In Arts & Entertainment Commentary

Stephen Kohler and Susie Wedemeyer will star in "Carnival" at In Tandem Theatre. (PHOTO: intandemtheatre.org)

In Tandem prepares big tent, revival of classic French musical "Carnival"

There is nothing quite like the world of the carnies, who travel the country, state fair after state fair, luring the spectators with claims of wonder and magic.

And that world is coming to Milwaukee, believe it or not, in the tiny space at In Tandem Theatre, the company that has built that big red church on Wisconsin Avenue into the home of one of the most inventive companies in town.

In Tandem is going to re-create 1920s France as it launches its most ambitious production ever, the wonderful and romantic musical, "Carnival." The entire Tenth Street Theatre is going to be transformed into a big tent, with carnival games, tarot card readings and a chance to learn some French from the Alliance Francaise de Milwaukee.

The musical, which made its debut on Broadway in 1961, is a romantic tale based on a delightful movie, "Lili," starring the dazzling Leslie Caron. It's the story of a naive young woman who comes to the carnival, where she takes a job working with Paul, the puppeteer and a former dancer who was injured in the war. She then meets Marco, a charming magician who decides to make her his latest conquest.

While Paul falls in love with Lili, his bitterness and anger only serve to push her further into Marco's arms.

It's a story that is typically French with a Gallic sensibility that tugs at the heartstrings. "Carnival" is not frequently performed but has a book by Michael Stewart and lyrics and music by Bob Merrill. It features two well-known songs, "Love Makes the World Go Round" and "Yum Ticky Ticky Tum Tum."

In Tandem's Jane Flieller will direct a cast of 15, including the talented Susie Wedemeyer as Lili, Chicago's Keegan Siebken as Paul and Steven Koehler, one of the most spectacular musical theater talents in the city, as the romantic Marco. It's the largest cast ever to appear at In Tandem.

This one is clearly in my "can't wait to see it" category. It opens April 21 and runs through the middle of May.

Still got it wrong

For the unaware – and that probably includes all but about a couple of hundred people in the Milwaukee area – Footlights Magazine is sponsoring theater awards during a June ceremony at The Milwaukee Rep, to be hosted by John McGivern.

Footlights is the company that prints programs for a wide variety of theater organizations in the city.

The company decided it would be neat to have awards, like the Jeff Awards in Chicago, the Oscars, the Tonys, the Ovations in Los Angeles. So it hooked up with the United Performing Arts Fund to create awards in 16 categories, ranging from Best Technical Design (sound & lights) to Best Supporting Performance (female in a musical).

While the magazine may well be a strong supporter of theatrical arts in Milwaukee, it appears woefully unaware of the intricacies of putting on a show. For example, that Best Technical Design (lighting and sound) could conceivably pit two of the most talented and prolific artists in the country, lighting designer Jason Fassl and sound designer, Josh Schmidt, against each other. Lights and sound are as different as a 98 mph fastball and a stolen base. They occur in the same place but require vastly different skills.

But the cross-categorization curiosity is just one of the problems, and perhaps not even the biggest one.

I've had several conversations with colleagues about this – colleagues who see dozens and dozens and dozens of shows every year. And it's been pointed out that the voting for these awards is going to be done by people who go to the theater and may have only seen one or three or even six plays a year. Awards with this kind of selection process are highly subjective and relatively meaningless.

I'm on record as saying I don't really like awards in the theater, but if you are going to give them out, the selection process has to have some kind of meaning. Have the awards be peer selected. Or, like the Jeff Awards in Chicago, utilize a committee of dozens of experts who each see up to 150 plays a year.

I believe it would be helpful if the awards this year were a one-off and everybody just continued to work to build audiences for the outstanding theater available on a year-round basis in this city.

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