By Mary Boyle
Though the mindset is thankfully changing, our culture has not always been very supportive of boys who want to dance, and this was especially true in the 1980's, when the Aids Epidemic, which villainized the gay community, was in its height. The mid-1980's was also the time of a massive coal miner's strike in North East England, which pushed thousands of families into poverty. This was the setting of the 2000 film, Billy Elliot, in which eleven year old Billy discovers he has a passion and talent for ballet, but is scorned by members of both his family and his community. The critically-acclaimed film was adapted for the stage and made its West End debut in 2005, and its Broadway debut in 2008; now, you can get your taste of Billy Elliot, The Musical at the Waukesha Civic Theatre through November 11th.
Featuring music by Elton John, Billy Elliot, The Musical is every bit as inspirational and moving as the film. Billy (Ryan Vanselow) has lost his mother (Gwen Ter Haar), and his father, Jack (Corey Patrick), and older brother, Tony (Ben Bartos), are immersed in the miner's strike, leaving Billy and his Grandmother (Maggie Wirth) mostly on their own. When Billy is made to stay late after his boxing class, he finds himself swept up in Mrs. Wilkinson's (Caroline Miller-Bayer) dance class. Though he'd never admitted it, Billy secretly loves to dance, and though Mrs. Wilkinson's mouthy daughter, Debbie (Maddie Dixon), doesn't see it, Mrs. Wilkinson notices Billy's talent. When Billy's father finds out that Billy is using his boxing class money for dance class, he bans Billy from both classes. Thankfully, Mrs. Wilkinson refuses to give up on Billy, and offers to train him, anyway, so he can audition for the Royal Ballet.
Directed by Mark E. Schuster, Billy is not as well cast and set as last season's Hunchback of Notre Dame), which Schuster also directed, but its lack of a live orchestra and a few rough edges are made up by the apparent dedication of the cast and crew, some stellar individual performances, and the support of this delightful little community theatre in the heart of historic downtown Waukesha. Ryan Vanselow is clearly a talented tap dancer, actor and singer; despite the fact that his ballet was a bit rough, he makes an admirable WCT debut, and the entire show is filled with magical moments. Corey Patrick, who was fantastic as Cogsworth at Sunset Playhouse's Beauty and the Beast last season, gives a wonderful performance as Billy's father in this production. Maggie Wirth's "Grandma's Song" is brilliant, and both her, Billy and Caroline Miller-Bayer shine when they all sing together in "The Letter." The absolute stars of the show are the kids: besides Vanselow, Maddie Dixon is priceless as Debbie, and Liam Thomas, who plays Billy's friend, Michael, gives a brave, exceptional performance. The adorable award goes to Reece Dixon, Maddie's little brother, who makes his scene-stealing WCT debut.
While I found it hysterical to hear foul language coming out of the mouths of babes (and Grandmothers), audiences should be prepared for mature language and tweens exploring their sexuality. Aside from that, a community and family putting aside their prejudices and struggles to come together and help a young boy with a dream is a story that needs to be heard, right now, and this cast does a fine job of telling it.
Billy Elliot, The Musical, runs through November 11th at Waukesha Civic Theatre, located at 264 W. Main Street in historic downtown Waukesha. Tickets are available by calling the Box Office at 262.547.0708, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or online at http://www.waukeshacivictheatre.org/.
The Waukesha Civic Theatre, Inc. is a non-profit corporation whose mission is to provide quality live theatre performances and educational opportunities that will enrich, challenge and entertain both participants and audience members. In July of 2006, the Waukesha Civic Theatre began its 50th season. With that historic season, WCT joined an elite group: according to the American Association of Community Theatres, of the roughly 7,000 community theatres in the United States, only about 100 can claim 50 years of continuous operation. It has undergone many positive changes from its beginnings in 1957 with productions at Waukesha High School. In 1999, WCT moved from a former church to a beautiful new facility in the heart of historic downtown Waukesha. The building, a former historic PIX movie house, was donated to WCT by Bryce Styza, a prominent local developer who saw the power that the theatre could exert in revitalizing downtown. Since the theatre opened in 1957 to the start of its 51st season in September of 2007, over 10,000 people have volunteered and 200,000 audience members have been entertained.
By Mary Boyle
Eighteen years ago, two twenty-somethings met while working at Rock Bottom Brewery in Milwaukee and became fast friends; the restaurant world was their world, and they thought it would be cool if someday they opened a restaurant together. Seven years later, they became Mr. and Mrs. Michael and Siobhan Mesenbourg. Fast forward to 2013, and the couple had two kids and opened their very first restaurant...on wheels: the Yellowbellies Food Truck. Finally, this February, they'll make their original dream a reality when they open the Fork & Tap in the Harbour Lights building in downtown Port Washington.
Michael went to MATC for Hospitality Management, but it was while he was a Manager at the Chocolate Factory in Cedarburg that he realized he wanted to be on the food side of the business instead of the management side. "I liked making simple food look good," he explained. Instead of going back to school, Michael took a position as a chef at the Grafton Sendiks, which is where he got used to making food in large quantities.
In the meantime, Siobhan went from being a supervisor at Louise's in downtown Milwaukee to the Events Manager at iPic in Bayshore Mall, but what she really wanted was to work with Michael and own their own place. The Food Truck was trending, and the couple saw it as an inexpensive way to get started on their dream, so they found a truck, left their jobs, and never looked back.
"The best thing about a food truck," Michael said, "is that it's just yourselves, and the worst thing about a food truck is that it's just yourselves — you don't have to employ a team, but you also have nobody else to fall back on." Not only that, but the truck breaks — a lot— and, unlike a brick and mortar restaurant, when the truck breaks, it's over. Weather, too, is a constant problem, and it keeps the truck basically closed from December through March. Then, there's the parking...
"Parking it is a nightmare," Siobhan interjected. "I have to fight to go to work almost every time we take the truck out."
Still, they love their restaurant on wheels, and their menu, consisting mainly of a variety of pulled chicken sandwiches (the name "Yellowbellies" comes from the yellow belly of a rotisserie chicken) on flatbread has developed quite a following, and though their new restaurant will offer a different menu than their food truck, they know that people who like the truck will probably like the restaurant; in fact, the food truck inspired the name of the new restaurant. Each Yellowbellies sandwich is served with their trademark yellow fork, and since they are also focusing on Wisconsin craft beers at the restaurant, they decided on the name that combines the two: the Fork & Tap.
The new restaurant will serve lunch and dinner, and will have a casual, fun, family-friendly atmosphere. "The menu is inspired by memories of holidays and family meals," said Michael, "So there will be a lot of 'shareables' — things like Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes and chicken and biscuits." Because the couple has many friends and family with dietary restrictions, they will also offer gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options on the menu, including a gluten-free fish fry.
Once the food truck closes for the season, work will start in earnest in their new place, putting months of planning into action. "We love entertaining and having people over," Michael said, "and the restaurant is an extension of that." An extension that happens to have an excellent view of Port's harbor and Lake Michigan, as well as a large outdoor patio for dining, which the couple hopes will be a popular place this summer. "This is what we love to do," Michael said, "and we love the instant gratification that comes from seeing people happy with what you do."
By Mary Boyle
Twisted Willow's Chef Dan Wiken and team pulled off another fabulous Harvest Feast last weekend. A six course dinner could be a nightmare in all sorts of ways, but the restaurant ran smoothly, with courses that were just the right size arriving in a comfortable stream, interspersed with paired drinks, if you chose, between.
This year's menu featured two plates with game: pheasant and rabbit. Although I'm not a huge fan of wild game dishes, the pheasant was delicious, and the highlight of my meal. All around, the whole meal was seasoned for the season, from the delicately light crab & lobster cake to the tart-sweet tang of the roasted plums, which paired beautifully with Port's own Amazing Ice Cream Co.'s cinnamon ice cream.
If you're not a big drinker, as I am not, I recommend sharing a pairing with a partner. By far, my very favorite drink ended up being the palette cleanser; a lemongrass tea with honey and ginger spritz that I plan to try and replicate at home, but the Harvest Margarita was really interesting — almost like drinking an iced pumpkin pie.
Much of the produce in the meal came from the restaurant's farm in Grafton, but the fruit came from Appleland in Fredonia, which is about as local as it gets. Not only did the meal taste good and support local growers and businesses, but 10% of the profits went to the Ozaukee Family Sharing Food Pantry, which made it just that much better.
Twisted Willow, which is located at 308 N. Franklin Street in Port Washington, has a variety of themed dinners throughout the year, aside from their regular restaurant hours. Keep up to date on their website, http://www.twistedwillowrestaurant.com/, or on their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TwistedWillowRestaurant/
By Mary Boyle
Nominated for 10 Tony Awards in 2015, Something Rotten! is a Broadway musical that pokes fun at Broadway musicals, while turning the world's greatest writer into an egotistical rock star; in a nutshell, it's hysterical. After a nearly two-year run on Broadway and now onto its second US Tour, Something Rotten! kicks off the 2018/19 Broadway at the Marcus series from October 16-21 at the Marcus Center's Uihlein Hall.
In South London in 1595, everyone is in love with William Shakespeare (Matthew Baker) — everyone, that is, except Nick Bottom (Matthew Michael Janisse), a struggling playwright who can't possibly compete with THE Bard. With his wife, Bea (Emily Kristen Morris), to support, and a kid on the way, Nick and his brother, Nigel (Richard Spitaletta), are desperate for an idea for a great play, and Nick knows just where to get it: since Shakespeare is so great, he will ask a soothsayer to predict what his greatest play will be about, and Nick will write it, first! The soothsayer, Nostradamus (Greg Kalafatas), predicts that musicals are the future of theatre but, unfortunately, his prediction of Shakespeare's most famous play gets mixed up with a bunch of Broadway musicals. In the meantime, Nigel has fallen head-over-heels for Portia (Jennifer Elizabeth Smith), whose Puritan father, Brother Jeremiah (Mark Saunders), would like nothing more than to shut all of the theaters down.
Conceived by American screenwriter and director Karey Kirkpatrick, who wrote the screenplay for Chicken Run and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, among others, and his songwriting brother, Wayne, the brothers wrote the music and lyrics, while Karey wrote the book with the help of English author and comedic scriptwriter, John O'Farrell. While you'll get more jokes if you're familiar with Shakespeare, it's even more helpful to be familiar with musicals, as this production gives a nod to just about every one your average person can think of off of the top of their heads. In fact, the entire production is reminiscent of Neil Patrick Harris's 2013 Tony Opening, and every bit as fun to watch; this is Broadway brought to the Brew City.
Something Rotten! runs through October 21st 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/something-rotten!/
The 2018/19 Broadway at the Marcus series has an exciting lineup! Join them for How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Book of Mormon, Fiddler on the Roof, Phantom of the Opera, The King and I, Come From Away, and Anastasia.
By Mary Boyle
Though I am an avid fan of children's literature, one of the beginning reader series I missed out on was Nate the Great by Marjorie Sharmat, though the first book in the series was published in 1972 — two years before I was even born. Despite the fact that the latest three in the series have been published over the course of the last decade, with the most recent just coming out this year, my own kids missed the boat on the stories, as well, so my very first introduction to "the world's greatest detective" was through a brand new musical, which just made its World Premiere at First Stage: Nate the Great.
Based on Sharmat's books and written by John Maclay and Brett Ryback, Nate the Great is Sherlock for the elementary set, and a super fun time for the whole family. Maclay, who has filled multiple roles with First Stage since 2000, including his current one as Associate Artistic Director of the First Stage Young Company, has written several adaptations of literature for the stage, including Anatole, Nancy Drew And Her Biggest Case Ever, Just a Little Critter Musical, and Robin Hood, among others. Ryback made his start at First Stage as Fudge in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing when he was just 5 years old, and has gone on to become a composer, lyricist, actor and playwright, as well as a teacher of musical theatre.
Nate the Great is a kid detective with a problem: his friend, Annie, has a missing painting, and Nate's usual crime-solving process hasn't turned up any answers. Worse, Annie's friend, Rosamond, is missing one of her four cats, and Nate can't find a trace in that case, either. Perhaps even worse, Nate's mother is out of his very favorite food: pancakes. How is a detective supposed to function without them? If Nate can't solve these cases, he won't even be "Nate the Great" — he'll just be "Nate the pretty good."
The young performers are double cast, with Seth Hoffman and Zach Duckler taking turns as Nate; Nafia Johnson and Makayla Davis sharing the role of Nate's friend, Annie; Bryn Dresselhuys and Emily Harris as Annie's friend, Rosamond; and, Zephaniah Ponder and Cole Sison as Annie's little brother, Harry. Milwaukee favorite, Elyse Edelman, plays both Nate's mother and Annie's dog, Fang.
Directed by Niffer Clarke, a frequent First Stage collaborator, Nate the Great is a fast-paced and witty little musical, with a wonderful sense of humor that will appeal to all ages. I particularly liked Nate's response to his mother's suggestion to eat a waffle: "A waffle is a pancake that's lying." The music and lyrics are delightful and impressive; "You Can Do It" and "Super Hex" are downright Lin-Manuel Miranda-esque, with lightning-fast rhymes and intertwined melodies. Milwaukee is incredibly lucky to have an organization like First Stage that serves as an incubator for new productions; this is one to be very proud of.
Nate the Great runs through November 11th at the Todd Wehr Theater, located at 929 N. Water St. in Milwaukee. Tickets are available 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.
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’s Eureka Award, recognizing creativity and innovation in business, education, and the arts for its Next Steps program for students with autism (2013, 2015). First Stage is a member of TYA/USA, the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, the Wisconsin Alliance for Arts Education, Theatre Wisconsin, Milwaukee Arts Partners, and is a cornerstone member of the United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF).
By Mary (practically perfect in every way) Boyle
Mary Poppins is enjoying a fabulous renaissance, these days. Disney's iconic 1964 film, starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, with music by the amazing Sherman brothers, was so treasured it's nearly an impossible act to follow. Based on books by P. L. Travers, the author was one of the few people who hated what Walt Disney did to her stories, and only agreed to the stage musical in 1990 if all of the creators were English, and included nobody who worked on the film. Travers died in 1996, which paved the way for a musical that blended more of Travers' story, but still made use of many of the beloved songs from the film. The resulting musical made its debut in the West End in 2004, and its Broadway debut in 2006. With the new Disney film, Mary Poppins Returns, set to be released this December, it's the perfect time to catch up with everyone's favorite nanny, and you can do it now through November 4th at Sunset Playhouse, as they present Mary Poppins, The Broadway Musical.
Utilizing much of the same production team from last season's hit, Into the Woods, as well as several of the players from that cast, Sunset Playhouse brings a version of Mary Poppins to the stage that is both comfortingly familiar and intriguingly fresh. Briana Rose Lipor is exactly how we think Mary Poppins ought to be, while Eric Welch, who was brilliant as Lumiere in last season's Beauty and the Beast at Sunset, is outstanding as Bert. Brant Allen, who was stunning as Dom Claude Frollo in WCT's Hunchback of Notre Dame last season, is nearly identical to the George Banks in the film version of the story, but Carrie A. Gray, who played the Baker's wife in Into the Woods, is a far more realistic and complex Mrs. Banks. Jane and Michael are double cast, with Ella Rose Kleefish, who played Little Red in Into the Woods, and Ella Vitrano taking turns as Jane, and Casey Westphal and Molly Flint taking turns as Michael. These kids are incredibly talented, and the scene-stealers of the show (but keep your eye out for Kassandra Novell as Miss Andrew, as she is definitely a highlight).
Directed by Nate C. Adams, with Music Direction by Mark Mrozek and Choreography by Ashley Patin, Mary Poppins, The Broadway Musical is a perfect reminder that there is magic in the ordinary, if we only choose to see it, and that spending time with our families is our best investment. Sunset Playhouse is an intimate community theater, as well as a family-friendly venue; not only is this a practically perfect place to introduce your family to the wonderful world of theatre, this is a practically perfect production.
Mary Poppins, The Broadway Musical runs through November 4th at Sunset Playhouse, located at 400 Wall Street in Elm Grove. Tickets can be purchase by calling (262) 782-4430 or online at www.sunsetplayhouse.com. Sunset Playhouse has partnered with the Hunger Task Force of Milwaukee for their production of Mary Poppins; please bring a non-perishable food item, which will be collected in the lobby.
About Sunset Playhouse
A Community Theater in the heart of Elm Grove, Sunset produces eight Furlan Auditorium Productions per season consisting of comedies, mysteries, musicals, and dramas. The Playhouse is also home to three professional series: Musical MainStage Concert Series, with six concerts each season; a six-show cabaret series titled SideNotes Cabaret Series; and, a three-show children’s series called Bug in a Rug.
By Mary Boyle
The Taj Mahal, built by Emperor Shah Jahal as a memorial for his favorite wife, who died giving birth to their 14th child, is the greatest architectural achievement in India, and one of the finest example of Islamic art in existence. Built between 1632 and 1653 AD, the construction employed over 20,000 artisans from across the land, led by the emperor's chief architect, Ustad Ahmad Lahauri. While the facts about the Taj Mahal make for an interesting story on their own, the legends are much wilder. One of those legends is that Shah Jahal ordered the hands chopped off of every artisan who worked on his beloved wife's memorial, including his chief architect's, so that nothing as beautiful as the Taj could ever be built again. This is the legend that is explored in the play Guards at the Taj, which can be seen through November 4th with the Milwaukee Rep.
Humayun (Yousof Sultani) and Babur (Owa'Ais Azeem) have been friends since they were boys. Despite the fact that Humayun's father is an esteemed officer in the Emperor's army, he must start at the bottom rung, alongside Babur, which means they get the jobs nobody else wants, like guarding the back entrance gate to the Taj Mahal, which has been under construction for 16 years. Still, if they do their jobs well, perhaps one day they will get the most coveted job of all: guarding the emperor's harem. Finally, the day has arrived when the Taj Mahal will be revealed to all, and the two friends can't resist turning around at dawn and taking a peek when the sun's light first hits the building: never have they seen such beauty made by men. They talk of the rumor that the Shah has ordered all 20,000 of the artisans' hands to be removed, so they might never build anything as beautiful as the Taj again. They wonder who will get that horrible job...
Written by Rajiv Joseph and directed by Brent Hazelton, Guards at the Taj is a brutal exploration of the nature of beauty, the bonds of friendship, and how power and greed affect them. Humayun is definitely Type A: responsible and serious, he unquestionably follows the orders he is given. Meanwhile, Babur is a dreamer: running late and always unorganized, he questions everything and has a new idea every minute. Although they both face the same horrible task, their reactions to it are vastly different, yet their friendship guides them. Despite a literal river of blood, the banter between Humayun and Babur is mostly funny, sometimes poignant, then — quite suddenly — heart-breaking. Though neither seems necessarily right or wrong, it's impossible not to compare yourself to them and wonder how you would behave in the same circumstances.
Sultani, who makes his Rep debut, and Azeem, who was last seen in The Rep's production of The Invisible Hand, are mesmerizing; they draw you into their world from the first moment you meet them, and they will leave you with dozens of questions when they're done with you. The overall design of the play (Set by Scott Davis, Costumes by Alison Siple, Lighting by Noele Stollmack, and Sound by Barry G. Funderburg) is ingenious, and the most complex I've seen at The Rep's intimate Stiemke Studio. Interestingly, though the overall design takes you to Agra in 1648, the language of the play is quite modern (swearing and all), and yet it works. Thought-provoking and brave, Guards at the Taj is a worthy addition the The Rep's 65th season.
Guards at the Taj runs through November 4, 2018 in the Stiemke Studio, 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.