The Summer kicks-into full gear this month with a couple of musicals, a little Shakespeare and a little sketch and improv and a whole lot more. Wrap things up with an interesting one-weekend show from the company with all the money and we’ll call it July. Here’s a look at some of what’s ahead:
Shakespeare Raw: A Midsummer Night's Dream
Boozy Bard continues to explore a fun, informal Shakespeare with this classic comedy at mid-month. Actors choose characters out of a hat, grab their scripts and props and perform a vastly unprepared iteration of the classic tale of lovers and fairies. The show runs July 11th - 13th at The Best Place Tavern on 901 W. Juneau Ave. All shows start at 7pm. For more information, visit the event’s page on Facebook.
The Sunset Playhouse launches its summer musical. Tommy Lueck directs a big main stage production of a musical labor strike in New York in 1899. Lueck is a talented director and Sunset always does a really good job with the bigger musicals, so this one should be good. July 14- August 7 at the Furlan Auditorium on 700 Wall Street in Elm Grove. For more information, visit Sunset online.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Outdoor Shakespeare continues with director Dustin J. Martin’s staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at SummerStage of Delafield. Day turns to night in a dreamy Lapham Peak State Park. Brandon Haut and Brittany Haut star as Oberon and Titania in a production that also features the talented Michelle White as Puck. July 14-3o. For more information, visit SummerStage Online.
Sketch 22 #29
The now unmistakable logo image of a tiny Harold Lloyd on a giant minute hand can only mean one thing. Patrick Schmitz’s long-running 24-hour sketch comedy show takes to the stage for a 29th time. Milwaukee comedy writers and performers meet on a Friday night to write a sketch. The following day, writers choose scripts and actors from a hat and go to work developing a sketch comedy show that will be presented July 16 at 7 pm at ComedySportz on 420 S. First St. Writers this year include Beth Lewinski, Doug Jarecki, Joel Kopischke, Broadminded, Mandi Veeder, Andrea Roedel-Schroeder and more. Actors include Matt Konkel, Becky Cofta, Kellie Wambold and more. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook page.
On the same night as Sketch 22 just a little further South James Boland presents his improv role playing game comedy show. Improv comedy types including Jessie Frankie Kanter, David Ryan Lane and more play a classic paper-and-dice RPG without paper...or dice. Brian Bein provides musical accompaniment. No Dice: Improv RPG returns July 16th to Sugar Maple on 441 E. Lincoln Ave. For more information, visit the event’s Facebook page.
Greendale Community Theatre closes-out the month of openings with a production of the beloved musical based in the book by P. L. Travers. July 28th - August 6th at Greendale High School Auditorium on 6801 Southway in Greendale.
At month’s end, The Milwaukee Rep presents one of the more interesting shows on the month. Michael Rohd’s The Compass is a one-weekend-only show staged by the Rep’s Professional Training Institute that involves students from various local high schools. It’s an interactive production in which the audience plays the jury who will decide the fate of a defendant. Originally written and staged back in 2016 with Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre, the sci-fi story has updated echoes on Murray Leinster’s classic short story A Logic Named Joe. The defendant used the AI algorithm from an app to make a life-altering decision. That decision has landed her in court. The show runs July 28-31 at the Stiemke Studio. Tickets are $10.
Shakespeare’s longevity has much to do with the adaptability of his scripts. Though it is strictly a comedy, Much Ado About Nothing can be done with serious intensity and dramatic depth. This summer Maureen Kilmurry directs a touring production of Much Ado for Summit Players Theatre that leans gratifyingly in the direction of pleasantly light comedy without compromising the seriousness of much of the drama.
The story of love, deception and false accusations is staged with minimal set and costuming in an outdoor space. The sleek 70-minute (or so) story glides gracefully from beginning to end in a way that engages audiences of all ages. Summit veteran Caroline Norton is intricately comic in the role of the reluctant romantic heroine Beatrice. Norton has spent quite a few summers in the intimate outdoor spaces that Summit haunts every year. This gives her an impressive range of motion and emotion for Shakespeare’s comedy. The rest of the cast is making its first appearance with The Summit Players. The Summit Players program involves everyone in the ensemble camping together at various parks all over Wisconsin. This can't help but bring a cast together in a way few programs could.
George Lorimer is admirably charismatic as Benedick to Norton’s Beatrice. The egotistical end of the character has a tendency to hit the stage more prominently than anything else in a performance. Lorimer plays to a far more humble confidence in the role that serves it quite well. Matching Lorimer’s charisma step-for-step is Ogunde Snelling Jr. who makes for dashingly wise Don Pedro.
King Hang passionately delivers the more serious dramatic end of the story in the role of Claudio, who has fallen the beautiful, young girl named Hero. Emma Knott makes a very sympathetic Hero, but the contrast between her Hero and the other two characters makes for a stronger impression than any one of the people she’s playing. Knott is engagingly comic as the constable Dogberry (who is always in the company of his pet dog: a plushie dog named...Barry.) She makes a delightfully musical appearance as Balthasar as well. Not to be outdone, Maya Danks hits very clever marks in no fewer than FIVE roles including a classically villainous Don John in with elegant posture in a swirling black cape and waiting gentlewoman Ursula in a pleasantly Sconnie accent.
Design elements are always fun in a Summit Players show. Scenic Designer Carl Eiche’s rolled-up painted backdrops get used to particularly clever comic effect in the pair of scenes in which Beatrice and Benedick rush into hiding. Amelia Strahan’s minimalist costuming serves so many clever purposes...it’s simple and lightweight, allowing it to take up little space on tour...it’s comfy enough to be worn in the heat of summer AND it’s iconic enough to quickly and easily differentiate between characters who must swiftly switch between characters. And...y’know...Maya Danks is just so cool with Don John’s black villain’s cape. (This is a really fun show.)
Summit Players Theatre’s production of Much Ado About Nothing runs through Aug. 20th at various state parks all over Wisconsin. For dates and tour stops, visit The Summit Players Online. All performances are free to attend.
This summer Optimist Theatre presents a fun, breezy little outdoor Shakespeare show that is as romantic as it is comic. Optimist’s tenth annual Shakespeare in the Park show makes its way through various outdoor venues over the course of the summer.Twelfth Night (or What SHE Will) is a free 90-ish-minute edit of Shakespeare’s classic that is performed with a satisfyingly quickened pulse without intermission. Under the directing team of Mary Lynn Cogar and Tom Reed, the cast adroitly tumbles through the comedy with sharp costuming and a score that is cleverly constructed by Sound Engineer Tony Roman.
In abbreviated form, the story of love and folly feels like a pleasant, little dream that ends outside before sunset. Brielle Richmond is a powerful Viola/Cesario, sent by Count Orsino (in the form of a deeply charismatic Deshawn Thomas) to court a beautiful woman for him. Richmond has a sympathetically commanding presence in a waistcoat made of neckties. (This probably looks a lot more impressive than it sounds. Mel Benson’s costume design is remarkably appealing on everyone in the cast.)
Kaitlyn Feely renders a few very deep and emotionally gratifying moments as the love struck Olivia. It’s not often that an actor really gets a genuine opportunity to develop a subtle and intricate layers of romantic interest. Feely’s love is dizzyingly fun to watch without being at all amplified. It’s a very cleverly crafted vision of infatuation that radiates gorgeously at the heart of the production. Richmonds’ passion for the poetically beating heart of love in the role of Cesario allows Feely firm footing for a subtle and intricate portrayal of someone falling quite hard into romantic attraction. Honestly it’s one of the most compelling portrayals of this sort of thing that I’ve seen in a long time. Straight-ahead romantic love doesn’t make it to the center of the small stage quite as often as one might expect.
Libby Amato, Ken T. Williams and Siddhartha Rajan are remarkably cohesive as the trio of tricksters looking to make a buffoon of Olivia’s servant Malvolio. Rarely are Maria, Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Agucheek as dynamic as they are in Optimist’s production There’s a quick wit about the group as a whole, but each individual has a distinct presence. Williams earthy gravity as Toby pairs well with Rajan’s noble flakiness as Agucheek, Amato’s charmingly self-satisfied scheming as Maria serves as a clever center to the group. Andrew Varela has deft comic poise as the stuffy guy who goes a bit mad at the prospect of love. His got a powerfully stern and gruff presence before the fall...which makes his awkward descent into the madness of love that much more intense than it often appears.
Susie Duecker blooms beautifully on a variety of different levels as the fool known as Feste. It can be really difficult to balance the silly humor of the comedy relief while still possessing the kind of wisdom required of such a role in Shakespeare. The roles are equal parts silly and wise. Often a performance can lean a bit too far in one direction or the other. Duecker navigates a very tight and balance performance and even manages a few musical flourishes here and there.
Optimist Theatre’s Twelfth Night or What SHE Will runs through August 7th at various parks and places all over the greater Milwaukee area. For specific locations, times and more, visit Optimist Theatre online.
There’s a war between Troy and Greece onstage at a historic site not far from the Deer District of downtown Milwaukee. There’s a love affair going on, but since it’s kind of boring, so it's been cut in Boozy Bard’s Troilus and Cressida (not.) No love. No romance. Only the silly pointlessness of war. Script editor Andrea Roedel-Schroeder’s Troilus and Cressida makes its way to the stage without Troilus and Cressida early this week with brightly-colored scripts, strange costuming and weirdly exaggerated prop weapons. There are some rather nice beers on tap. There’s an open ridicule of war and human aggression. It’s a fun evening at The Best Place at the old Pabst Brewery.
As people settle-in before the show, the arsenal sits on a long table beneath leaded glass. Foam swords of various types are displayed (at least two of which look ridiculously big enough to be the Sword of Aubec. One of the big, cuddly swords has blood painted on it. The other doesn’t.) In and amidst the arsenal is the most formidable item in the venue: a single hat. It is from this humble hat that the ensemble draws its assignments for the evening. The cast of characters settle themselves in and around the cast of actors and everything gets underway after brief and charming introduction by the evening’s host Stephen M. Wolterstorff.
It’s always a bit weird to see what the casting director chooses for any given night with Boozy Bard. The hat was possessed of strange generosity last night with the opening of the week. The contrast between Achilles and Patroclus was fun. The diminutive Christee Means Reince played the epic warrior Achiles next to an imposingly towering bearded Keith Gaustad as his beloved Patroclus. Reince has sharp comic instincts, which served the role well as things heated-up towards the end of the drama. Sarah Wallisch seemed very comfortably witty in the role of comic relief Thersites (instantly recognizable by the red fez she wore.) Hector’s best moments might have been shared by Josh Bryan as legendary warrior Ajax. Bryan and Wallisch had some of the better comedy of the evening, but the show was enjoyable throughout with something entertaining onstage.
The specter of war hangs like a shadow around the edges of the drama that is played for comedy. There are big plush-like swords. There are tiny plastic helmets. (One of which couldn’t seem to remain on the noble head of Ajax.) There’s a big confrontation that is shown to be every bit as silly, tragic and pointless as war always is. Somewhere in the heart of everything with so much death and suffering in the world beyond The Best Place, you know...you know that this is how warlike human conflict SHOULD be pursued: with harmless weapons and silly wit...drink in hand and “vastly underprepared” by design.
Boozy Bard’s Shakespeare RAW production of Troilus and Cressida (not) continues through June 15th at The Best Place Tavern at the Historic Pabst Brewery on 917 W. Juneau Avenue. There are performances the 14th and the 15th at 7 pm. (There’s also a free performance of Boozy Bard’s Twelfth Night at 5:30 pm on Sunday the 19th.) For more information, visit Boozy Bard’s Facebook Page.
The ensemble enters in dark tops and blue jeans. Glittery adornments sparkle amidst black t-shirts and blouses. Bare feet press against the hardwood floor of the the Calvary Presbyterian Church. The Milwaukee Opera Theatre and Aperi Animam present a serene vision of love with its production of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo. The tale of Orpheus and Eurydice resonates through the church. Translated into English, the lyrics are projected onto two walls on both sides of the action as the ancient drama makes its trek across the heart of the church.
A sweeping adventure story journeys through the music. Deep romantic feelings are celebrated in wedding ceremony as Apollo’s rays dance through the ornate stained glass of the church. Then there is loss and sadness. Orpheus’ love perishes as the summer light on West Wisconsin Avenue drains from the sky outside the church. The stained glass fades into shadow amidst the distant sound of downtown traffic. During intermission all light is within the church as Orpheus descends into Hades in search of her love. The journey into the afterlife follows the departure of the sun in a clever synthesis between nature and art.
I’m referring to Orpheus as “her.” The libretto addresses the title character as “him.” The traditional Orpheus is a guy. This is perfectly okay and nothing to be ashamed of, but Orpheus is a hell of a lot cooler and more aesthetically engaging as a woman. The production cleverly casts the hero as a gracefully earthbound Jackie Willis. She’s radiantly elegant in the role of the legendary bard. Willis conjures a dreamy, melodic gravity about her in the role as she sings. She’s barefoot in jeans like the rest of the ensemble, but she carries herself with an elegant grace that serves the center of the stage quite well. She glides serenely through both joy and sadness...never needlessly exaggerating either. The music, story and libretto are larger than life. Willis lends the story organic emotional depth. David Guzmán carries a much more divine energy about him in the role of Pluto--the lord of the underworld who is persuaded to consider the plight of Orhpeus.
The tale is told in wide arcs. Montiverdi takes his time in getting to the conflict, which migrates across the stage in breathtakingly slow and steady movements. Debuting in 1607, the music for the opera is an elegantly simple dinner party for violin, harpsichord, sackbut, recorder and more. Most impressive on the stage is a massive lute-like thing called a theorbo…which feels nearly big enough to qualify as a piece of architecture. The epic concerns of gods and humans alike are cast against an unwaveringly minimalist soundscape in the cozily cavernous confines of the church across the street and down the block from Milwaukee’s Central Library.
Milwaukee Opera Theatre’s production of L’Orfeo runs through June 12 at the Calvary Presbyterian Church on 935 W. Wisconsin Ave. For ticket reservations and more, visit Milwaukee Opera Theatre online.
Milwaukee theatre enters the summer with a really classy June featuring mystery, coming-of-age drama, a little Greek-inspired 17th century Italian Opera and drunken Shakespeare. Welcome to Summer...
An Inspector Calls
June opens in Elm Grove with Sunset Playhouse’s production of An Inspector Calls. The ever-classy Mark Neufang plays the title character: a British police inspector who has come to visit the estate of a well-to-do family in 1912. He’s there to investigate a murder in this classic 1945 three-act mystery drama by J. B. Priestley. Carol Dolphin directs a show that should be a fun journey into drama in Elm Grove at the opening of the summer theatre season. The show runs June 2, 2022 - June 19 at the Furlan Auditorium on 700 Wall Street in Elm Grove.
It’s surprisingly rare to find a local production of anything from the vicinity of the early 17th century...I mean...outside of Shakespeare. (We get a lot of Shakespeare. And that’s cool and everything...but I mean...there isn’t a whole lot of other stuff from the era.) This month Milwaukee Opera Theatre stages an opera that debuted in Mantua just a few years after Shakespeare banished Romeo there in Romeo and Juliet. Monteverdi’s historic opera makes its way to Calvary Presbyterian Church on 935 West Wisconsin Avenue June 9 -12. It’s a new translation co-sponsored by professional Milwaukee-based choral ensemble Aperi Animam. What’s it about? Well...remember when Orpheus went into Hades to bring back his dead bride Eurydice? It’s that story. As an opera. Cool.
Anne of Green Gables
Opening the same week as L’Orfeo is a stage adaptation of the beloved Lucy Maud Montgomery novel Anne of Green Gables. The beautiful outdoor atmosphere of SummerStage of Delafield serves as a pastoral home for the story of a young orphan girl in Canada...played here by Lydia Wilhelm. The show is directed by Kelly Goeller. Early 20th century Canada comes to Lapham Peak State Park June 9 - 25.
Much Ado About Nothing
It's summer. So...y'know...there's going to be A LOT of Shakespeare opening in June. (A lot.) The first big opening comes courtesy of The Summit Players. The free outdoor Shakespeare group is doing Much Ado About Nothing this summer. The show opens June 10th at Richard Bong State Recreation Area. It then makes a tour of Wisconsin State Parks that runs through the entire summer, ultimately ending August 20th at Havenwoods State Forest. The cast this year includes Maya Danks, King Hang, Caroline Norton and more. For more information on dates, times, cast and crew, visit Summit Players online.
Shakespeare RAW: Troilus and Cressida (not)
I love the story behind this one. If I’m not mistaken it goes something like this: Andrea Roedel-Schroeder had been working on an adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic Troilus and Cressida for the fun and breezy informal Shakespeare company Boozy Bard. The more she cut from it, the more she realized that the title characters were kind of extraneous. So they put togetherTroilus and Cressida without...Troilus and Cressida. To make it even more fun, this IS a Boozy Bard production, which means none of the actors know who they’ll be playing until the hat full of names that serves as casting director makes a decision. Always fun...and not something that I’m able to make all that often. But this one? I mean...how often does one get to see a play with the title characters edited out? The show runs June 13th- 15th at The Best Place Tavern at the Historic Pabst Brewery.
The Twelfth Night or What SHE Will
Just a few days after Boozy Bard offers its abridgment of Troilus and Cressida, Optimist Theatre presents IT'S abridgment of Twelfth Night focussing on relations between Viola (Brielle Richmond) and Olivia (Kaitlyn Feely.) Also featuring the talents of Libby Amato as Maria and Susie Duecker who should be great fun Olivia's jester servant Feste. June 18th through August 7th at various free outdoor locations. For more information, visit Optimist Theatre online.
There’s a production picture for Bard and Bourbon’s Hamlet (Drunk.) The title character is speaking to Ophelia. This might be the last time they speak. Hamlet’s wearing a Harley Davidson hoodie. The smiling cheshire cat tattoo can be seen smiling beneath Ophelia’s shoulder. The glowing red Exit signs of Sunstone Studios can be seen hovering in the darkness behind them. The exit’s in sight. She really COULD get herself to a nunnery. It’s way too easy to look for symbolism in the imagery of that one photo. There’s one other thing that’s apparent in the photo: height.
Anya Palmer towers over Brittany F. Byrnes. Palmer plays Ophelia. Byrnes plays Hamlet. Palmer has a gorgeously magnificent stage presence that could easily feel overpowering. Byrnes’ relatively short stature and diminutive size could pose a challenge to anyone looking to assert themselves in one of the loftiest roles in the history of stage drama. Aided by Director Katie Merriman, Palmer and Byrnes find a really novel way of finessing the dynamic between Hamlet and Ophelia that makes for a captivating dynamic that makes for one of the more memorable Milwaukee productions of Shakespeare’s classic in the past couple of decades.
Byrnes has an imrpessively condensed energy about her in the role of Hamlet. What’s so often overlooked in casting is the fact that Hamlet’s energy is SO young. He’s a goth kid with mental health that’s been twisted by chance and circumstance. So often the energy of any actor playing Hamlet is WAY too old for me. I want a young Hamlet. Byrnes’ youth serves the role better than just about any actor I’ve ever seen in the role before. Byrnes’ energy is that of a powerful, little sinewy predator. Real passion and joy can be seen around the edges of the hunt for revenge...making for a very nuanced portrayal of one of the most revered tragic figures in dramatic history.
Palmer makes quite an impression onstage without saying anything at all. She’s got a natural poise that feels larger-than-life heroic. This worked particularly well in the WWII. drama ‘Neath the Hills of Bastogne that opened at Sunstone not too long ago. Here she’s playing a tragic figure. Palmer finds an endearing vulnerability in the role of Ophelia embracing a soft kindness that gently radiates. It’s calming until it’s not. Byrne’s voracious, little carnivore of revenge stalks through a scene that leaves Palmer’s kindness emotionally lacerated. Then there’s the death of Ophelia’s father and that final scene for her. The calm warmth Palmer brought to the stage early-on is tilted into a melancholy madness that’s all the more heartbreaking because it IS coming from an actor with such a powerfully assertive physical presence onstage.
Bard & Bourbon’s production of Hamlet (Drunk) runs through June 4th at on 127 E. Wells Street. For ticket reservations and more, visit sunstonestudiosmke.com. My comprehensive review of the show will be available with the Shepherd-Express in the next few days.
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.