By Mary Boyle
Most of the area theatre companies take a break over the summer months, when everyone would rather be outdoors and soaking up the sun, but there are a few whose season only coincides with Wisconsin's warmest months, and they bring their performances outdoors, with an almost exclusive focus on the most famous of playwrights: William Shakespeare.
Now entering their third season, the Summit Players are a group of mainly Marquette Alumni who are determined to make Shakespeare accessible to families by performing for free at State Parks throughout Wisconsin. This year, the production is the hilarious Comedy of Errors, and if last season is any indication, they will have the audiences in stitches. Their plays use the original language, but they are edited for time, and to be as family-friendly as possible, while still retaining the brilliance that the Bard intended. They even offer a pre-show workshop that is perfect for school-aged kids. The Players will be just north of Oz at Kohler-Andrae State Park on Saturday, July 29th. The workshop is at 5:30 p.m., and the show is at 7; note that you will need a vehicle admission sticker to get into the park. To see the Summit Players full schedule and learn more, go to: www.summitplayerstheatre.com/
Optimist Theatre in Milwaukee has been doing Shakespeare in the Park in Milwaukee since 2010, and they return this season with Much Ado About Nothing. This year the production has been moved from its old home at Kadish Park to the Marcus Center's outdoor stage, the Peck Pavilion, as part of the Center's Live at the Peck Pavilion Series. With seating, a roof overhead, and the ability to purchase food and drink on site, this new location is sure to be a big hit. The production opens for a preview the evening of Thursday, July 6th, and opening night is Friday, July 7th. All performances begin at 8 p.m., with the exception of a noon matinee on July 18th. Performances are free, and it is recommended to arrive no later than a half hour before the performance to claim your seats. The final performance is Saturday, July 22nd. To see the full schedule and learn more about Optimist Theatre, please visit: http://www.optimisttheatre.org
If you are willing to travel, one of the best outdoor theatre experiences in Wisconsin is in Spring Green at the American Players Theatre. APT has multiple productions, both modern and classic, throughout the summer on two different outdoor stages, but they never fail to perform at least one of Shakespeare's plays. This year, APT has selected two by the Bard: A Midsummer Night's Dream and Pericles: Prince of Tyre. APT is an incredibly unique theatre experience, and a trip to the Driftless Area is always a treat. To learn more about APT's complete season, including free concerts, go to: https://americanplayers.org/
As the Bard, himself, wrote: "All the world's a stage." His work certainly has traveled the world, and stood the test of time. Find out why at a stage near you this summer.
By Mary Boyle
"Follies." "A Little Night Music." "Into the Woods." "Sundays in the Park with George." Nothing goes together quite like Stephen Sondheim and Musical Theatre, and perhaps that is why this famous American composer's musical thriller, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, was chosen for Skylight Music Theatre's season finale.
Directed by Matthew Ozawa, Sweeney Todd is widely considered to be one of Sondheim's greatest musicals (made extra famous with the 2007 film adaptation featuring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter). The musical is the story of Sweeney Todd (Andrew Varela), a London barber who was wrongfully imprisoned for many years when the corrupt Judge Turpin (Randall Dodge) took a fancy to the barber's beautiful wife. Saved from drowning by a sailor, Anthony Hope (Lucas Pastrana), Todd returns to London to learn from his old neighbor, Mrs. Lovett (Christina Hall), that his wife committed suicide, and his daughter, Johanna (Kelly Brit), had grown up the ward of none other than Judge Turpin, himself. Determined to get his vengeance and be reunited with his daughter, Todd reopens his barber shop on Fleet Street, above where Mrs. Lovett makes her meat pies. And then, as they say, the murders began.
The local competition, Italian barber Adolfo Pirelli (Robert A. Goderich), threatens Todd and demands a share of his profits, so he is the first to feel Todd's wrath. Pirelli's boy, Tobias Ragg (Ryan Stajmiger) makes a seemingly perfect helper for Mrs. Lovett, but what to do with the body of his former employer? You know, with the price of meat these days...
Sweeney Todd is as morbid and gruesome as it is funny and somewhat erotic, and Skylight plays all of it up, with dark Victorian costumes and a set that recalls an insane asylum of the same period, along with what are surely the worst pies in London. The walls quite literally run with blood, and there may be some identifiable body parts in the meat grinder -- this is not a show for the exceptionally squeamish! -- and yet, audiences will be almost surprised to find themselves laughing at the horror presented to them. That, perhaps, is the brilliance of Sweeney Todd.
Performances of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street are Friday, May 19 through Saturday, June 11 in the Cabot Theatre, located at, 158 N. Broadway, in the Historic Third Ward of Milwaukee. Sweeney Todd is suitable for audiences ages 12 and up. Tickets are $25 - $75 (plus tax and fees) and can be purchased in person at the Broadway Theatre Center Box Office, 158 N. Broadway, or by calling (414) 291-7800, Monday – Saturday, from noon - 6 p.m. The Box Office window is also open two hours prior to each performance. Tickets may be purchased online at 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. The beautiful, intimate Cabot Theatre allows audiences to feel close to the powerful emotions on stage.