By Mary Boyle
Each season, the Milwaukee Repertory Theater chooses one production for their Community Conversations Program, which provides audiences the opportunity to discuss challenging topics, such as identity, religion, politics and Islamophobia, through panel discussions facilitated by leaders from the Zeidler Center for Public Discussion. This season, they wisely chose Disgraced, a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Milwaukee Playwright and Rep Associate Artist, Ayad Akhtar. Timely, thought-provoking and, at times, shocking, Disgraced asks the questions that most people are afraid to ask about racism and religion in modern America.
Amir (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh) appears to be living the American dream: he's a successful corporate lawyer, he has a classy apartment in the city, and he's married to his beautiful wife, Emily, (Janie Brookshire) who has a successful career of her own, as an artist. Of course, nothing is ever as perfect or simple as it appears on the outside; Amir has a secret: he is a Pakistani-American in a post 9/11 country that has some serious issues with people from the Middle East. While he tries to distance himself from his culture, his wife is inspired by the beauty of Islam, and his nephew, Abe (Imran Sheikh) is struggling with his own identity. Secrets are revealed at a dinner party with Amir's African American coworker, Jory (Austene Van), and her Jewish husband, Abe (Jason Babsinksy), that bring to light our most painful fears, our most close-held beliefs, and our most shameful thoughts.
Directed by Marcela Lorca, Disgraced compels conversation around these difficult topics in the way that only theater can, in a time when they are sorely needed. Playwright, Ayad Akhtar, is a novelist and author of American Dervish, which has been published in over 20 languages worldwide. Disgraced won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and was nominated for the 2015 Tony Award for best play. Akhtar was listed as the most produced playwright for the 2015/16 season by American Theatre.
Disgraced runs through February 12 in the Quadracci Powerhouse Theater. Tickets can be purchased online at www.MilwaukeeRep.com, by phone at 414-224-9490, or in person at the Ticket Office, located at 108 E. Wells Street in Milwaukee.
Disgraced has been chosen as the one play this season for The Rep’s Community Conversations Program. This means that after every performance of Disgraced, The Rep will provide audiences the opportunity for facilitated dialogues with leaders form the Zeidler Center for Public Discussion, and Intercultural Dinners moderated by InterFaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee. This program is sponsored in part by Cream City Foundation, Will Radler Fund. For more information and to join the conversation online visit www.TalkIdentity.com.
By Kathy Lanser
If you missed the opportunity to dance at The Peppermint Lounge discotheque, here is your change to “twist the night away!” On any given night in the early 1960’s the Peppermint Lounge was the “it” dance spot for The Beatles, Truman Capote, Greta Garbo, Judy Garland, Audrey Hepburn, Jacqueline Kennedy, Norman Mailer, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, and others. The Twist wasn’t just a dance – it was the start of a social revolution. Since couples danced apart, ladies no longer needed to follow the man’s lead, and the Peppermint Lounge was where it was all happening.
On January 28th at 7 p.m., the Cedarburg Cultural Center has curated an evening of dance until you drop, rockin’ music that will recreate that era of dance with “Freddy’s Dance Party at the Peppermint Lounge!” featuring Freddy and the Blifftones and special guest, David “Bones” Boyles, plus other surprise, cameo performances.
“Freddy’s style brings back the old days when we danced to The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, and Chubby Checker,” said David “Bones” Boyles, Producer of The Peppermint Lounge. “When Freddy plays you can’t sit down! His connection to music is so deep -- crooning, laughing, crying --all from the heart!”
The evening, which is a fundraiser for Music Programming at the CCC, includes a Cash Bar, Silent Auction, and 50/50 Raffle. Costume or Cocktail attire is encouraged. Tickets are $25/person, or reserve at VIP table for four for $200, which includes a bottle of wine. RSVP by January 20th by callign (262) 375-3676, or in person at the Center Box Office, located at W62 N546 Washington Ave. in Cedarburg.
The Peppermint Lounge is sponsored by Commerce State Bank, Newman Chevrolet, and Cedarburg Place. The Non-Profit CCC is supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment of the Arts.
For questions or more information, please contact the Cedarburg Cultural Center at 262-375-3676 or visit www.CedarburgCulturalCenter.org.
By Mary Boyle
In the early to mid 1900's, there was an epicenter of African-American culture in Milwaukee; a place that celebrated jazz, blues, and the arts, and was frequented by the likes of Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, and Nat "King" Cole. Bordered by Brown Street on the north, Juneau Avenue on the south, Third Street on the east, and 12th Street on the west, it was one of many African-American neighborhoods that sprang up in northern cities in the early 1900's, as hundreds of thousands of Black Americans escaped the segregation and Jim Crow laws of the South. Many of these neighborhoods, including Milwaukee's, were informally dubbed "Bronzeville." This culturally-rich neighborhood is the focus of the new World Premier play at First Stage, written and directed by Sheri Williams Pannell, called Welcome to Bronzeville.
The concluding production in The Wisconsin Cycle, a series of six plays highlighting Wisconsin's rich history and ethnic diversity, Welcome to Bronzeville returns to 1957, when this Milwaukee neighborhood was its own, self-sustaining community, with it's own vibrant economy and culture; a tight-knit community where an African-American family could own their own home and make a decent living working in one of Milwaukee's factories, breweries, and foundries.
This coming of age story revolves around Mike (Collin Woldt/Kamani Graham), a Deacon's son who is trying to become his own man, which is a difficult thing to do while being endlessly watched and coached by his well meaning neighbors and Sgt. Felmers Chaney (Dominique Worsley), the local policeman. Michael Sr. (Gavin Lawrence) and his wife, Irene (Samantha D. Montgomery), expect a lot of their eldest son, as well as their daughter, Debbie (Kaysha Gail/Makayla Davis), and are dismayed to find their formerly responsible son getting into trouble with some neighborhood boys. Fortunately, the great Billie Holiday (Malkia Stampley) comes to stay in the family's attic suite, and she brings more than just great music.
Parents and grandparents (even those who have always lived outside of Milwaukee) will recognize names like A.O. Smith, Gimbles, and Camp Minikani (which was established back in 1919, by the way), and enjoy a walk down memory lane. More importantly, Welcome to Bronzeville will hopefully inspire the continued renaissance of this culturally unique and important neighborhood in Milwaukee and, as Director Sheri Williams Pannell hopes, will inspire "the return to a mindset of investing in our community and being more thoughtful neighbors."
Welcome to Bronzeville runs now through February 5th at the Marcus Center's Todd Wehr Theater, located at 929 N. Water Street in Milwaukee. Tickets start at $15, and can be ordered by calling (414) 273-7206, or online at www.firststage.org.
About First Stage
Celebrating its 30th anniversary in the 2016-2017 season, First Stage is one of the nation’s leading theaters for young audiences and families. First Stage touches hearts, engages minds, and transforms lives by creating extraordinary theater experiences for young people and families through professional theater productions that inspire, enlighten, and entertain. Its Theater Academy, the nation’s largest high-impact theater training program for young people, fosters life skills through stage skills and serves over 2,100 students each year. As Wisconsin’s leader in arts-integrated education in schools, First Stage’s dynamic Theater in Education programs use theater to promote active learning throughout the curriculum, serving over 20,000 students throughout southeastern Wisconsin each year. In 2012, First Stage was selected to participate in the Partners in Education program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. First Stage is the recipient of the Milwaukee Business Journal’s Eureka Award in 2013 and 2015, recognizing creativity and innovation in business, education, and the arts. First Stage is a member of TYA/USA, the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, the Wisconsin Alliance for Arts Education, Theatre Wisconsin, and Milwaukee Arts Partners, and is a cornerstone member of the United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF).
The well-known children's book author, Barbara Joosse, of Cedarburg was once a little girl. Well, of course she was, but she was also one of those little, little girls, who dreamed of a big friend who could protect her. This little girl idea became the inspiration for a series of books about Girl and her friend, Dragon, and their adventures together. Now, the first three books in the series has inspired a World Premier Musical with First Stage in Milwaukee, which is named for the first book in the series, Lovabye Dragon.
"It's so out of the box and so full of energy," said Barbara, when describing the musical. "It shimmers in magic."
For the past three years, First Stage Artistic Director, Jeff Frank, Nathan Meckel of the band Happy Racers, and Barbara have worked together to create the musical, which opens on January 21st at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center in Milwaukee. Not only did Barbara write the books, but she also co-wrote the lyrics with Nathan, who she has worked with in the past.
"First Stage is really an incubator theater," Barbara explained. "Jeff and I wanted to make it so anyone could do the play, with any budget. After its premier here, it's going to travel."
Before the musical even opened, it won the 2017 Jim Henson Foundation Family Grant for the creation of Dragon, who is a 12 foot puppet, as well as tabletop and shadow puppets used in the musical, created by Brandon Kirkham, Scenic and Puppet Designer. Since 1982, the Jim Henson Foundation has made over 850 grants for the development and presentation of new works of contemporary American puppet theater.
Barbara and the Happy Racers will be participating in a related event at the Cedarburg Performing Arts Center on Thursday, January 19th at 6 p.m.: A Beginning With No End. The evening will feature book readings from Barbara, followed by a concert for families with The Happy Racers. Tickets are just $5.
Lovabye Dragon runs through February 19th at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, located at 325 W. Walnut Street in Milwaukee. The performance is geared towards children ages 3-7 years old. Tickets are $14, and may be purchased at www.firststage.org or by calling (414) 267-2961.