Milwaukee’s theater companies take to the boards this season with a staggeringly wide range of productions. From the largest venues to the smallest, the city’s theater companies have something on the schedule for audiences of all stripes.
Mark Clements, artistic director of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, begins his seventh season with a one-two punch of a timeless jazz piece and a musical theater classic.
Author Lanie Robertson’s Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill chronicles one of the last performances of jazz legend Billie Holiday, featuring some of the songs that made her famous, including “God Bless the Child,” “Strange Fruit” and “What a Little Moonlight Can Do.” The show runs Sept. 9–Oct. 30 in the Stackner Cabaret. There will be an Out-n-About LGBT Night at the Oct. 12 performance.
Also on tap for the Stackner this season: Irving Berlin’s I Love a Piano (Nov. 4–Jan. 15); author Dick Enberg’s McGuire, about legendary Marquette University basketball coach Al McGuire (Jan. 20–March 19); and the return of Frank Ferrante in An Evening with Groucho (March 24–May 28.)
The Rep’s Quadracci Powerhouse Theatre opens its season with Man of La Mancha, the Tony Award-winning musical about misguided errant knight Don Quixote and his noble quest and love for the “kitchen slut” Aldonza/Dulcinea. The show, which features the song “The Impossible Dream,” runs Sept. 20–Oct. 30. Man of La Mancha also has an Out-n-About LGBT Night scheduled for Sept. 28.
This Quadracci season also presents Milwaukee author Larry Shue’s The Foreigner (Nov. 15–Dec. 18); Milwaukee native Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced (Jan. 17–Feb. 12); Tennessee Williams’ “memory play” The Glass Menagerie (March 7–April 9); and a theatrical version of Charlotte Bronte’s classic Jane Eyre (April 25–May 21.)
The Rep’s Stiemke Studio fills out the bill with The Royale (Sept. 28–Nov. 6) written by Marco Ramirez, a writer for TV’s Orange is the New Black and Sons of Anarchy.
Next up is George Brant’s Grounded (Feb. 22–April 2), about an F16 fighter pilot whose unexpected pregnancy leads to her grounding.
Finally, Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim and all those troublesome ghosts reappear once again in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The annual holiday haunt, as always, plays on the historic Pabst Theater stage (Nov. 29–Dec. 24).
The Milwaukee Repertory Theater complex is at 108 E. Wells St., Milwaukee. The Pabst Theater is adjacent to the Rep at 144 E. Wells St. 414-224-9490; milwaukeerep.com
Politics is in this fall, which might explain why Next Act Theatre starts its new season with Lauren Gunderson’s The Taming (Sept. 29–Oct. 23). Miss Georgia has more than just the Miss America contest on her mind in this play. She and a group of female friends hatch a hilarious plan to give the U.S. government a makeover.
The season continues with unSilent Night (Nov. 17–Dec. 11), author John Kishline’s suspenseful holiday tale of a Milwaukee radio DJ who, on Christmas Eve of 1953, finds himself faced with an unusual latenight guest — a troubled intruder in search of redemption.
Next Act starts the new year with Sharr White’s The Other Place (Feb. 2–26), a psychological and emotional thriller in which a medical researcher finds herself adrift among family and professional peers without knowing whom to trust.
The season ends with the Milwaukee premiere of Steven Dietz’s Bloomsday (April 6–30), an Irish time travel love story — there aren’t many of those — that blends wit, humor and heartache in a familiar tale about the one who got away.
Next Act Theatre is located at 255 S. Water St., Milwaukee. 414-278-0765; nextact.org
The Milwaukee Chamber Theatre got its season off to an early start on Aug. 11 with Christopher Durang’s Tony Award-winning comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. But there’s much more in store from artistic director C. Michael Wright and his crew.
Leda Hoffmann directs A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur (Sept. 21–Oct. 16), a rarely produced Tennessee Williams drama that looks at the comic side of heartbreak.
The rest of MCT’s season includes Kenneth Lonergan’s Lobby Hero (Nov. 23–Dec. 18); The Few, a drama by MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant awardee Samuel D. Hunter (Feb. 23–March 19); and Gale Childs Daly’s fast-paced and suspenseful adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations (April 13–30).
The Milwaukee Chamber Theatre performs at the Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N. Broadway, Milwaukee. 414-276-8842; milwaukeechambertheatre.com
Dale Gutzman’s Off The Wall Theatre is tackling a broad range of works this season.
OTW opens with A Passage to India (Sept. 22–Oct. 2), the stage adaptation of E.M. Forster’s novel exploring racial and class tensions in British-controlled India. Next up is David Ives’ Venus in Furs (Nov. 3–13), the award-winning adult drama in which the goddess appears as a sadomasochist.
OTW welcomes the holiday season with Gutzman’s own work The Last Holiday Punch! (Dec. 14–31), which is filled with music, mirth, mayhem and more than a stocking full of political incorrectness. OTW turns serious again with Women of Troy (Feb. 16–26), a new translation of the Euripides classic.
The stage brightens in the spring with The Fantasticks (April 22–30), at one time Broadway’s longest running musical and the model for many subsequent stage productions. OTW wraps it up with Titus Andronicus (June 14–25), a radical new version of Shakespeare’s early tragedy of love, loyalty, honor and family set amid a gory Roman Empire-era war.
Off the Wall Theatre is located at 127 E. Wells St., Milwaukee. 414-484-8874; offthewalltheatre.com
Renaissance Theaterworks opens its season with a taut thriller perfectly designed for the Halloween season.
The Drowning Girls (Oct. 21–Nov. 13) is a true-crime drama told from the point of view of the victims of early 20th-century serial killer George Joseph Smith. He married three women and drowned each one in the bathtub. In the play, the victims meet and share their chilling tales.
Renaissance next stages Luna Gale (Jan. 20–Feb. 12), which focuses on a social worker’s struggles to safely place an infant in a family with a shadowy past.
The season ends with The Violet Hour (April 7–30), a hilarious tale about a small-time publisher facing a big decision.
Renaissance Theaterworks performs at the Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N. Broadway, Milwaukee. 414-291-7800; r-t-w.com
In Tandem Theatre Company also opens during the Halloween season, presenting Dracula vs. The Nazis, a romp that has two actors playing 20 characters in a tale of evil versus, well, more evil.
The irreverence continues with Holiday Hell: The Curse of Perry Williams (Dec. 1–Jan. 8), penned by local playwrights Anthony Wood (A Cudahy Caroler Christmas) and Mondy Carter (A Twisted Carol). In Tandem also presents its bawdy annual fundraiser The Eight: Reindeer Monologues, in which eight of Santa’s most trusted associates charge him with sexual harassment.
Things get serious with Time Stands Still (Feb. 23–March 19), a tale about two war correspondents tired of living in imminent danger. The season ends with Carnival, April 20–May 14), the musical best known for the song “Love Makes the World Go ’Round,” produced in collaboration with Milwaukee Public Theater.
In Tandem Theatre Company performs in theater space provided by Calvary Presbyterian, “The Big Red Church,” on Wisconsin Avenue, with its entrance at 628 S. 10th St., Milwaukee. 414-271-1371; intandemtheatre.org
Soulstice Theatre opens its season with Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (Sept. 23–Oct. 8), Michael Friedman’s comic rock musical about America’s seventh president and the founding of the Democratic Party. The season continues with Bess Wohl’s American Hero (Jan. 27–Feb. 11) and concludes with Copenhagen (April 29–May 14.)
Soulstice Theatre is located at 3770 S. Pennsylvania Ave., St. Francis. 414-481-2800; soulsticetheatre.com
First Stage, one of the nation’s most acclaimed children’s theaters, offers a full slate of productions starting with Goosebumps: Phantom of the Auditorium — The Musical Oct. 14–Nov. 13 at the Todd Wehr Theater in Milwaukee’s Performing Arts Center.
The season continues with Mole Hill Stories (Nov. 5–20 at First Stage’s Main Stage Hall); Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer (Nov. 25–Dec. 31, Todd Wehr Theater); Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors (Dec. 9–18 at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center); Welcome to Bronzeville (Jan. 13–Feb. 5 at the Todd Wehr Theater); and Lovabye Dragon (Jan. 21–Feb. 19 at the FS Main Stage Hall).
The troupe also produces Robin Hood (Feb. 17–March 12 at the Todd Wehr Theater); Txt U L8r (March 10–19 at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center); Mockingbird (March 24–April 9 at the Todd Wehr Theater); Julie B. Jones is Not a Crook (April 28–June 4 at the Todd Wehr Theater); and George Orwell’s Animal Farm (May 12–21 at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center).
First Stage is headquartered at 325 W. Walnut St., Milwaukee. 414-267-2900; firststage.org
Theatre Gigante, the self-proclaimed “theater of big ideas,” is fresh from its Aug. 28 appearance at the Milwaukee Fringe Festival and ready for a new season.
The troupe’s upcoming performances include Mark Anderson’s Quorum (Oct. 7–15 at Plymouth Church); Gigante Reads Excerpts from Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell (Nov. 17 at the Whitefish Bay Library); David Sedaris’ The Santaland Diaries (Dec. 9 at Boswell Book Company); Little Bang Theory & Laugh, Clown, Laugh (March 3–4 at Kenilworth 508 Theater) and Anderson and Isabelle Kraj’s Lysistrata (April 21–29 at Alverno College’s Pitman Theater).
Theater Gigante is located at 1920 E. Kenilworth Pl., Milwaukee. 414-961-6119; theatregigante.org
Milwaukee-based Theater RED is producing the world premiere of Bonny Anne Bonny (Oct. 27–Nov. 12), a new play by Milwaukee writer Liz Shipe about the infamous female pirate captain.
For this production, Theatre Red is partnering with Wisconsin Lutheran College to provide students the opportunity to work alongside professionals. Performances are at the Raabe Theater at the WLC Center for Arts and Performances, 8815 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee. theaterred.com