Milwaukee-area audiences are blessed with a wide variety of world-class performing arts experiences. From The Milwaukee Repertory Theater to the Florentine Opera, the Skylight Music Theatre to the Milwaukee Ballet, arts organizations in southeast Wisconsin cater to a full range of theatrical and musical interests. Add to those groups a number of smaller companies specializing in high-quality niche fare, and the region is a cultural gem that gleams as brightly as metro areas with much larger populations and financial resources. Following is a listing of highlights from the region’s 2018–19 season.
For the Florentine, opera is sometimes a drag
At one time, all Shakespeare’s characters, both male and female, were portrayed onstage by men. During the Restoration, drag was the law.
Enter King Charles II, who decreed “a ‘he’ shall no longer play a ‘she.’” That was good news for female actors, perhaps, but what about all the men who devoted their lives to mastering female roles?
The Florentine Opera’s production of composer Carlisle Floyd’s opera Prince of Players, scheduled for Oct. 12 and Oct. 14 at the Marcus Center’s Uihlein Hall, strives to answer the musical question, “What now?”
Based on Jeffry Hatchet’s stage play Compleat Female Stage Beauty, which was based on a true story, Prince of Players chronicles attempts by actor Edward Kynaston, lauded by Restoration audiences for his female impersonations, to come to terms with this sudden twist of fate.
The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of William Boggs, and the Florentine Opera Chorus help baritone Keith Phares, who plays Kynaston, find a way to cope with the challenge in a grand — and well-dressed — musical fashion.
The 2018–19 season at Fiserv Forum
Nothing’s better than a shiny new venue and, when the Fiserv Forum opens its doors Sept. 4 for The Killers concert, it’ll be clear from the start that the new arena is much more than the home of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Think of the new facility as the late BMO Harris Bradley Center on steroids — with a first-year music schedule to match.
In the first month, the forum will host comedian Kevin Hart (Sept. 13), Maroon 5 (Sept. 16), Justin Timberlake (Sept. 21) and comedian Jim Gaffigan (Sept. 22). And that’s just for starters.
Sandwiched between Bucks games and other sporting events will be Metallica (Oct. 16), Foo Fighters (Oct. 17), The Eagles (Oct. 18), twenty one pilots (Oct. 20) and Fleetwood Mac (Oct. 28).
Other shows on the calendar include Josh Groban and Idina Menzel (Nov. 3), Panic! At the Disco (Jan. 27), Elton John (Feb. 19) and Pink (May 2).
We can’t wait to see what the rest of 2019 will bring.
Several Milwaukee arts luminaries soon will retire.
Kevin Stalheim, founder and artistic director for Present Music, will hang up his baton at the end of the 2018–19 season.
The UWM graduate has been influential in presenting, recording and touring with the music of living composers for 36 years. He also has taught at his alma mater and helped foster the creation of 55 works by composers from around the world.
Ray Jivoff will step down as artistic director for Skylight Music Theatre at the conclusion of the 2018–19 season, ending a 30-year affiliation with the organization.
Jivoff, who began as a performer with Skylight in the 1990 production of Girl Crazy, joined the staff in 1999 as the company’s first education director. He served as associate and interim artistic director before taking on his current role in 2017.
He formerly was theater director at Catholic Memorial High School in Waukesha, and he has directed shows at numerous schools and colleges in the area.
Jivoff’s life partner, C. Michael Wright, has been Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s producing artistic director since 2005. He will take his last bow at the end of the 2019-20 season.
Wright has worked with Next Act Theatre, the Milwaukee Rep and a host of other companies in the state. The 40-year acting veteran also has taught theater classes at Marquette University, UW-Whitewater and other schools.
All three artists have made major contributions to the Milwaukee arts scene during their careers and they will be missed.
Bach and ballet
Milwaukee Ballet’s Michael Pink knows how to please local audiences. This season expect tried-and-true performances — Dracula (Oct. 25–28), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (May 30–June 2) and, of course, The Nutcracker (Dec. 8–26).
But Pink also will explore new works, such as Lambarena (April 4–7), which was first created for the San Francisco Ballet in 1995. Choreographer Val Caniparoli’s composition blends Bach, ballet and traditional African dance in a one-of-a-kind performance.
Lambarena has its Milwaukee premiere this season. It will be paired with world premiere compositions by GENESIS 2017 winners Enrico Morelli from Italy and George Williamson from the United Kingdom. The works together promote dance’s universal language and beauty.
Where have all the folk musicians gone?
For one weekend in October, the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center will bring back some perennial favorites to help you tap into your protest roots.
Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey — two-thirds of the folk supergroup Peter, Paul and Mary — perform Oct. 26.
The vocal trio helped introduce folk music’s rebellious cries for peace to middle-class suburbs across America.
Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn takes the stage Oct. 27 with his Bone on Bone tour.
Inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2017, Cockburn may be best known for his 1979 hit “Wondering Where the Lions Are.” But all Cockburn’s songs plumb the depths of intellect and emotion, including “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” one of his few political songs. It was inspired by a visit to Guatemalan refugee camps in Mexico in the wake of a counterinsurgency campaign by dictator Efraín Ríos Montt.
Life before 'Hamilton'
Contrary to what some people think, playwright/lyricist/composer Lin-Manuel Miranda had a career before Hamilton: An American Musical reached the Public Theater stage off-Broadway in 2015.
One of the artist’s most influential works, In the Heights, began evolving way back in 1999, when the New York City native of Puerto Rican ancestry was a sophomore at Wesleyan University.
Sept. 18–Oct. 28 in the Quadracci Powerhouse Theater, the Milwaukee Rep stages In the Heights, which chronicles three days in Washington Heights, a largely Puerto Rican neighborhood in New York City. The musical received 13 Tony Award nominations and won four statues, including for Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Orchestrations and Best Choreography.
Miranda, who led the cast as Usnavi, won the Clarence Derwent Award for Most Promising Male Performer. Madison resident Karen Olivo, who lived in New York at the time, originated the role of Vanessa.
A film version of In the Heights is due in 2020, but a Rep ticket means you won’t have to wait that long to see the show.
Carmina Burana2 (or squared)
Despite complaints about its simplicity and bombast, composer Carl Orff’s seminal oratorio Carmina Burana remains one of classical music’s most popular choral works — in large part because of the bombast.
Next spring you can experience two versions and judge for yourself.
Skylight Music Theatre presents Wilhelm Killmayer’s “reduced orchestration” of Orff’s work March 15–31 in the intimate confines of the Broadway Theatre Center’s Cabot Theatre.
Milwaukee Opera Theatre, Danceworks Performance Co. and the Chant Claire Chamber Choir join in Orff’s unflinching look at the pleasures and perils of the human condition.
Carmina Burana returns June 21–23, when the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Maestro Francesco Leece-Chong, unleashes the full-blown orchestral treatment in the Marcus Center’s Uihlein Hall.
The Milwaukee Symphony Chorus also joins the fun, with composer John Adams’ Doctor Atomic Symphony rounding out the program.
One-man cultural obsessions
Credit the culture-nerd who can find a way to turn his obsessions into an income stream while bringing joy to audiences everywhere.
Charles Ross did it, and he’s taken his shows on the road.
The Wilson Theater at Vogel Hall kicks off November with a double helping of the Canadian actor, a true child of the 1980s.
On Nov. 2, Ross performs One-Man Stranger Things: A Parody, his humorous homage to the first season of the popular Netflix series. Prepare to join Mike, Dustin, Joyce, Hopper and that kinetic Eleven as they travel to the Upside Down searching for Will, who was abducted by a creature that appears to have a large Venus Flytrap for a mouth. All the action will be sifted through Ross’ uniquely humorous perspective.
Ross returns Nov. 3 for his One-Man Star Wars Trilogy, a 60-minute madcap gallop through George Lucas’ universe in an attempt to topple the Empire and blow up the Death Star using a little mind game called The Force. The show has been a hit from London to Dubai to Sydney — and it’s a show someone with a little Wookie in his blood or heroics in her heart doesn’t want to miss.
Fly like a literary eagle
Carl Sandburg, the poet of the Illinois prairie who christened Chicago “City of the Big Shoulders,” won three Pulitzer Prizes — two for his poetry and one for his biography of Abraham Lincoln.
Veteran Milwaukee actor Jonathan Gillard Daly hopes to capture the poet’s essence in The Eagle in Me: An Evening of Carl Sandburg. Daly’s one-man show takes to the In Tandem Theatre stage Sept. 27–Oct. 21.
Daly wrote the work, which recreates Sandburg’s historic traveling show, bringing the author’s poetry, folklore and music to life. This is a world premiere for Daly and In Tandem, and it promises to be a highlight of the season.
Dialing up divas with the MSO
A lot of divas preceded Tony Award nominee Ann Hampton Callaway to the Broadway stage, and the Chicago native does her best to honor her predecessors in Diva to Diva: From Ella to Adele, a special performance with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.
Andreas Delfs conducts the MSO in its journey through the Great American songbook as Callaway sings tunes popularized by Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, Carole King, Carly Simon and Adele. The MSO provides the lush instrumental backdrop to Callaway’s vocals at the Marcus Center’s Uihlein Hall March 1–3. Settle back and enjoy as Callaway delves into the heart of the songs.
For the complete listings of the upcoming 2018-19 season, click here.