The month of December features a skewed look at the familiar. From a tale of WWI to a lovingly skewered approach to classic Dickens, fun, music, sin and more...this December feels like a really enjoyable mix of different elements to close out the year of 2023--a remarkably satisfying year in Milwaukee theatre.
It was five months into WWI. Things were bleak on the Western front. Opposing forces decided to take a pause from killing each other to celebrate Christmas. It’s a beautiful story in its own way, but it’s also very, very haunting. This December Vanguard Productions presents a dramatic adaptation of the history with All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914. Playwright Peter Rothstein’s adaptation of the story features musical arrangements by Wrick Lichte and Timothy C.Takach. Vanguard’s production runs Dec. 1 - 10 at Calvary Presbyterian Church on 628 N 10th St. For ticket reservations and more, visit the show’s page on Eventbrite.
The Holidays are the PERFECT time to reflect on humanity’s shortcomings. (And really...when ISN’T it a good time to do that?) The Constructivists take a festive dive into the darker end of humanity this December with A Very Deadly Constructivists Holiday. The show celebrates the seven deadly sins with a series of shorts featuring true stories of people being bad brought to the stage in a variety of different ways. It’s a clever bit of counter-programming conceived and directed by Jamielyn Gray featuring Andrea Ewald, Ekene Ikegwuani, Nicole McCarty, Nate Press, Matt Specht, Kellie Wambold, and Ben Yela. The show runs December 6 - 9 at Zao MKE Church on 2319 East Kenwood Boulevard. For more information, visit the show’s page on MKE Tickets.Com
The talented Marcella Kearns directs the First Stage Young Company in a staging of Shakespeare’s classic drama of war, passion and power as it presents Henry IV Part 1. The Young Company strips a very large and unwieldly drama down to its most immediate essence. Kearns works with a group of actors who are only just beginning their exploration of the stage...launching themselves into one of Shakespeare’s coming-of-age story of Prince Hal growing into the man who would become King Henry V. The show runs December 8 - 17 at the Milwaukee Youth Art Center on 929 N. Water Street. For more information, visit First Stage online.
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol might be the single most universally-known story...in existence. It’s been adapted so many different ways in so many different forms over many, many years. It’s a cozy story for the holidays that touches on quite a few different sentiments. And since it IS so familiar to so many people, it’s a perfect match for Boozy Bard’s format. Once again this holiday season the wildly informal comedy group stages an unrehearsed series of performances of the classic with A Christmas Carol: RAW! Actors choose roles at random and perform the beloved tale from scripts in a sketch/improv comedy sort of environment. The show makes it to a couple of different venues this year. December 10 - 12 the show will be staged at The Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery on 917 W Juneau Ave and December 15 and 16 the show is staged at Hawthorne Coffee Roasters at 4177 S Howell Ave. For more information, visit Boozy Bard’s Facebook page.
Dewey Finn really wants to play a solid concert. Paying rent would be cool, too, but he really just wants to play a kickass concert. Of course...winning the battle of the bands and climbing to the top fo Mount Rock to become a towering legend in the recording industry would be cool as well. But it’s the music, right? THAT’s what it’s all about And all he needs is one shot at it with Skylight Music Theatre’s The School of Rock. Cleverly comic musical theatre talent Joey Sanzaro plays Finn in a big, energetic production featuring an impressive cast.
Dewey just got kicked out of the band that he started. He’s also been fired from theo nly job he’s had. And now he’s facing the very real possibility of getting kickedo ut on the street if he can’t come-up with something like rent. Then he takes a call that isn’t exactly intended for him...and winds-up falling into a substitute teaching position at a prestigious private school. There’s real money in the position if he can fake his way through the job for long enough to make a paycheck, but when he finds out that the kids in his class are all talented musicians, Dewey falls into the kind of ambition that just might get him into some serious trouble with EVERYBODY.
The cast of kids is played by...kids. TALENTED kids too. There’s a fully stocked rock orchestra in the pit, but there’s som genuine talent onstage that mixes an entertaining musical energy with some cleverly deft comic dynamics. In addition to a very sharp student cast, there are some notable performances in the adult cast as well. Stephanie Staszak has a crisp precision in the role of the school’s young principal Rosalie Mullins. Staszak manages a sharp balance between strict authority and endearing vulnerability as a professional who is placed in an extremely awkward position that threatens the financial wellbeing and reputation of the school as a whole.
Director Michael Unger has done an excellent job of bringing all of the elements of the production together. It’s extremely difficult to get everything to come across with an even balance in a rock musical. The sound, pacing and overall energy of a show with so much power and amplification is difficult enough. Add to that the fact that a really important part of the production is...a bunch of kids without a whole lot of experience onstage and things could easily go wrong in a very, very big way. Unger and company do a staggeringly good job with the aid of Scenic Designer Lindsay Fuori, who has done an admirable job of bringing a show to the stage that has quite a few different locations that range from a rock stage to a dive bar to a tasteful middle-class living room to a prestigious private school and more.
Skylight Music Theatre’s production of School of Rock continues through Dec. 30 at the Broadway Theatre Center on 158 N Broadway. For ticket reservations and more, visit Skylight Music Theatre online.