By Mary Boyle
In the whole of the musical theater world, there are few music and lyric writing duos as well known and successful as Rodgers & Hammerstein. The King & I, The Sound of Music, and South Pacific were among their Broadway hits, but the most influential and successful was their very first collaboration: Oklahoma! Since its opening on Broadway in 1943, this tale of romance on America's frontier has seen numerous award-winning revivals and national tours, including a 75th Anniversary staging happening on Broadway right now, and was even the winner of a special Pulitzer Prize. Oklahoma! literally set the stage for all Broadway musicals that followed, which makes it the perfect season opener for Skylight Music Theatre's 60th Anniversary Season, under the leadership of their new Artistic Director, Michael Unger.
Curly McLain (Lucas Pastrana) is a cowman in love, but his lady of interest, Laurey (Brittani Moore), seems to be playing hard to get. Though Laurey's Aunt Eller (Cynthia Cobb) and the rest of the community are sure the two are stuck on each other, Laurey already agreed to go to the dance with Jud Fry (Jeremy Peter Johnson), the creepy hired hand on her Aunt's farm. Curly and Laurey's romance isn't the only talk of the town, though: Will Parker (Sean Anthony Jackson), another cowman, has his heart set on Ado Annie (Hannah Esch), but neither she nor her father (Chad Larget) are taking him seriously. At the moment, the peddler Ali Hakim (Ehtan D. Brittingham) seems to have caught Ado's eye (and her eye may have a tendency to wander). Both Curly and Will need to work to get ahead of their competition in order to win the hearts of the ladies they love.
Directed by Jill Anna Ponasik, Oklahoma! is so much a part of our culture that, even if you've never seen the production before, you will almost surely recognize the music. From the opening number, "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," to the title song, "Oklahoma (where the wind comes sweeping down the plains)," you may be surprised to find yourself singing right along. Lucus Pastrana, who was last seen as the title role in Pippin at Skylight last season, is perfectly cast as the leading man, Curly, alongside his fellow cowman and fellow Skylight regular, Sean Anthony Jackson, who plays Will Parker. Cynthia Cobb and Chad Larget, who are also no strangers to the Skylight stage, are brilliant as Aunt Eller and Ado's papa, respectively. Brittani Moore and Jeremy Peter Johnson make fabulous Skylight debuts as Laurey and Jud. Keep an eye out for two newcomers: Hannah Esch is so much fun to watch as the feisty Ado Annie, and Ethan D. Brittingham, who was seen last season in The Fabulous Lipitones at In Tandem, is wonderful as the rascally pedler, Ali Hakim.
Once you see it, it's easy to see why Oklahoma! continues to draw crowds 75 years after it first hit Broadway and how the music continues to be a part of our culture: it's simply as American as apple pie, and just as traditional, while still having the ability to speak to modern audiences. Skylight does it absolute justice. See it while you can.
Oklahoma! runs through October 13th 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
Based on Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, with book by Arthur Laurents, music by America's original composer, Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by the amazing Stephen Sondheim, the 1957 Broadway Musical known as West Side Story has been an icon of American Theatre since its debut. In fact, when tickets for the production at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater went on sale this past June, it earned the highest grossing on-sale for a musical in the Quadracci Powerhouse, beating out last season's In the Heights. Considering the immense popularity of anything Lin Manuel Miranda has touched, that's really saying something. Now is your chance to see this great American work for yourself, as The Rep presents West Side Story.
The "West Side" in West Side Story is New York's Upper West Side. The time is the mid- 1950's, which means that the musical was modern at the time it was written in, and it was addressing a serious issue of the day: the largest migration of Puerto Ricans in New York history into a blue collar and mostly white neighborhood, along with the racism and violence that came with it. The story is told from the perspective of the two teenage gangs that fought for "territory" on the streets: the Sharks are the Puerto Ricans, and their leader is Bernardo (José-Luis Lopez, Jr.); the Jets are the white boys and their leader is Riff (Jacob Burns). From a Shakespearean standpoint, Bernardo is our Tybalt and Bernardo's younger sister, Maria (Liesl Collazo), is our Juliet, while Riff is our Mercutio and his idol and mentor, Tony (Jeffrey Kringer), is our Romeo, a fellow who is getting too old for the gang, and who has a feeling that something big is about to change in his life. Riff convinces Tony to meet at the dance, where he plans to formally challenge the Sharks to a final rumble to decide who will own the streets. Once there, time stands still when Tony and Maria find each other across a crowded dance floor. Of course, Bernardo makes sure his little sister is sent home, but that won't stop Tony from seeing her. Like Romeo and Juliet, the star-crossed lovers have their own balcony scene, but will they meet the same tragic end as their historic counterparts?
I have to admit: this was the first time I've seen a staging of West Side Story and, in the beginning, I was surprised at how dated it felt. The choreography, based on the original by Jerome Robbins but updated by Jon Rua, is front and center, and just as important as the music and lyrics; but, it has that "Fosse" feel which, combined with the improvised 50's "street language," makes it difficult to take seriously. Some of the gang members are not believable as teenagers, and that made it still more difficult to take seriously. Then, Tony sang "Maria" and I understood why people still come in droves to see this production. Interestingly, it seems as though fans of West Side Story fall into one of two categories: either they love the romance between Tony and Maria or they love the dancing between the gangs. I fall into the former category.
Given the current state of our society, it isn't hard to see that the struggles of 60 years ago are still our struggles today, which is a large part of what continues to make this musical relevant. Much of the music, which is directed by frequent Rep collaborator Dan Kazemi, is timeless. Songs like "America," "I Feel Pretty" and "Somewhere," written by the iconic Leonard Bernstein and lyricist Stephen Sondheim (Follies, A Little Night Music, Sweeny Todd, Into the Woods), who made his Broadway debut with this production, are a part of the soundtrack of our culture, recognizable by almost anyone. The name "Officer Krupke," from the song, "Gee, Officer Krupke," played brilliantly by Bill Watson in The Rep's production, might even ring a bell.
Directed by Mark Clements, who is celebrating his 10th year as The Rep's Artistic Director, West Side Story is an ambitious production. Not only do you need "triple-threat" performers (they can sing, dance, and act), you need a lot of them. The Rep brilliantly chose to cast several talented young performers from the area: Reese Parish, who was recently seen in The Rep's Professional Training Institute's performance of Everybody and the First Stage Young Company's World Premiere of Girls in the Boat; Isabel Bastardo, who was also in Everybody, as well as the First Stage Young Company's production of As You Like It; and Terynn Erby-Walker and Georgina Pink, who were recently seen in Skylight Music Theatre's production of Hairspray. Milwaukee favorites Jonathan Wainwright and James Pickering are well cast as Lieutenant Schrank/Glad Hand and Doc, respectively. Many of the performers on the stage are making their Rep debut, including Jeffrey Kringer and Liesl Collazo as Tony and Maria, who are both exceptional as performers and believable as young adults. I would be remiss if I didn't mention Hope Endrenyl, who did a fabulous job as Anybodys.
West Side Story runs through October 27th at the Quadracci Theatre, 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 66th 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
This season of Broadway at the Marcus Center features an incredible line-up of Tony Award-winning musicals, including the classic My Fair Lady, 90's favorites The Lion King and Miss Saigon, and the past three year's big winners: 2016's Hamilton, 2018's The Band's Visit, and they kick it all of with the 2017 Tony Award-winning smash hit, Dear Evan Hansen, which runs through September 29th at the Marcus Center's Uihlein Hall.
Evan Hansen (Stephen Christopher Anthony) is about to start his senior year of high school, but he's not excited. Thus far, Evan hasn't fit in well at school; like many kids his age, he suffers from social anxiety, which he is medicated for. His hardworking single mother, Heidi (Jessica E. Sherman), encourages Evan to bring a Sharpie and use the cast on his recently broken arm as the perfect ice-breaker to meet new friends and get the year off to a good start, as well as reminding him to write the encouraging letters to himself that his therapist recommended. The letters begin, "Dear Evan Hansen."
Unfortunately, the day does not go well: the only person who signs Evan's cast is the school outcast, Connor Murphy (Noah Kieserman), who finds and takes Evan's letter to himself, in which Evan mentions Connor's sister Zoe (Stephanie La Rochelle) as one of the only highlights of school. Just when Evan thinks Connor Murphy is going to make his life worse, he's called to the school office where Connor's parents, Larry and Cynthia (John Hemphill, Claire Rankin), are waiting to meet him: Evan's letter was found in Connor's pocket after he committed suicide, and they are convinced that Connor not only wrote it to Evan, but that Evan surely was their troubled son's only friend. Utterly alarmed and unable to crush the hopes of two grieving parents, Evan does nothing to discourage their mistaken belief. Before long, one little lie leads to another, as Evan discovers that being "Connor's best friend" might be the best thing that could ever happen to him.
The creative team of Dear Evan Hansen has quite an impressive pedigree, with book by Tony Award-winner Steven Levenson and music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who were the award-winning team from the films La La Land and The Greatest Showman. Director Michael Greif is known for his work on Rent and Next to Normal on Broadway, and Choreographer Danny Mefford also holds the Tony Award for his work on Fun Home. Music Supervisor and Orchestrator Alex Lacamoire, of Hamilton and In the Heights fame, earned a Tony and a Grammy for each production, while Scenic Designer David Korins earned a Tony nomination for his work on Hamilton, as well.
What's remarkable about this musical is that it is so thoroughly grounded in the current struggles of our modern world: the effects of social media on our relationships and how we communicate, mental health issues, the rise in youth suicide, and the difficulties of being a single parent, among others. It's a story, sadly, that everyone can relate to, but it's also a story that is beautifully told and full of hope. The entire cast is incredibly talented, and reach the type of tear-inducing vocal perfection that you want to achieve in a Broadway musical, but Stephen Christopher Anthony as Evan delivers a particularly impressive performance, both vocally and portraying the delightfully uncomfortable and awkward Evan.
The music of Dear Evan Hansen has been extremely popular, earning the highest charting debut position on the Billboard 200 for an original cast album since 1961. "You Will Be Found" has become an anthem for anyone who feels alone or left out and, in this day and age, that seems to be a lot of people. In fact, in just the past year, the YouTube video of the song has been streamed nearly 9 million times. For all that social media is supposed to be connecting us, that's a lot of lonely people. A lot of lonely people that Evan Hansen has helped to find. Broadway has always had a reputation for starting important cultural conversations, and Dear Evan Hansen is the conversation we need to be having now.
Dear Evan Hansen runs through Sunday, September 29th 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:
Riveredge Nature Center in Saukville is one of Ozaukee's best natural spaces, especially because the people there work so hard to make getting outdoors fun for everyone. This Fall, Riveredge has plenty of opportunities to engage in nature, for members and non-members, alike!
While it doesn't take place in Oz, this annual collaboration between Riveredge and Lakeshore State Park is full of fun for the whole family! Be there on Saturday, September 28th for one of the biggest annual conservation events and festivals in Wisconsin, returning a breeding population of Sturgeon to Lake Michigan and the Milwaukee River!
Music in the Mushroom – A Historic Riverside Celebration Hike out to the Mushroom Shelter for an evening of music, history, river exploration and more, to celebrate the Milwaukee River. Naturalists will lead historic hikes to the Grady Ruins along the Milwaukee River, try your hand at catching some river critters, enjoy tunes from the 1940's originally recorded in the town of Saukville, courtesy of Oscar Grady Library, and purchase picnic foods on site for the perfect autumn afternoon on Saturday, October 12th.
Barn Dance with Frogwater Dust off your straw hat, round up your dancing boots and grab your partner for a Barn Dance Fundraiser at Riveredge Nature Center! Join us Friday, October 18th after sun-down, or for you city-folk- 7:00pm! Learn traditional barn dances under direction of a professional caller, enjoy foot stompin’ tunes by regional favorite, Frogwater, and sip a jar of brew from a local brewery. (We’re much obliged to provided your first drink on us!) All ages welcome, no previous experiences needed! Games, campfire, and good old fashion fun provided. Fire Grilled Hot Dogs, Sausages, & Corn on the Cob available for purchase. Proceeds benefit Youth & Family Education Programs at Riveredge.
A Day for Dogs We love our pups, and we know you love yours too! While we must normally limit dog access at Riveredge to protect the sanctuary’s sensitive native plant and animal life, we wanted to offer you one day a year where your dog can be a “Riveredge Kid” too! Show your pups a piece of nature and enjoy a family hike through our beautiful restored wild Wisconsin sanctuary. It’s guaranteed to be a pawesome day for the whole family. Come for all or part of the day on Saturday, October 19th from 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. (no need to show up right at 9 AM). Please feel free to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy!
Trails & Treats
Families are invited to hike the Riveredge trails and visit educational stations along a one mile loop on Friday, October 25th from 4:30-8:30 p.m.. Along the way, visit with costumed woodland creatures educating you about their habits and habitats and receive candy-free treats as you go! Plus, tons more fantastic fall festivities! Costumes are highly encouraged.
These events are just a sampling of what's happening at Riveredge, so be sure to check out their website for the full details. Membership is not required for most events, though registration is usually required, but membership is reasonably priced and offers discounts on events and certain members-only opportunities, as well as other benefits. Let Riveredge help you get outside this Fall!