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The Sunset: check it if you haven't yet.
The Sunset: check it if you haven't yet.

The rise of Sunset Playhouse

Milwaukee is a city blessed with a lot of great professional theater.

We probably have more professional theater than most cities our size and the quality is almost uniformly top tier. We get great plays and wonderful acting as well as excellent direction, a combination that makes for a wonderful experience at the theater.

You can now add one more theater to the list of places to check out if you love live theater, Sunset Playhouse.

For years Sunset, which is a beautiful building in Elm Grove, was the cream of the crop as far as community theater goes. With good leadership and a dedicated base of volunteers, you could always count on a great time.

But under the new leadership of Jonathan West, who used to run the fabled Bialystock & Bloom theater company, Sunset has taken a big leap forward. He has broadened the corps of directors with such outstanding professionals as Matt Daniels, Bryce Lord, Ray Jivoff and Mark Metcalf. These new directors have brought a new demanding level of style to Sunset.

The selection of plays is still guided more by box office potential than by experimentation or efforts to expose Milwaukee to new and unfamiliar plays. But that is a curse that is shared by every theater company in town. If you don't get an audience, you don't last very long.

West, though, has broadened the offerings at Sunset to a variety of performances, ranging from holiday concerts to jazz performances and wonderful plays for children as well as the high level of theatrical offerings.

Sunset has always been close to that line that separates community from professional theater and under West's direction the place has now crept so close that it's hard to tell the difference. It is more than worth the trip to Elm Grove to check them out.


cktailgrl | Nov. 20, 2011 at 2:22 a.m. (report)

Yes, Sunset Playhouse absolutely produces some wonderful theater. No question. All the credit in this blog post, however, seems to go directly to Sunset's Managing Director Jonathan West, and that isn't the case. It seems as if further research was in order.

For instance, three out of four of the "broadened corps of directors" Jonathan West is given credit for hiring were actually interviewed and hired by Sunset's former Artistic Director, Mark Salentine. Bryce Lord, in fact, was hired to direct numerous productions well before Mr. West was ever even hired by Sunset, beginning with Sylvia which began rehearsals in 2005.

"West, though, has broadened the offerings at Sunset to a variety of performances, ranging from holiday concerts to jazz performances and wonderful plays for children..." This statement, too, is inaccurate. Sunset Playhouse's tremendously successful Musical Mainstage series began as "Musical Monday," a performance meant to take advantage of a dark night in the Furlan Auditorium. This idea was introduced to Sunset by a longtime volunteer, and Mr. Salentine fleshed it out, appointed a producer, and those two together, buoyed by some of Milwaukee's most talented vocalists, built the strong and well-attended series it remains to this day. The Musical Mainstage series was conceived and in full bloom before Mr. West was ever hired as Managing Director at Sunset.

More of the offerings mentioned in this blog come to audiences in the form of the SideNotes Cabaret series. SideNotes was conceived by Mark Salentine, and placed into the Sunset rotation as a means of further utilizing the Sunset Studio Theater and affording opportunities to even more of Milwaukee's many gifted musicians. Sidenotes, too, continues to grow and be a strong draw for Sunset .

The Children's Theater mentioned by Mr. Begel was floundering when Mark Salentine began his tenure at Sunset in 2004, and he hired longtime volunteer Erika Navin as Education Director and together they worked assiduously to build the program, and in fact co-wrote the first "Bug-in-a-Rug" script together to the delight of children and parents. Erika remains in her position to this day, and the program continues to thrive, primarily due to her tremendous drive and energy.

Mark didn't do any of this by himself. The core volunteers of Sunset have always worked tirelessly to make the theater a place of which to be proud. No one person ever deserves credit for a team effort such as those mentioned above. Sadly, Mr. West was given sole credit in this post, and as much as I hoped he would offer a response giving credit where credit was deserved, he didn't. It appears that since he was offered the acknowledgement, he was content to take it for himself.

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