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Coming soon: "The Clockmaker"

One of the best casts you could find in Milwaukee will take the stage this Friday as Next Act Theatre opens its production of "The Clockmaker," a quirky and offbeat play written by Canadian Stephen Massicotte.

The cast features Milwaukee veteran Drew Brhel as Herr Mann, Richard Halverson making a long-awaited return to Next Act as Monsieur Pierre, Dan Katula who will make his Next Act debut as Adolphus and the always spectacular Molly Rhode as Frieda.

Up in cosmic heaven, clockmaker Heinrich Mann and his friend Frieda are interrogated by a skeptical, mysterious Monsieur Pierre. Meanwhile, back on earth, we catch up on the events that have brought them together. Time stands still in this gentle, surprising tale of love, heroism and eternity.

"Massicotte's offering is clever, entertaining and ultimately, a satisfying depiction of the unknowable," says David Cecsarini, Next Act's Producing Artistic Director.

Mary MacDonald Kerr directs the production, which runs from Feb. 1 to 24. Ticket information is available at

A group of Canadian businessmen sing "Sweet Caroline" at the Newsroom Pub.
A group of Canadian businessmen sing "Sweet Caroline" at the Newsroom Pub.

No more karaoke for theater's favorite hangout?

This is not your average karaoke, a night filled to the brim with slightly overserved men and women living out fantasies of being crooners, rock stars, country warblers and hardcore rappers.

Many of these singers have had professional voice training. Most of them have been on stage many times and they know how to act the part. Generally they choose songs they know are in their sweet zone. And when not singing, they love to get up and dance.

And it may all come to an end soon unless something dramatic (pun intended) happens.

We could very well be without the stirring experience of seeing one of Milwaukee's very best actors, Matt Daniels, complete with fedora and bandana scarf, posing and moving as he sings "Psycho Killer" by the Talking Heads, complete with French lyrics.

The wonderful Wednesday night of karaoke may end soon for Robbie Ellicson, who runs Spinn Doctors and has been making momentary stars since 2001 at the Newsroom Pub on Wells St. just across from the Pabst Theatre and the Milwaukee Rep.

"I used to have a comedy night here and then went to karaoke in August of 2001," Ellicson said before what may have been his final engagement at the pub. "I think I missed a night for my honeymoon, but not many times other than that. It's been great with all these theater people coming in."

Ellicson is a fourth generation entertainer. His dad is a drummer, his grandmother had a big band orchestra and his great grandfather rode the back of a truck selling medicine and all kinds of show acts. He's great at karaoke, letting the singers be the stars as he tries to keep some order to the affair. Way too many karaoke hosts use it as a forum for them to show off their vocal chops. Not Ellicson.

Rick Pendzich, who is one of the breed of young actors making their mark in Milwaukee, was in the group that started coming to the pub back in 2006.

"There was a bunch of us who came in," Pendzich said. "All of us were in the theater and almost a…


Coming soon: "To the Promised Land"

The decade and a half that began in the mid-1960s is arguably the block of time that has had the most influence on the City of Milwaukee.

It was a time of the impact of the expressway system which divided the city. It was a time of civil rights activism, Father James Groppi, the battle over school integration and the ascension of militant protest by both blacks and whites.

Jonathan Gillard Daly has written a play about that time and "To the Promised Land" opens at First Stage Children's Theatre Friday, Jan. 25 for a two-week run.

The play focuses on a young black girl who leans on the story of Golda Meir, the first female prime minister of Israel, who grew up in Milwaukee. The play is an intimate portrait of the relationship between Milwaukee's Jewish and black communities and will surely inspire discussion and thought.

The impact of the play is expected to be so profound that public television will tape the show and broadcast it at a later date, as well as making it available for schools and community groups.

"To The Promised Land" marks the second play in First Stage's Wisconsin Cycle, a new play development effort celebrating the history and people of Wisconsin through a series of plays, associated workshops, special events and educational initiatives.

Ticket information is available at

"Educating Rita" surprises with a predictable plot, excellent cast

"Educating Rita" is a well-known play with a predictable arc and two characters we have seen often in the worlds of theater, literature and film.

But watching "Educating Rita" as it opened at Renaissance Theaterworks Saturday night was like being in a recital hall watching Rudolph Nureyev and Dame Margot Fonteyn dance a foxtrot while Leonard Bernstein conducted the orchestra.

One brilliant director and two brilliant actors took a play and a story that everybody knows and carried it into a cloud of rapture that made me wonder if I was holding my breath for the entire two acts.

Under the gentle and patient guidance of director Jenny Wanasek, actors Jonathan Smoots and Christina Panfilio could have stood on stage and read the phone book and held us just as spellbound as they did opening night.

Make no mistake about it. This story is one we've seen a million times. Think of "Pygmalion," "My Fair Lady," "Pretty Woman," "Sabrina" or "Million Dollar Baby." They are all variations on the same theme as is "Educating Rita."

There is a girl who has no grace or sophistication or ability. She gets hooked up with a much smarter man, a professor or businessman or coach or millionaire. He has his demons, but undertakes to change the girl. She wants to change and thinks he is the key to helping her on her journey.

She fights and fidgets while he succumbs to whatever vice he has, be it snobbery or alcoholism and everything in between. One or the other starts to feel some romantic stirrings, while the other remains obliviously aloof and unaware.

Eventually she grows into the lily she wanted to be, grateful for the periodic watering provided by the man. And fully grown, he begins to feel useless, unwanted, saddened by her growth. She understands his sadness and claims he liked it better when she was a dummy, wondering where her next bit of growth would come from.

And it ends with everybody happy. She's smart. He relaxes from the tension of wanting more of her than she is givin…