By Mary Boyle
Most people have heard of Louis Armstrong, the trumpet-playing composer and vocalist who nearly defined the Jazz Age of the 20's, 30's, and 40's, but the name Louis Jordan may not be as familiar. Born in 1908 in Brinkley, Arkansas, Jordan was raised by his father, a music teacher and bandleader, and grew up to score 18 number one hit records in the 1940's, laying the foundation for R&B, modern blues, and rockabilly music, and recording with the likes of Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, and the great Louis Armstrong, himself. Jordan's music, and the music of his age, are the focus of the 1992 Broadway Musical by Clarke Peters, Five Guys Named Moe, which makes its way to the Cabot Theatre stage courtesy of Skylight Music Theatre.
Nomax (Gavin Lawrence) has the blues. His girlfriend left him because he treated her poorly, but the Five Guys Named Moe — Eat Moe (Sean Anthony Jackson), Big Moe (Lorenzo Rush, Jr.), Four-Eyed Moe (James Carrington), Little Moe (Kevin James Sievert), and No Moe (Shawn Holmes) — appear to teach him a lesson in songs before they go on to their gig at the Funky Butt Club, performing big band classics such as "Let the Good Times Roll," "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens," "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie," and "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby?"
A regular on the Skylight stage, James Carrington (Four-Eyed Moe) was seen last season in Hot Mikado, Annie and Urinetown, as well as playing the lion in The Wiz at First Stage, and always brings a comedic, lovable charm, along with a great voice. Kevin James Sievert (Little Moe), who also appeared in Hot Mikado and Urinetown, is always fun to watch. Sean Anthony Jackson (Eat Moe) is another regular at Skylight, and Shawn Holmes (No Moe) performs regularly on stages throughout Wisconsin. Gavin Lawrence, who just finished his third season at APT, is well-cast as Nomax, but it's Lorenzo Rush Jr. as Big Moe, making his Skylight debut, who really steals the show and commands the attention of the audience.
With Stage Direction by Malkia Stampley and Music Direction by Christie Chiles Twillie, Five Guys is, in a single word, fun. The premise of the story is a bit shaky, and the production has more of an intimate Cabaret feel than a big Broadway show, but all six men on stage are talented vocalists and performers having a great time, and their enthusiasm is contagious! Jordan's music was sometimes referred to as "jump blues," and it isn't hard to see why — the big band sound, created by just five musicians on stage — makes you wish you could clear the seats of the Cabot and get up and dance, but the Moes have plenty of fancy footwork of their own. Audience participation is required and, when the balance is right, it isn't hard to imagine you're at the Savoy Ballroom in New York in the 1940's, steaming up a cold winter night with music, dancing, and a little something to drink.
Five Guys Named Moe runs through February 10th at the Cabot Theatre, located within the Broadway Theatre Center at 158 N. Broadway in Milwaukee's Historic Third Ward. Tickets may be purchased in person at the Broadway Theatre Center BoxOffice, 158 N. Broadway, by calling (414) 291-7800, or visiting www.skylightmusictheatre.org
About Skylight Music Theatre
Skylight Music Theatre's mission since 1959: To bring the full spectrum of music theatre works to a wide and diverse audience, in celebration of the musical and theatrical arts and their reflection of the human condition. Skylight presents productions "Skylight Style" – bringing fresh approaches or interesting twists to music theatre works, creating meaningful connections, not only between the characters on stage, but with the audience, as well.
By Mary Boyle
There is hardly a child born after 1980 who isn't familiar with the stories of British author, Roald Dahl. Even if they aren't readers, many of his books have made their way to film, such as James and the Giant Peach or Fantastic Mr. Fox. Being such a popular children's author, it's surprising that it took so long for Dahl's stories to make their way to Broadway, but Charlie and the Chocolate Factory just wrapped up its Broadway run a year ago and, the year before that, MATILDA The Musical finished up its time on Broadway. Although First Stage, Milwaukee's nationally acclaimed children's theater, has never took on a full-length Broadway musical before, this seemed like a good production to start with.
Unlike most children, who are beloved by their parents, Matilda (triple cast as Taylor Arnstein, Reese Bell, and Marina Evans) is nothing but a nuisance to her family, Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood (Jackson Evans and Molly Rhode) and their son, Michael (double cast as Jonathan Neustifter and Nikolai Morrow). They just can't understand why Matilda, who is just 5 years old, would rather read a book than watch the telly, like they do. Luckily, Matilda has an ally at her local library, where Mrs. Phelps (Solana Ramirez-Garcia), the librarian, lives for Matilda's stories. When Matilda begins school, she finds another ally in her teacher, Mrs. Honey (Elizabeth Telford), who recognizes Matilda's incredible brilliance at once. Under the reign of the terrifying headmistress, Miss Trunchbull (Kelly Doherty), surviving is first and education is second. With the Truchbull and her parents against her, Matilda knows that she must be the one to change her story, and to do that, sometimes you have to be a little naughty...
Directed by Jeff Frank, with Choreography by Jayne and Michael Pink, Artistic Director of the Milwaukee Ballet, and Music Direction by Jeff Schaetzke, Matilda translates beautifully from the page to the stage, and is a production the whole family will enjoy. Though it is longer than the standard First Stage production, Matilda is fast-paced and fun, so the time flies by. Evans and Rhode, as the Wormwoods, are priceless and Kelly Doherty is perfectly cast as the Trunchbull. Lyonel Reneau, an adult performer with a several roles, has a beautiful voice, as does Elizabeth Telford, who plays Miss Honey. The music is live, which really gives the production a Broadway feel, thanks to musicians Samuel Clein, Paul Westfahl and Josh Robinson.
Matilda's cast boasts several First Stage Alumni, including Molly Rhode, Kelly Doherty, Allie Babich, Jamie Mercado, Elliott Brotherhood, and Teddy Warren, who is a stitch as the flamboyant Rudolpho. The Young Performers and Teen Ensemble are double cast, and feature several who call Ozaukee home, including Reese Bell from Cedarburg, who is one of the three Matildas, as well as Alex Radtke from Cedarburg, Ben Stull from Mequon, Celeste Hermans from Saukville, and Sawyer Esten from Cedarburg.
Roald Dahl’s MATILDA The Musical runs January 11 – February 24, 2019 at the Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater, located at 929 N. Water Street in downtown Milwaukee. Tickets can be purchased in person at the Marcus Center Box Office at 929 N. Water Street, by phone at (414) 273-7206 or online at www.firststage.org. Performance runtime is approximately two hours and 40 minutes, including intermission. Suggested for families with young people ages 8 – 18+.
About First Stage
First Stage is one of the nation’s leading theaters for young people and families. First Stage touches hearts, engages minds and transforms lives by creating extraordinary theater experiences 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 promote literacy, character building and experiential learning throughout the curriculum, serving over 20,000 students each year. First Stage was selected to participate in the Partners in Education program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (2012), and was the recipient of the Milwaukee Business Journal’sEureka Award, recognizing creativity and innovation in business, education and the arts for its Next Steps program for students on the autism spectrum (2013, 2015). First Stage is a member of TYA/USA, the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, the Wisconsin Alliance for Arts Education, Milwaukee Arts Partners and is a cornerstone member of the United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF).
By Mary Boyle
Author of what are considered two of the greatest American novels, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Samuel Langhorne Clemens — better known as Mark Twain — was inspired by his childhood in Hannibal, Missouri and his time spent as a steamboat pilot on the great Mississippi River. In fact, it was this position that gave him his pen name, as "mark twain" was the cry given when the river measured 12 feet deep, meaning it was safe for the riverboat to travel. Twain's romantic tales of America's great river are the inspiration for the World Premiere production of Mark Twain's River of Song at The Rep's Stackner Cabaret.
Written by Randal Myler and Dan Wheetman, the same duo who wrote Low Down Dirty Blues and Back Home Again, which graced the Stackner stage several seasons back, River boasts a talented ensemble of three performers who each can play multiple instruments, sing, and act. David M. Lutken, who also appeared in Back Home Again, is Mark Twain, and does the majority of the narration and singing, while also playing guitar, harmonica, banjo, mandolin and an occasional bit of dancing. Spiff Wiegand plays over 20 instruments (but just eight for this production), and spends some time as Huck Finn during the performance. Harvy Blanks is Old Jim and, though he plays the least amount of instruments (washboard and harmonica) during the show, his voice is essential for such traditional songs as "Follow the Drinking Gourd," "Stagger Lee," and "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child."
What's interesting about this production is that Myler and Wheetman wrote nearly half of the songs performed in the same style as many of the traditional songs in the lineup, as opposed to using all familiar material, which I don't think the audience was expecting. The story line is not as clear and tidy as their other shows; nonetheless, Lutken's voice is reminiscent of Johnny Cash, the performers are talented, and the music moves along at a fast pace, interspersed with Twain's quips and wisdom and a little bit of Huck Finn — an enjoyable accompaniment to one of the many delicious drinks and desserts you can order at the Stackner while you take in the performance.
Mark Twain's River of Song runs through March 17th at the Stackner Cabaret, located within the Patty & Jay Baker Theater Complex at 108 E. Wells St. in Milwaukee. Tickets can be purchased by calling (414) 224-9490, in-person at the Box Office, or online at www.MilwaukeeRep.com.
About Milwaukee Repertory Theater
The Milwaukee Rep is the largest performing arts organization in Wisconsin, in terms of audiences served, and one of the largest professional theaters in the country. Each year, The Rep welcomes up to 275,000 people at nearly 700 performances of 15 productions, ranging from compelling dramas, powerful classics, new plays, and full-scale musicals in its three unique performance venues: the Quadracci Powerhouse, Stiemke Studio, and Stackner Cabaret. Now in its 65th Season, The Rep has gained a national reputation as an incubator of new work, an agent of community change, and a forward-thinking provider of .vital arts education programs. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Mark Clements and Executive Director Chad Bauman, Milwaukee Repertory Theater ignites positive change in the cultural, social, and economic vitality of its community by creating world-class theater experiences that entertain, provoke, and inspire meaningful dialogue among an audience representative of Milwaukee's rich diversity.
Pulitzer Prize-Winning Playwright and Milwaukee Native Ayad Akhtar's Tony-Nominated Play: JUNK
By Mary Boyle
The 1980's saw massive changes to the US economy that we're still feeling the effects of today. "Reaganomics," the economic ideology of President Ronald Reagan, consisting of deregulation, tax cuts, and slashing social programs, caused a rash of bank closures, business bankruptcies, and the greatest stock market crash since the Great Depression, spinning the Country into a deep recession. Sound familiar? While many suffered, there were some who took advantage of the financial chaos and made millions. This is the background of Milwaukee Native and Pulitzer Prize-Winning playwright Ayad Akhtar's latest Tony-nominated play, JUNK, being performed on The Milwaukee Rep's Quadracci Powerhouse stage.
Robert Merkin (Gregory Linington) is becoming famous. To some, he's a financial wizard; to others, he is a vulture who is gaming the system by taking advantage of companies in financial failure and utilizing the buying and selling of "junk" bonds to make a fortune. An ambitious trader at an investment bank, Merkin is using businessman Israel Peterman (Demetrios Troy) to take over the struggling, third generation steel business owned by Thomas Everson Jr (James Ridge) with the help of his equally financially brilliant wife, Amy (Rachel Sledd); Murray Lefkowitz (Norman Moses), a wealthy investor; his lawyer, Raul Rivera (Justin Huen); and, a hidden string of strategically placed people, such as Boris Pronsky (Jonathan Wainwright) and Mark O' Hare (Michael Milligan), arbitrageurs who buy and sell stock when Merkin tells them to.
Everson, however, has his own investment banker, Max Cizik (Matt Daniels), and lawyer, Jackie Blount (N'Jameh Camara), and he is not going to lose control of his company without a fight. They turn to another wealthy investor, Leo Tresler (Brian Mani), to beat Merkin at his own game. Meanwhile, US Assistant Attorney Kevin Walsh (DiMonte Henning) and US Attorney Joe Addesso (Dominic Comperatore) are investigating Merkin's business practices, and Judy Chen (Rebecca Hirota), a writer, is doing an investigation of her own, hoping to capitalize on the inside story of America's new J.P. Morgan.
Directed by Mark Clements, The Rep's Artistic Director, JUNK features a talented cast, including a few of Milwaukee's finest in roles we aren't used to seeing them in. Jonathan Wainwright is best known at The Rep for his roles as Ebeneezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit in A Christmas Carol, but delivers a spot-on performance as Merkin's twitchy toady, Boris. Longtime APT actor James Ridge is stunning as the struggling Everson and Matt Daniels, who many will recognize from his roles as Snoopy or Edward Tulane at First Stage, shows his serious side as Max Cizik. DiMonte Henning, who played the love-struck George Gibbs in last season's Our Town at The Rep, is a very credible US Assistant Attorney, while Norman Moses, who was Dr. Watson in last season's Holmes and Watson, was far less serious as the pushover investor, Murray Lefkowitz. Another Milwaukee favorite, Todd Denning, who was also seen in A Christmas Carol, as well as in Pippin this season at Skylight, plays three different roles throughout the production.
N'Jameh Camara, a Milwaukee native, makes an impressive Rep debut alongside Rachel Sledd, Dominic Comperatore, Michael Milligan, and an outstanding debut performance by Gregory Linington as Merkin. While not new to The Rep, APT core company member Brian Mani makes a terrific Quadracci Powerhouse debut, and Demetrios Troy, Rebecca Hirota (who appeared in Jane Eyre in the 16/17 Season), and Justin Huen (who was in last season's One House Over) make triumphant returns to The Rep stage.
Born in New York, but raised in Milwaukee, novelist and playwright Ayad Akhtar's JUNK is similar to Disgraced, which ran at The Rep during their 16/17 season, in that the characters in the play demonstrate to the audience the human element behind some of the greatest struggles of our country. Akhtar says of JUNK, "I was trying to write a play that could get its arms around what is happening in the world, as far as money goes, and the model for me were the Shakespearean histories, in terms of how to approach a big story like this. I felt if I could make the human actions clear — if you understand on a human level somebody's lying to somebody else, somebody's a double agent, somebody wants a job, somebody doesn't like Jews — these simple actions create a human through-line that's clear to audiences. Then, after that, there's whatever added dimension about finance, about death, about the nature of property, about the meaning of ownership, about the place of shareholder rights in a democracy, about the transformation of value — all those questions which are played out through the show."
Thought-provoking and fast-paced, JUNK is very much The Wolf of Wall Street for the stage; one does not need to be knowledgeable about finances in order to follow the story, but be prepared for R-rated language and the distinct feeling that history is repeating itself. Akhtar's ongoing relationship with The Rep, which will include the world premiere of a stage adaptation of his critically acclaimed novel, American Dervish, this next season is clearly a win for both parties, as well as for audiences. Milwaukee audiences are beyond lucky to be tied to, and to witness, the launching of what appears to be a very promising career.
JUNK runs through February 17th at the Quadracci Theater, located within the Patty & Jay Baker Theater Complex at 108 E. Wells St. in Milwaukee. Tickets can be purchased by calling (414) 224-9490, in-person at the Box Office, or online at www.MilwaukeeRep.com.
Talks and Events
Rep-in-Depth: A pre-show conversation with a member of the cast or artistic team. Rep-in-Depth occurs approximately 45 minutes before curtain for every performance.
TalkBacks: A discussion with members of the cast and artistic team following the 8 p.m. performance on the following Wednesdays: January 23, January 30, February 6 and February 23.
Roundtable Discussion: Power & Money & Response & Resistance –
Visit the Jewish Museum Milwaukee exhibit, “Blacklist: The Hollywood Red Scare” and listen in as a roundtable of local thought leaders discuss the impact of federal funding on their work.
For more information on these events, please visit: https://www.milwaukeerep.com/Tickets--Events/Events/
About Milwaukee Repertory Theater
Milwaukee Rep is the largest performing arts organization in Wisconsin in terms of audiences served and one of the largest professional theaters in the country. Each year, The Rep welcomes up to 275,000 people at nearly 700 performances of 15 productions ranging from compelling dramas, powerful classics, new plays and full-scale musicals in its three unique performance venues – the Quadracci Powerhouse, Stiemke Studio and Stackner Cabaret. Now in its 65th Season, The Rep has gained a national reputation as an incubator of new work, an agent of community change and a forward-thinking provider of vital arts education programs. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Mark Clements and Executive Director Chad Bauman, Milwaukee Repertory Theater ignites positive change in the cultural, social, and economic vitality of its community by creating world-class theater experiences that entertain, provoke, and inspire meaningful dialogue among an audience representative of Milwaukee’s rich diversity.
By Mary Boyle
Back in 1997, a raunchy but hilarious animated show for adults aired on Comedy Central. Created by a couple of fellows from Colorado, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, South Park is now in its 21st season. Obviously, the duo knows how to write comedy. Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that their Broadway musical, which opened in 2011 and was co-written with Robert Lopez of Avenue Q fame, won 9 Tony awards and has gone on to become one of the most successful musicals of all time. Now, The Book of Mormon returns to Milwaukee after a record-breaking week in 2016, courtesy of the Broadway at the Marcus Center Series.
Directed by Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker, The Book of Mormon follows Elder Price (Liam Tobin) and Elder Cunningham (Conner Peirson), beginning with their graduation from Missionary Training School. Elder Price, a handsome and competent young man, is certain he will be assigned to his dream city, Orlando, with another competent companion and will go on to do great things; instead, he is saddled with Cunningham, a short, dumpy oddball of a Mormon who is happy to be a follower, and the two are sent to a war-torn, AIDS-ridden, poverty-stricken village in Uganda. Neither are prepared for the type of conditions that await them.
Much like South Park, The Book of Mormon is shocking, dirty, and laced with the F-word; however, if you can make it through all of that, there is actually some substance to the story. Though it seems that the musical is just making fun of Mormons (and, to be fair, it is), all comedy must have an element of truth and heart to make it work, and this one does. Combine that with a perfectly cast and incredibly talented group of performers, and you've got yourself a credible musical, no matter how many F-bombs you drop.
The Book of Mormon runs through January 6th at the Marcus Center for Performing Arts Uihlein Hall, located at 929 N. Water St. in Milwaukee. Tickets may be purchased by calling 414.273.7206, or online at: https://www.marcuscenter.org/show/the-book-of-mormon-2019/
The 2018/19 Broadway at the Marcus series has an exciting lineup! Join them for Fiddler on the Roof, Phantom of the Opera, The King and I, Come From Away, and Anastasia.