Milwaukee’s Marcus Center for the Performing Arts and Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts are entertainment venues that strive to meet a wide range of cultural and artistic needs.
Both venues offer modern amenities and multiple theaters of various sizes that serve as home bases for many of the top performing arts companies in each community. And when it comes to hosting the Broadway Across America series, each center holds its own, with schedules that complement and compete with each other year in and year out — all for the benefit of performing arts fans across southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois.
Take a look at the highlights of each venue’s 2016–17 season and then take your pick of the shows you would most like to see.
MARCUS CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS, MILWAUKEE
The Marcus Center holds the city’s premiere artistic pedigree, hosting performances by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the Milwaukee Ballet, the Florentine Opera and a host of other companies that call the complex on the Milwaukee Riverfront home. (You will find their schedules elsewhere in this preview section.) But that’s just the start of a colorful and often riotous performance season.
Broadway Across America kicks off in the center’s Uihlein Hall with the return of The Book of Mormon (Oct. 25–30), the wildly funny, multiple Tony Award-winner from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. The show is currently playing to standing-room-only crowds in London and New York, but the traveling version is on its way. The language is salty, the humor wicked, and you won’t stop laughing.
Following just in time for the holidays is ELF The Musical (Nov. 22–27). Based on the New Line Cinema film of the same name, the family-friendly show tells the story of a young boy mistaken for one of Santa’s elves and the mischief that results. The new year opens with perennial favorite The Sound of Music (Jan. 3–8), based on the life of the von Trapp family and their lively nanny Maria and featuring some of the most popular songs of all time.
The magic continues — this time literally — with The Illusionists — Live from Broadway (Feb. 14–19). The New York Times called it a “high-tech magic extravaganza” designed to dazzle audiences with jaw-dropping illusions that will mystify and entertain.
There is more magic of a different kind with Rogers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella (March 28–April 2). The Tony Award-winning show from the creators of The Sound of Music and South Pacific recreates the classic fairy tale in a lush production that appeals to all family members. On the heels of this comes Chicago (April 25–30), the sexy, sultry story of a Roaring ‘20s murder as conceived by choreographer Bob Fosse with the help of composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb, the talent behind Cabaret.
The Marcus Center’s Broadway season closes with Beautiful — The Carole King Musical (June 20–25). It’s the true story of one of America’s most influential singer/songwriters who penned the soundtrack to a generation, and the show is filled with many of your favorite Carole King songs.
But the Broadway shows are only part of the Marcus Center’s performance calendar. The fun continues in the more intimate Vogel Hall, which has a performance schedule all its own.
Rave On! The Buddy Holly Experience (Oct. 6) presents a high-energy look at one of America’s early rock ‘n’ roll pioneers and features the talents of Billy McGuigan, the country’s top interpreter of Holly’s music. Following next is Disenchanted! (October 11–16), a hilarious send-up of fairy tale princesses and what they really think in this not-for-the-kids hit musical.
Acoustic guitar wizard Leo Kottke (Oct. 22) takes the Vogel Hall stage with the syncopated, polyphonic melodies that have helped him stand apart from his contemporaries. The amazing month concludes with The Summit (Oct. 26), which brings together vocal groups Take 6 and the legendary Manhattan Transfer for one night of perfect four- and six-part harmony.
TOMMY: A Bluegrass Opera (Nov. 9) reinterprets The Who’s rock classic thanks to the talents of The Hillbenders. Pianist George Winston (Dec. 21) returns with a program of new music in a genre he has dubbed “folk piano,” but that’s really so much more.
And that’s just the first half of the Vogel Hall season.
The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts is located at 929 N. Water St., Milwaukee. 414-273-7206; marcuscenter.org
OVERTURE CENTER FOR THE ARTS, MADISON
Now entering its 12th season, Overture Center has become the Capital City’s cornerstone for performing arts. It’s home to the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, Forward Theater, Kanopy Dance, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art and other smaller troupes and galleries. And it presents a wide range of traveling shows and star performers in programs that appeal across age, gender and cultural barriers.
The Broadway at Overture series presents several of the same shows that will grace the stage of Milwaukee’s Marcus Center, as well as a few favorites exclusive to Madison.
The 2016–17 season starts with Rogers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella (Oct. 4–9) and continues with The Illusionists — Live from Broadway (Nov. 22–27), two shows scheduled for the Marcus Center early in 2017.
The new year then kicks off with the return of two audience favorites exclusive this year to Madison. Jersey Boys (Jan. 3–8) is the Tony and Grammy award-winning story of vocal group Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons that has entertained more than 22 million people worldwide since it premiered in 2005.
Cameron Mackintosh’s new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera (Jan. 25–Feb. 5) offers bigger and better scenic design, new costumes and choreography, and exciting special effects, including the famous chandelier. With a cast and orchestra of 52, this is now the largest production of Phantom currently on tour.
Kander and Ebb fans will be happy to note that next up in the series is Cabaret (March 21–26), a reimagining of the classic musical about pre-World War II Germany by the Roundabout Theatre Company and director Sam Mendes (who helmed the films Skyfall and American Beauty.) The story of Sally Bowles and infamous Kit Kat Klub is a Tony Award winner.
The Broadway at Overture season closes the same way that the Marcus Center Broadway season opens — with a production of Parker and Stone’s The Book of Mormon (May 9–14).
But there is more to Overture than just the Broadway series. In fact, the rest of the season boasts a variety of entertainment, including a few big-name stars.
Jazz singer Tony Bennett plays a return engagement on Oct. 28. Having just turned 90, Bennett is the definition of a living legend, yet he is still going strong. Come and listen to an evening of his greatest hits, and you, too, may understand why you left your heart in San Francisco.
At the other end of the season, classical violinist and Madison favorite Itzhak Perlman performs on April 29. Accompanied by pianist Rohan De Silva, Perlman brings his crystalline interpretation of some classical music’s greatest works.
In between you’ll find the stirring vocals of Boys II Men (Feb. 12), the all-male cross-dressing dance troupe Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (Feb. 24), and the wildly funny Trey Parker’s Cannibal! The Musical (March 14–19). The performance season ends with a humorous romp with Chicago’s Second City comedy troupe (June 2).
Overture also offers Duck Soup Cinema, a longstanding popular series of silent films from the 1920s accompanied live by Overture’s Grand Barton organ. This year’s schedule includes Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (Oct. 8), the long-lost comedy Her Wild Oat (Nov. 5), Safety Last featuring Harold Lloyd (February 18), the immortal Douglas Fairbanks as The Thief of Bagdad (March 11), and Buster Keaton as Sherlock Jr. (April 8).
But wait, there’s more! Overture Center also offers local acts a chance during the MadCity Sessions featuring local bands; Overture’s Rising Stars, which highlights local young performers; and Kids in the Rotunda, always free children’s performances in Overture’s lower level.
Overture Center for the Arts is located at 201 State St., Madison. 608-258-4141; overturecenter.org