2022 opens with a very busy month in local theatre. Here’s a look at some of what’s opening the first month of the new year:
Milwaukee Entertainment Group opens the year with a production of The Diary of Anne Frank in the basement of the Brumder Mansion. The drama is directed by the talented Reva Fox. I'd seen a production of Anne Frank in the Brumder's basement ages ago. The cozy, intimate space is absolutely perfect for the drama. The current production features Zaela Schlissel in the title role. Also featured in the cast are Randall T. Anderson, Maggie Marks, Nate Press, Tom Marks and more.
The Diary of Anne Frank runs Jan. 7 - 22 at the Brumder Mansion.
Bombshell Theatre opens the season with a production of the 1960s musical Funny Girl. Set in New York City prior to and following World War I, the show warms the Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove with the story of Ziegfeld Follies star Fanny Brice. Bryanna VanCaster stars in a show featuring Bombshell’s Eric Welch, Tim Albrechtson and a really impressive cast including Marcee Doherty-Elst and Rae Pare among many, many others. It’s a huge cast in the intimate space of Sunset’s Marla Eichmann Studio Theater. Look for a big Ziegfeld Follies feel in a cozy studio theatre. It should be well worth the trip to Elm Grove.
Funny Girl runs Jan. 7 - 16 at the Sunset Playhouse.
On the surface, it feels like a silly, little adult mutation of a childhood classic. It’s been done before a million times: take an important character from a beloved children’s story from Seuss and make it adult for the sake of blowing-off a little steam on the small stage for the holidays. In recent memory, Milwaukee has played host to adult mutations of classics in the form of Who Killed Santa?, Rudolph the Pissed-Off Reindeer and more. This holiday season, Sunstone Studios presents another adult mutation of children’s fare with a piece by playwright Matthew Lombardo that debuted in a different market right around the same time those other two were becoming established here.
Cindy Lou Who from How the Grinch Stole Christmas is all grown-up and living in a trailer park. She is shunned. An. outcast. The audience hangs out with her before the party. There is end rhyme. It’s a pretty simple concept. It would be really, really easy to be lazy with the comedy on this. Thankfully, Who’s Holiday! offers a great deal more depth than a simple, naughty revision on an old children’s classic. Amber Regan directs Samantha Sostarich in a cozy, little production of the one-act comedy.
Sostarich deftly walks a line between abrasively crass and endlessly endearing as the little girl all grown-up. That she manages to do so while delivering an entire monologue in end rhyme is quite an accomplishment. End rhyme can get really annoying really quickly, but Sostarich handles it beautifully. She's having a lot of fun with the surface-level comedy. That fun is delivered to the audience in a festive mix of storytelling and audience interaction. Lombardo allows Cindy Lou to deliver tales from the Seuss-iverse. The beloved children’s author explored brief moments in the world he was creating, but his work only explores the surface of a much more complicated adult Seuss-iverse. In the process of exploring this, Lombardo takes a deeper look at what happens when a beloved child grows-up. The community that loved her as a child might not look so kindly on her when she has adult desires and aspirations. Things start-off light and bawdy, but rather quickly dive into some very deep thematic territory.
Sostarich is positively heartbreaking as someone who has been dealt one misfortune after another. The audience is spending increasingly awkward time with her as she gets ready or a party. One by one, people contact her to cancel. There’s a deep sadness to it, but Sostarich manages to maintain Cindy Lou’s irrepressible resilience in a charming resilience. The big triumph here is that, even though the whole thing ends in a schmaltzy sort of holiday happy ending, Sostarich is able to deliver it in a way that still manages to feel genuine. Throughout the production, she’s does such a good job of maintaining a balance between serious adult drama and cynical humor that it all comes across with a remarkably satisfying finish. The one-act fades-out into the dark chill in the shadow of bigger theaters on the edge of another holiday theater season downtown Milwaukee.
Sunstone Studios’ production of Who’s Holiday! has two more performances: December 18 and 23. For more information, visit Sunstone Studios online.