The weather starts to get serious about being cold and local Milwaukee stages begin to resonate with a bit more music than usual. Nearly everything that I'm going to this month has some sort of a musical things going on. There's rock by way of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Liberace, "Superboy and the Invisible Girl," and more. Here's a look:
UWM Theatre presents a staging of a dark comedy by playwright Jen Silverman who also wrote Witch (a really good dark comedy in its own right which continues through the 12th with Renaisssance Theaterworks) Inspired by a Brontëan mood, the play is set in the desolate English moors. A. young woman arrives at a remote manor of a man with whome she’s been exchanging romantic correspondence. When she arrives at the manor, there are only two sisters, a maid...and mastiff living there...Nov. 1 - 5 at Kenilworth Square East, Kenilworth Five-0-Eight on 508 Kenilworth Ave.
Next To Normal
Kimberly Laberge directs a small-stage production of this haunting contemporary American musical for Kith and Kin Theatre. A contemporary suburban family deals with mental illness. It’s an unflinching look at the flaws and strengths buried deep within the heart of life on the edge of the 21st century. A mother suffers from bi-polar disorder as a family tries its best to cope with so many issues. November 10 - 19 at The Interchange Theater Co-Op on 628 N 10th St. It’s not often that a full musical makes it to a space as small as The Interchange. Laberge will feature the full cast and a five-part orchestra in a cozy, little studio theatre environment.
Acrot/Composer/Lyricist Brett Ryback celebrates one of the most prominent musical celebrities of the 20th century has he pays tribute to Wisconsin’s own Władziu Valentino Liberace with Milwaukee Chamber Theatre. Writer Brent Hazelton constructs a show with original music by Jack Forbes Wilson. The powerful personality of a musical mega-star has served as a glittering foundation for intimate, little musical theatre shows on more than one occasion in the past. (Milwaukee Chamber posted a video short featuring the costuming and...wow...look at all those sequins...) The charismatic Ryback has a suitably charming presence that should serve the production well. Nov. 15 - Dec. 10 at the Studio Theatre in the Broadway Theatre Center on 158 N Broadway.
School of Rock
Based on the 2003 film. this is one of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s most recent musicals. Skylight Music Theatre stages a production of the musical comedy. Skylight Music Theatre’s Artistic Director Michael Unger directs the show featuring New York-based Joey Sanzaro as a substitute teacher at a private school who sees potential rock music talent in the kids that he teaches. Talented, young local actress Stephanie Staszak plays the school principal who unwittingly hires a man who isn’t quite what he has presented himself to be. Nov. 17 – Dec. 30 at the Broadway Theatre Center on 158 N. Broadway.
One of Agatha Christie’s most beloved mysteries makes it to the stage in a production directed by the talented Mary MacDonald Kerr. Next Act Theatre presents a production with an impressive cast including Libby Amato, Jonathan Gillard Daly and Doug Jarecki. Nov. 22 - Dec. 17 at the space on 255 S. Water St.
Neil Brookshire is the devil. (Kind of.) He’s actually a demon. Or rather...Neil Brookshire is an actor playing a devil playing a young salesman. Call him Scratch. He inhabits the stage with warmth and charisma in Renaissance Theaterworks’ production of playwright Jen Silverman’s dark comedy Witch.
Silverman describes the era of the comedy as “Then-ish.” It’s a European era of antiquity somewhere in the vicinity of half a millennia ago. (Give or take a century.) A kingdom is in decline. There’s a devil who comes to do a little bit of business. The dialogue is quick, witty and quite contemporary. Silverman’s deliberately anachronistic dialogue nails the overall feel of the comedy to be strikingly familiar. It feels much like a Jacobian version of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens. Scratch is a low-level sales rep looking to sign a few contracts. He’s got something of a junior life insurance salesman’s demeanor about him. (Seriously. Take it from someone who has been in the foreboding presence of Northwestern Mutual. There’s something casually demonic about life insurance agents. Brookshire has the essence of that sinister sales quality about him. It’s perfect.)
Marti Gobel is stunningly engaging as a woman named Elizabeth who has been offered a deal in exchange for her soul. She’s not terribly interested in whatever it is that Scratch is selling. Naturally he’s going to be intrigued by her. Gobel and Brookshire have a clever chemistry together. He’s a devil. You don’t want to trust him. She’s a woman being offered anything she wants, but you know it’s wrong. You know something awful is going to happen but you don’t want it to happen to her...and you don’t exactly want it to happen to him either.
Prior to approaching Gobel, Scratch delivers his pitch to a couple of guys who turn out to be more receptive. James Carrington endearingly plays Cuddy--a lovable noble who would prefer to be focus on his Morris Dancing than concerning himself with the affairs of the state. He’s competing for the affections of his father with a dashingly handsome peasant guy who has been unofficially adopted by his father. Joe Picchetti is sharp and precise with an arrogantly youthful poise in the role of Frank--the rising peasant who just might inherit a kingdom if he plays his cards right. Reese Madigan is a comically tragic as Cuddy’s father--the wealthy and powerful Sir Arthur Banks. Sir Arthur is in decline at the loss of his wife. Her portrait is ever at his side as he sheepishly haunts the stage like a fading image. Eva Nimmer brings a deep emotional gravitas to the role of Winnifred: a maid in the estate with a special and especially tragic connection to the action.
Director Suzan Fete does a brilliant job of fostering a deeply complex connection between everyone in the ensemble. There’s some particularly brilliant work being done in the realm of the physical onstage between the work of Intimacy Director Jen Dobby and Fight Choreographer Jamie Cheatham.
It’s a fun ensemble comedy that wraps itself in impressive darkness without ever going into the kind of weirdly fantastic existential depths that would be open to the story of a devil hanging around a doomed kingdom. It focuses quite wisely on interpersonal drama between the ensemble, but misses a chance at something deeper and more comically profound. The procurement of souls as big ticket sales makes for a fun interaction between Gobel and Brookshire. It might have been a bit more interesting to see the whole thing framed from the perspective of the office that Scratch operates out of. Something like Glengarry Glen Ross with souls would have been one Hell of a lot of fun...
Renaissance Theaterworks’ production of Jen Silverman’s Witch continues through Nov. 12th at the space on 255 S. Water St. For more information, visit Renaissance Theaterworks online.
The Skylight playfully twists the atmosphere of the Broadway Theatre Center into a deliciously surreal and irreverently absurdist adventure as it opens its season with Leonard Bernstein’s Candide. Based on Voltaire’s classic work of literature, the show features a charmingly charismatic Sam Simahk as the haplessly optimistic title character--a privileged, young man who is cast out of an idyllic life and into a strange adventure which finds him questioning his overall optimism at every turn. Susie Robinson plays to great nuance and complexity in the role of Candide’s love Cunegonde. The cast includes some amazing performances around the edges of the ensemble including Andrew Varela as the irrepressibly optimistic Doctor Pangloss, Ben George as the altruistic James the Anabaptist and a pleasantly earthbound Samantha Sostarich as the chambermaid Paquette.
Director/scenic designer James Ortiz transports the audience through an astonishingly vivid fantasy world as massive, colorful backgrounds are projected onto immense white screens behind the action. Ortiz draws imagery from a number of different familiar places including the works of M.C. Escher and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Ortiz also designed some graphically impressive puppet for the show including a toweringly ominous inquisitor and a voluminous banker. They both tower over Susie Robinson as they terrorize Cunegonde.
Ortiz barrels the Bernstein musical through an impressive range of moods in the course of the adventure. There’s a kind of fearlessness in the mixture of horror, drama, dark and light comedy. Some of it occasionally runs the risk of teetering over the edge of bad taste, but every emotional beat seems to land more or less perfectly in a dazzling stage adventure that fuses fantasy with something that feels far more real than so much of what happens on the world outside the stage.
Skylight Music Theatre’s production of Candide runs through Oct. 29 at the Broadway Theatre Center on 158 N. Broadway. For more information, visit Skylight online.
October's always a fun month for local theatre. There's a little uptick in weird, offbeat shows that mix horror with more traditionally popular local stage fare. This month puppets and music and a healthy sense of exploration going on in and around local stages for a very promising month ahead.
There’s murder. There’s hallucination, There’s paranormal activity and a few witches who just might be fate itself. Macbeth rests quite comfortably somewhere between cliche and tradition in October theatre schedules all over the place. Boozy Bard presents a twisted improv-fueled mutation of Shakespeare’s classic as actors draw roles from a hat before each performance. Oct. 9 - 11 at The Best Place Tavern on 917 W Juneau Ave. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook Events Page.
Back in the middle of the 1700s, French author philosopher Voltaire wrote an absurdist episodic adventure. (Those are the best kind.) It’s the tale of a strange adventure of a man who had been living in a kind of paradise who is suddenly forced into the chaos of the world beyond his bubble. Back in the middle of last century, Leonard Bernstein wrote an operetta based on the classic. Over half a century later, Skylight Music Theatre stages a production of Bernstein’s classic. James Ortiz designed the set, the puppets (yes, there are puppets) and directed what should prove to be a whimsically erratic tale smoothed over by Bernstein, Ortiz and the Skylight. Skylight's Candide runs Oct. 13 – 29 at the Broadway Theatre Center on 158 N. Broadway, For more information, visit Skylight online.
Local playwright Deanna Strasse is hosting a virtual pitch for three of her plays this month. Everyone’s invited. It’s free. It’s acutally a very casually clever idea: she’s written plays. She wants to see them produced. She’s getting together a group of actors to do readings of excerpts online. It’s a cool opportunity to hang out with a bit of drama and comedy online. The pitch starts at 7pm on Oct. 14. For more information, visit the pitch’s Facebook page.
It’s been way too long since Theatrical Tendencies did a show. The group had produced some of the more memorable productions to be placed on the Milwaukee small stage over the course of the past. Stop/Kiss, The Temperamentals, The Laramie Project and [Title of Show]. This month they return to the stage with a production of Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song. The show includes some great talent including Kevin J. Gadzalinski as Arnold (the Harvey Feirstein role) and Mark R. Neufang as Ed (Arnold’s lover.) The show runs Oct. 20 - 29 at Inspiration Studios on 1500 S. 73rd St. in West Allis. For more information, visit Inspiration Studios online.
Suzan Fete directs a decidedly supernatural show for the coming Halloween season as Renaissance Theaterworks presents Witch: a comedy by Jen Silverman. A devil shows-up in a small town to bargain for the souls of its residents. The ensemble assembled for the show features som exquisite local talent including Marti Gobel, Reese Madigan. James Carrington, Joe Picchetti and Eva Nimmer. It’s just...a phenomenal cast. Also...Maria Pretzl’s Facebook marketing campaign for the show has been great fun so far. She’s got some clever ideas for engaging an audience before the show. Very cool stuff. Looking forward to more before the show on Renaissance’s feed. The show runs Oct. 22 - Nov. 12 at the space on 255 S Water Street. For more information, visit Renaissance Online.
Not too long ago, Milwaukee Opera Theatre teamed-up with the puppet people of Angry Young Men Ltd. to produce Night of the Living Opera--a live operatic stage adaptation of George Romero’s classic Night of the Living Dead. Zombie puppets have been kicking around Milwaukee for a number of years now. They largely only come out around Halloween. (I would imagin it’s kind of difficult for them to get work the rest of the year. I can’t help but wonder how they might perform at an audition.) Anyway...the show (as done in concert with MOT last year) is...staggeringly good. It sticks perfectly to Romero’s plot and embellishes it with opera. (So cool.) The show runs Oct. 27 - Nov. 5 at the Broadway Theatre Center’s Studio Theatre on 158 N Broadway. For more information, visit MOT online.
So there was this guy named Robb White. He was the son of Episcopal missionaries. He was kind of a prankster as a kid, but he went on to write A LOT of stuff for various magazines back in the mid-20th century. Somewhere along the line he started writing screenplays. One of them got produced as a cheap horror film directed by William Castle starring Vincent Price. The House on Haunted Hill is a cute idea: a diverse group of people are offered a large sum of money ($10,000, which would be like...$100,000 in today's money) for surviving overnight at a haunted mansion. The script may have been clever, but the movie?...it was bad. Boozy Bard presents an irreverent staging of the screenplay just in time for Halloween Oct. 31 - Nov. 1 at The Best Place Tavern on 917 W Juneau Ave. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook Events Page.