Jukebox musicals can either be great or sad, but this one has a basket full of awards and enough great songs to make this one to look forward to.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
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