Love, Shakespeare, Death and Mass Transit. This is how the main part of the Milwaukee Theatre Season closes-out next month. Kind of a lot going on just before June ushers-in Summer and what is likely to be rather a lot of outdoor theatre again.
April ends into May with Rob Urbinati’s Death By Design. The alluring Alicia Rice stars as glamorous English actress Sorel Benett. She has retreated into a country estate with her husband Edward (played by the show’s director Zach Thomas Woods.) They take a few eccentric guests. One of them ends up lying on the couch quite dead. It’s a cozy, little murder mystery in the basement of the Brumder Mansion on 3046 West Wisconsin Avenue. The show runs April 29 - May 14. For more information, visit Milwaukee Entertainment Group online.
Windfall Theatre closes-out its season with a production of The Light in the Piazza. Directed by Carol Zippel, the musical drama features impressive talent including David Flores, Joe Gallo, Sandra Hollander and Amanda J. Hull. A mother and daughter from. North Carolina vacation in Italy in the mid-20th century. Musical love in a romantic place graces the stage at Redeemer Lutheran Church on 631 N. 19th St. For ticket reservations and more visit Windfall Theatre online.
The First Stage engages audiences in a cross-town bus trip with Last Stop on Market Street. The Matt de la Peña adventure makes its way to the stage in an adaptation by Gloria Bond Clunie. Director Jenny Morales gives audiences a trip across town in the comfort of the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center on 325 W. Walnut. St. The show runs May 7th - June 12th.
Shakespearian love gets a pleasant, little trip across the stage in the proudly unprepared hands of Boozy Bard this May as the group presents Much Ado About Nothing. Yes: It’s the group that randomly assigns roles to actors before pointing them at an audience. And this time it’s a matter of love. And comedy. And beer. (There are some great microbrews at the bar.) The show runs May 9 - 11 at The Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery on 901 W. Juneau Ave.
Exit, Pursued By a Bear has a very clever set-up that should work brilliantly in the coziness of one of the smallest stages in town. Somewhere in a cabin in the wilderness woman has taped a man to a chair. She’s going to reenact scenes from their past before dousing the place in honey and opening the door for hungry bears. It’s a night with Nan and Kyle in Sunstone Studios on 127 E Wells Street. Stacy Madson directs. The show runs May 12 - 16.
Hamlet is one of the single most acclaimed pieces of theater in the history of the stage. Over the decades it has been deeply analyzed from every possible direction. Any new work looking to find some fresh angle on the drama is going to have difficulty. Playwright Bill Cain’s The Last White Man manages a few glimmers of fresh insight into the classic tragedy. Next Act Theatre closes its current season with the world premiere of the play in its intimate studio theater.
Ken Miller plays Charlie--an acclaimed film actor who has just won an Academy Award. He’s looking for his next conquest as an actor in the role of Hamlet in a live stage production. Miller has the right poise and presence for a big name film actor who finds profound frustration with the stage. He’s struggling under the weight of the role. Opening night, understudy Neil Brookshire made an impressively nuanced appearance as Charlie’s understudy--a notable stage actor who dreams of perfecting the role. (The talented J.J. Gatesman has been scheduled to play the understudy for the production.)
Brian J. Gill is occasionally stunning in the role of an actor who, in turn, is asked to take over the role of Hamlet from the understudy. Gill has a staggering emotional precision that serves the role quite well. Demetria Thomas conjures a cleverly dark humor in the role of the director who is challenged by the shifting Hamlets. Thomas maintains a compassionate wisdom as director that lends a much-needed authority to the ensemble. The four-person ensemble has more than enough levity to keep Cain’s drama wrestling its way across the stage from beginning to end.
And then there's the script. Bill Cain's drama is breathtakingly competent. There are issues that keep it from drawing on the universals it seems to be reaching for. Set in 1989, there are a number of pop cultural references that should appeal to baby boomers. There's an ongoing actor's dichotomy that Cain keep's referring to: would you rather be James Dean or Marlon Brando? Would you rather die young and at your peak or wind-up as the guy who kept acting into mediocrity, ultimately winding-up as Superman's father in 1978? My understanding of the legend of Brando is different. It's the story of a guy who just got sick of Hollywood...refusing to learn lines and slouching about onset...but he kept acting anyway because it was something to do and he liked being weird. That's not exactly the same thing as declining into mediocrity. It's the kind of thing that clashes against the deeper resonances of Cain's script. So many little distractions keep the script away from its central journey into the soul of drama. There's a good drama in The Last White Man. It could easily be edited-down into a far superior 90-minute masterpiece.
Next Act Theatre’s production of The Last White Man runs through May 8 at Next Act’s space on 255 S. Water St. For ticket reservations and more, visit www.nextact.org.
There’s something deeply, deeply engaging about a musical on a very, very small stage. Sitting in the front row of Bubble Boy the Musical, I could smell...vinyl. It’s not something that I would have expected to be a pleasant experience, but I could smell the inflatables. Bubble Boy’s suit had a big, cuddly rubbery sort of thing going on. I smell the vinyl of an inflatable cow a few a few seconds before it appeared onstage. (Yeah: it’s...it’s a weird show.) It's kind of strange, but the heart of the musical is firmly planted in a sweetly engaging, little romantic comedy. It’s sweet, traditional coming-of-age romance with a bit of social satire lovingly tossed-in.
Joey Chelius is charmingly engaging as Jimmy Livingston: a boy born without an immune system. Jimmy quickly grows from cabbage patch doll, to child to teenager. He is vigilantly watched-over by an overprotective mother (Jennifer Larsen) and her silent husband (Mike Shelby.) All seems perfectly safe and childproof until a girl moves-in next door. Chloe Molinski is a bit creeped-out by Jimmy until a casual conversation with a couple of friends prompts her to walk over and introduce herself.
Jimmy goes through quite a transformation over the course of the story. His very, very dramatic journey is contrasted against Chloe’s far more nuance but no less dramatic coming-of-age. Rae Elizabeth Paré summons a deeply enchanting and cleverly intricate performance as Chloe. The script packs a hell of a lot of teen frustration into Chloe’s end of the story. She is seen going through a big move, going to prom, falling in love, getting drunk, getting married and well...I mean...it’s a LOT. The weirdness of it all shooting by so quickly in contrast to a kid who is never allowed to leave his room could easily clutter-up the more sophisticated ends of any performance in a show like this, but Paré deftly finds the emotional center of every moment.
The romance doesn’t allow for a whole lot of time between Paré and Chelius, but the two actors make the most of every scene together. Director Eric Welch conducts the movement across the stage in a way that amplifies a feeling of distance between the two characters even as the actors themselves are on opposite ends of one of the smallest stages in the greater Milwaukee area. A simple run-through of all the plot elements in this weird travel adventure would sound like a colossal mess, but Welch keeps it all rolling with a beautiful fluidity. It’s fun. It’s weird. It’s love. At times it’s utterly gorgeous. It’s Bubble Boy.
Bombshell Theatre Company’s production of Bubble Boy the Musical continues through Apr. 10 at Inspiration Studios on 1500 S. 73rd. St. in West Allis. For ticket reservations and more, visit Bombshell Theatre online.