By Mary Boyle
After two years of pandemic craziness, The Milwaukee Rep returns for its 69th Season with a strong opening round of shows at all three of their theaters located within the Patty & Jay Baker Theater Complex on Wells Street in downtown Milwaukee: TITANIC THE MUSICAL at the Quadracci Powerhouse, UNFORGETTABLE at the Stackner Cabaret, and WIFE OF A SALESMAN at the Stiemke Studio.
TITANIC THE MUSICAL was originally part of last year’s season and enjoying great success when the show had to be cancelled due to a COVID-19 breakout within the cast and crew. Miraculously, the show was able to be remounted, with very little cast changes, for an exclusive 5 week run which comes to an end on October 23rd. Directed by Mark Clements, with musical direction by Dan Kazemi, the production is a powerful telling of a story whose ending everyone already knows.
Many from the original cast were able to return to this production, including Milwaukee favorites Matt Daniels as Pitman/Etches, Kelly Faulkner as Caroline, Carrie Hitchcock as Ida Straus, and Andrew Varela as Ismay. New to this production are Alex Keiper (The Nerd, The Ring of Fire) who brought a lot of life to the production as Alice, and Jeffrey Kringer (West Side Story), who was fun to watch as Barrett.
For those interested in the actual story of the Titanic, the show is rife with facts, figures, and conjectures on what caused the tragedy. The set design by Timothy R. Mackabee is simple and clean, but impressive and made very effective using video superimposed on the stage, including some actual historical footage. The cast is immense, and though it is filled with individually talented singers, it is when they sing collectively that the music soars and swells within the theater and the hearts of audience members, alike. Hop on board this production while you still can.
UNFORGETTABLE: John-Mark McGaha sings NAT KING COLE was created by Chicago-based Artists Lounge Live’s Angela Ingersoll, who wrote and performed in last season’s Get Happy: Angela Ingersoll Sings Julie Garland. The Rep also hosted their production of First Lady of Song: Alexis J. Roston Sings Ella Fitzgerald. The goal of AAL is to combine superb musicianship with intimate storytelling, and the Stackner Cabaret is the perfect venue for this type of production.
McGaha is an incredibly talented singer and musician, in his own right, and shares many similarities with the great Nat King Cole: both were born in Alabama; both began piano lessons at a very young age and their mothers were their teachers; and, both considered themselves musicians more than singers. Besides singing, McGaha plays piano and guitar over the course of the show and is backed by four other very talented musicians who play drums, upright bass, piano and flute/saxophone. As he covers Cole’s greatest hits, along with some lesser-known songs, McGaha shares Cole’s story, including insight into Cole’s all too early death from lung cancer at the age of 45.
From Cole’s early iconic jazz tunes like “Straighten Up and Fly Right” to the R&B classic “Route 66” to his most memorable love songs like “Unforgettable” and “Mona Lisa,” the music of Nat King Cole is a part of our culture – even my 17-year-old son, who saw the performance with me, recognized over half of the songs, and I can assure you that he is not a jazz aficionado. These are talented people making great music and telling a good story while they do it; that being said, I also was seated next to a woman who could only be described as a true Nat King Cole fan and, while she was pleasantly surprised by some of the lesser-known tunes that made it into the show, she was also a bit disappointed that there were drums, saxophone and flute, which were historically not a part of the King Cole Trio’s instrumental lineup (Fun Fact: The King Cole Trio’s Live at the Circle Room was recorded in Milwaukee!). I am not enough of a Cole fan to weigh in on such matters, but I’d love to get feedback from those who are. You have until November 6th to catch this performance.
WIFE OF A SALESMAN is, to paraphrase a character in the play itself, “a deconstruction” of Arthur Miller’s 1949 classic play, Death of a Salesman, “through the feminist lens.” Written by new playwright Eleanor Burgess, whose play The Niceties was a part of the 2019/20 Season at The Rep, Wife of a Salesman is a World Premier in collaboration with Writers Theatre in Glencoe, IL and is, without a doubt, one of the most moving works of theatre I have ever witnessed.
In Death of a Salesman, we learn that the salesman is having an affair with a woman from Boston. In Wife of a Salesman, the story begins when the salesman’s wife (Heidi Armbruster) confronts her husband’s mistress (Bryce Gangel) with the hope of breaking up the affair. Then, in a mind-boggling instant, that is not the play you are seeing at all. That shocker, I can assure you, is nothing to how surprised you will be at the play’s end.
Directed by Marti Lyons, Wife of a Salesman raises major questions about marriage and motherhood, and how the way we view them has changed over generations. As a wife, mother, and as a woman, I have never felt so called out, nor so seen, heard, and validated, by a play. I was so shell-shocked at the end that it took a moment to remember to clap; then, once I was safely in my car on my way home, I felt a warm flush come over me as if I was embarrassed – but embarrassed by what? Then, out of nowhere, I began to sob uncontrollably (I was truly thankful I saw this one on my own, I can tell you). Honestly, I haven’t been able to stop thinking of this production; of all the ways I saw myself in the wife; of how I, too, put so much love into my family, only to wonder where it all went. Here is a story that never gets told and so desperately needed to be. Please go and see this play and be a part of this conversation – tell them Mary sent you.
Tickets to these productions and the rest of the 2022/23 season may be purchased online at www.MilwaukeeRep.com, by calling the Ticket Office at 414-224-9490, or in-person at 108 E Wells Street in downtown Milwaukee. Group tickets are available for parties 10+ by calling 414-290-5340.
Titanic The Musical runs through October 23rd at the Quadracci Powerhouse Theater; Unforgettable: John-Mark McGaha sings Nat King Cole runs through November 6th at the Stackner Cabaret; Wife of a Salesman runs through November 6th at the Stiemke Studio.
For more information, please visit www.MilwaukeeRep.com.
For Ozaukee Audiences – Know Before You Go
Due to construction on I43, it is best to plan to leave 1 hour before showtime (1 ½ hours for those in northern Ozaukee) to allow time to park and find your seats. Purchasing a parking pass with your tickets is highly recommended and allows you to park directly below the theaters without having to go outdoors to get to the show. Planning dinner before or after performances can be a bit tricky; note run times and know that sometimes performances run late – many area restaurants close their kitchens by 10:30 p.m. Pre-show dinners are available on site at the Stackner Cabaret. If you are seeing a performance at the Stackner Cabaret, you must be at your seat 30 minutes ahead of show time to order food and drinks prior to the start of the show. Always remember to turn off your phone during the performance – you don’t want to be that guy.
About Milwaukee Repertory Theater
Milwaukee Rep is the largest performing arts organization in Wisconsin with three unique performance venues in the Patty & Jay Baker Theater Complex– the Quadracci Powerhouse, Stiemke Studio and Stackner Cabaret. For over six decades, Milwaukee Rep has been a centerpiece of Milwaukee’s vibrant arts and cultural scene with productions ranging from Broadway musicals to Shakespeare to American Classics and New Works that are entertaining, inclusive, and impactful. 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.