Tag Archives: stage

Henry Winkler dreams of a Tony, stars in new NBC reality series

During an hour-long chat at his Los Angeles home, Henry Winkler does impressions of George Foreman, Terry Bradshaw and William Shatner (his co-stars in the new NBC reality series Better Late Than Never), walks like a ninja who suddenly sports jazz hands, and improvises a scene as the intolerant acting coach he plays in a new HBO comedy.

The 70-year-old entertainer is visibly animated as he discusses his career, which spans four decades and counting. But the overriding vibe from the former Fonz is one of gratitude. It’s not long before he launches into how thankful he is for the opportunities and success he continues to enjoy.

“I live by tenacity and gratitude,” he said. “I am grateful for every inch of earth that I tread on in my life.”

Acting remains a passion. Winkler is also a successful author of children’s books (his 32nd was just published) and travels the country as a motivational speaker. And he’s a doting grandfather of four, including 4 1/2-year-old Ace, a redheaded sprite who calls him “Papa” and stays close to him during this interview.

(Ace just started requesting Winkler’s Here’s Hank books as bedtime stories. “I think I’m about to faint,” Winkler said.)

His next television endeavor is Better Late Than Never.

The four-episode reality series follows Winkler, Foreman, Bradshaw, Shatner and comedian Jeff Dye on various cultural and culinary adventures in Asia.

As an executive producer, Winkler helped assemble the quintet, who barely knew one another before embarking on the 35-day trip through Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and Thailand. But talk about your bonding experiences: Together, they appeared on a Japanese game show, studied with samurai warriors, danced in a K-pop video and befriended elephants at an animal sanctuary.

Now “it’s friends for life,” Winkler said. “It might have been the trip of a lifetime.”

He’s so confident about the show — “to the point that I will come to your house and do the dishes” — if each episode isn’t better than the last.

“The reason that it gets better and better is — if you feel us being a tight unit in the first (episode) — it gets tighter and tighter and we get looser and looser and more outrageous with each other,” he said.

Winkler is also embracing the outrageous in scripted form with Barry, a new HBO series that starts production in January. Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader stars as a middling hit man who finds unexpected community among a group of theater hopefuls in Los Angeles. Winkler is their cantankerous acting coach.

Rather than describe the role, he breaks into character.

Winkler studied drama at Yale and has pursued the craft with vigor since he graduated. He only started writing children’s books when he had difficulty shedding the Fonz persona after Happy Days ended its 10-year run. But he’s never stopped looking for the next great part. Even now, he still goes out on auditions and dreams big.

“It makes me so happy,” he said. “And now that I’m getting better, that I’m more relaxed, that I’m more in touch with what I’m doing, it’s like I step into nirvana.

“My favorite role is the next role I do,” he continued. “I love going to work.”

Winkler’s joy and gratitude is palpable. He knocks on the wooden table when he mentions his hopes and blessings. He’s kept every single script from Happy Days (and every other show and film he’s done) and had them bound in hardback leather like a treasured collection of encyclopedias.

“You cannot take for granted one single second,” he said.

Though he is still yearning for one particular piece of hardware.

“Here’s my bucket list,” Winkler said. “I would like to see my grandchildren thrive. I would like to work until I absolutely cannot anymore. I would like to win a Tony. I watch the Tony Awards and cry every year. I love it. That is my dream. That is my dream. Whatever it is, that is my dream: to win a Tony.”

His thank-you speech may already be written.

Theater RED’s ‘Bachelorette’ something new in Milwaukee

Engagement and wedding season is underway and it seems many people are in the position of congratulating couples on their plans. 

With the most sincere “congrats,” well-wishers can find these life changes forcing them to take stock of their own lives.

Gazing into this mirror of self-reflection are the characters in Bachelorette, a dark, edgy comedy chronicling the evening before a wedding.

The play is set to appear at the Alchemist Theatre thanks to Milwaukee’s Theater RED.

Bachelorette, written by Leslye Headland, made its premiere in Los Angeles in 2008, shortly before a 2010 off-Broadway run, but Theater RED director Mark Boergers didn’t know of it before its Midwest premiere at Chicago’s Profiles Theatre (around the same time, a film version starring Kirsten Dunst appeared at Sundance).

The play’s main characters are three long-standing girlfriends, veritable “frenemies” of the bride. They share the evening before their friend’s wedding, with this bride’s impending happiness plunging them into the throes of resentment, jealousy and substance use. 

While each of the bride’s “friends” openly criticize and comment on the circumstances in her own way, each woman also finds herself dwelling upon the nature and direction of her own life. 

“It’s a very raw play with very complex characters in it, and it doesn’t pull punches at all,” says Boergers. “It’s a really interesting commentary on our generation, it’s irreverent and, at the end, a really powerful statement about growing up.”

The play also is a good fit for Theater RED, meeting all three of the company’s goals: 

• Bringing new, boundary-pushing theater to Milwaukee;

• Providing substantive roles for women;

• Providing opportunities for local artists to develop their craft onstage.

Marcee Doherty-Elst, Theater RED’s co-founder, says the company decided to produce Bachelorette at the Alchemist Theatre due to its intimate space, a perfect fit for intimate interactions. She says ensuring the cast members had genuine chemistry with each other was essential.

It also was an excellent educational opportunity — one of those core Theater RED tenets — and so Doherty-Elst and Boergers brought in professionals to work with the cast.

“We did a lot of movement workshops to help the actors prepare for what it would be like to embody characters who are under various states of intoxicants over the course of the play,” says Doherty-Elst. She said her cast also took a master class — “Stage Combat, Intimacy and Shared Weight” — presented by Society of American Fight Directors-certified instructor Christopher Elst, to prepare for the close-quarters, hands-on acting.

Bachelorette is set in a room in a chic New York bridal suite, but the hedonistic activities and gluttonous indulgences will take the play’s energy level from 0 to 60 and back again and again — just like a real bachelorette party. 

Patrons who want to simulate the debauchery can take advantage of pre-show activities in the Alchemist Theatre lounge. Doherty-Elst says Theater RED has created VIP ticket packages with increasing levels of themed perks, from Party Crashers ($25) to the Bachelorette Party ($35) and the Bride ($50).

ON STAGE

Theater RED’s production of Bachelorette runs March 3 to 19 at the Alchemist Theatre, 2569 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., Milwaukee. Tickets are $15, with ticket packages available for $25, $35 and $50. Visit theaterred.com to order.

New adaptation of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ heads to Broadway

Harper Lee’s classic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” — and its now-somewhat sullied hero Atticus Finch — are heading to Broadway in a new adaptation written by Aaron Sorkin.

Producer Scott Rudin said Wednesday the play will land during the 2017-2018 season under the direction of Tony Award winner Bartlett Sher, who is represented on Broadway now with the brilliant revivals of “The King and I” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” No casting was revealed.

Sorkin’s plays include “A Few Good Men” and “The Farnsworth Invention.” He won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for his screenplay for “The Social Network,” which Rudin produced, along with Sorkin’s other films “Steve Jobs” and “Moneyball.”

The book has been made the leap to the stage before, including a 1991 adaptation by Christopher Sergel, which premiered at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse. There also was a production in 2013 that had a run at London’s Barbican Theatre with Robert Sean Leonard in the role of Finch, the noble widower and lawyer called upon to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman in Depression-era Alabama. This new version will mark the story’s Broadway debut.

“To Kill a Mockingbird,” published in 1960, introduced Finch, Scout, Boo Radley and other beloved literary characters. The book was adapted into an Oscar-winning movie starring Gregory Peck as Atticus and has become standard reading in schools and other reading programs, with worldwide sales topping 40 million copies.

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, and widely praised as a sensitive portrait of racial tension as seen through the eyes of a child in 1930s Alabama, it also has been criticized as sentimental and paternalistic.

Last year saw the publication of Lee’s recently discovered manuscript, “Go Set a Watchman,” described as a first draft of the story that evolved into “Mockingbird.” Critics and readers were startled to find the heroic Atticus of “Mockingbird” disparaging blacks and condemning the Supreme Court’s decision to outlaw segregation in public schools.

Bronzeville Arts Ensemble grapples with loss in ‘The Mojo and the Sayso’

An African-American family mourns the death of their 10-year-old son at the hands of a police officer, searching for a talisman of faith and the inner strength of family ties to keep them from being torn apart by the grief.

What sounds like another tragedy ripped from today’s headlines is in fact the plot of The Mojo and the Sayso, a play by Aishah Rahman being produced jointly by Milwaukee’s Bronzeville Arts Ensemble and Madison’s Theatre LILA. The production will have a limited run in late January at the Milwaukee Rep, where BAE is a new company-in-residence, and then again in February in The Playhouse at Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts.

While the play’s themes are still relevant today, Rahman actually wrote the play back in 1987. The Mojo and the Sayso, set on the third anniversary of the child’s death, finds the Benjamin family struggling to understand and cope with loss. WiG asked BAE’s artistic director Malkia Stampley and Theatre LILA’s co-artistic director Jessica Lanius, who also is directing the show, to tell us more about the production.

What is the plot of The Mojo and the Sayso?

Malkia Stampley: The Benjamin family has to find the strength and courage to pick up the pieces and move forward together. With some humor, magic and a creative exploration of language, we go on this journey with the family. “Mojo” is that power, that magic and missing ingredient needed to get through.

The topic is very contemporary, yet playwright Aishah Rahman comes from a much earlier era. Do her perceptions and experiences bring greater depth to the narrative?

MS: Mojo is such a relevant piece and I love that so many people are shocked when they discover it was written almost 30 years ago. This piece is a strong reminder that these issues are not trends, not just hashtags and nothing new. The setting is meant to be timeless, which helps bring depth to this story. Her artistic freedom was bold at the time and was the beginning of a form of theater that is now very common to most theatergoers, exploring language and themes in abstract ways.

Jessica Lanius: (Rahman) is such a vivid and poetic writer. The layering of imagery alongside this particular story brings the characters and the circumstance to life in such a rich and complex way. Every day in rehearsal I feel like we uncover layers of the language that I hadn’t seen before. 

Does the play offer some interpretation of the issues with which it deals, or is it merely a reflection of America’s racial issues? 

MS: This piece highlights the families who are left behind after a publicly known tragedy. We have become so accustomed to the sensationalism of black youths being killed by the police, immediately forming opinions and picking our platforms. I don’t believe this play focuses on race, but rather brings greater humanity to the 30-second news story or front-page picture. I think psychologists would have a field day exploring the different ways each of the characters in this play processes trauma.

JL: Black lives matter, and this is what that looks like: A life, and the lives that one life touches, have been taken. The effects on a personal, familial level also reflect the effect it has on his community as a whole. If we can get our audience to feel this and make it personal for them, perhaps the issue becomes more important, more immediate, and the demand for change and justice becomes more obvious.

The play is described as a comedy/drama, yet it deals with a very serious issue. How does the playwright make this work?

JL: I think right now we are discovering that in great pain comes absurdity and that necessary levity. 

MS: Aishah Rahman’s language will make you laugh and cry in the same line. As with most of us, we desperately need find ways to see the humor in any situation, and this play is no different.

ON STAGE

The Mojo and the Sayso is being presented by Milwaukee’s Bronzeville Arts Ensemble and Madison’s Theatre LILA. Milwaukee productions of the work will run Jan. 28 to Jan. 31 at the Milwaukee Rep, 108 E. Wells St. For tickets, call 414-224-9490 or visit milwaukeerep.com. Madison productions will run Feb. 19 to Feb. 24 at Overture Center, 201 State St. For tickets call 608-258-4141 or visit overturecenter.org.

Finding Bronzeville

The name Bronzeville was used in many early- and mid-20th-century U.S. cities to refer to African-American neighborhoods. These neighborhoods often comprised the black business, cultural and artistic centers of those cities.

Opinions vary on the exact borders of Milwaukee’s historic Bronzeville, but the area was considered to have been roughly bounded by North Avenue and State Street on the north and south and Third and 12th streets on the east and west. The neighborhood was largely destroyed and properties appropriated for the construction of the I-43 freeway in the 1960s. In the last decade, a redevelopment project re-applied the name to the core of the Harambee neighborhood.

The Bronzeville Arts Ensemble is named as a tribute to what those neighborhoods meant to their community, according to artistic director Malkia Stampley.

“Milwaukee’s Bronzeville district at its peak was a center point for jazz, theater, art, music, community and culture,” Stampley says. “My hope is that the Bronzeville Arts Ensemble pays homage to Milwaukee’s Bronzeville, as well as the essence of the name ‘Bronzeville’ in communities throughout the country.”

— Michael Muckian

Next Act Theatre reflects on Rodney King riots in the age of Ferguson

Not guilty.

Those are the words that set off the Los Angeles riots of 1992, the verdicts in the trial of four white police officers accused of using excessive force during the arrest of Rodney King, a black man beaten by the officers after a high-speed chase. Those words sparked five days of riots throughout the city, ending with more than 50 people dead, thousands injured and $1 billion in estimated damage.

And those words aren’t the only words that matter, in our understanding of what caused the riots and why the racial conflicts that still challenge our society decades persist. With Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, Next Act Theatre will present the words of 37 people connected to the riots, telling their stories as a way of telling the whole story — and ensuring they and their audience can’t help but see the riots from vantage points they never considered.

Next Act’s artistic director David Cescarini, co-directing the production with Jonathan Smoots, says Anna Deavere Smith’s play is often categorized as “documentary theater.” But he considers it something different: “highly personal revelatory theater.”

Twilight consists entirely of interviews Smith conducted with parties affected by the riot — white Hollywood agents, black activists, Korean merchants, politicians, intellectuals, everyday Angelenos — and moves chronologically from a short period before the riots until their aftermath. 

“It’s not documentary drama and it’s not just monologues,” he says. “It’s storytelling. Thirty-seven people have their stories to tell.”

Twilight was a piece Cescarini had never heard of before stumbling across it in a play anthology a little more than a year ago. But only a few months removed from the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, after the fatal shooting of black teen Michael Brown by a white police officer, as well as other protests across the country over similar killings, he was struck by how relevant the piece was, more than two decades after it was written. 

There are differences, of course. Crucially, the Rodney King beating was captured, in part, on a home video made from a balcony overlooking the scene. That video was subsequently shared via telecasts across the nation, going as viral as was possible for a work of broadcast media to go in the early 1990s. 

“No one had ever seen something like that before,” Cecsarini says, adding that the general public was sure the police officers indicted would be convicted. It was when they weren’t found guilty that the rioting began, much as how, in Ferguson, riots started after the officer who killed Brown was not indicted.

‘Those issues are still there to be reckoned with. … They’re not just going to go away on their own.’

To Cecscarini, the parallelism demonstrates that we, as a nation, have not learned from earlier racial tensions, and will continue perpetuating the same injustices unless we are willing to take action. “Those issues are still there to be reckoned with. … They’re not just going to go away on their own,” he says.

When playwright Smith originally performed Twilight, she did so solo, delivering the words of each of her 37 characters. Next Act will present the play with six actors dividing the roles, an option included in Smith’s script. What will be preserved, Cecsarini says, is the gender-bending and race-bending implicit in the work, with each of the six portraying individuals who are different races and genders from themselves as well as characters who share their race and gender.

Cecsarini says playing against type has occasionally been a challenge for him and his actors, but it’s also been a rewarding way for them to discuss and understand elements of the play that their races and genders may otherwise have prevented them from grasping. He also believes it’s part of the purpose of the play — deliberately blurring the lines of gender and race to force audience members out of their comfort zones. 

It’s clear from the words Smith has captured that many of her interview subjects are verbally acknowledging their feelings about race and the riots for the first time, Cecsarini says, with conversations stuttering and dancing around points before finally reaching their destination or hitting a wall and moving on. It’s a position he says he can relate to as well, with his work on the play illuminating his own shortcomings on race, as a white man who grew up in Brookfield largely unaware of Milwaukee’s own conflicts in the 1960s over fair housing and opportunities.

“I was ignorant,” he says, “and in some respects I am still ignorant about what are the day-to-day issues, what people really go through, and what it feels like. This experience has taught me a lot, at least of what I don’t know.”

Twilight is a challenging play to face, but Cecsarini believes Next Act’s audience needs to accept that challenge. “People sometimes cannot see beyond (the) difficulty in going to a theater piece that has something to say,” he says. To him, this play should ideally be seen as an “essential community event” — one that no Milwaukeean, of any race or social class, can justify avoiding. 

“A riot is not the beginning of events, but the end of events,” Cecsarini says. And the only way to prevent one is for communities to come together, across dividing lines, and truly see the different perspectives through which we view our society and its injustices.

ON STAGE

Next Act Theatre’s production of Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 runs Jan. 28 to Feb. 21 at 255 S. Water St., Milwaukee. Tickets range from $21 to $38 and can be ordered at 414-278-0765 or nextact.org.

Rep actors talk ‘Of Mice and Men’

John Steinbeck’s 1937 novella Of Mice and Men captured the hearts of Depression-era America with its tale of George Milton and Lennie Small, itinerant drifters and farm hands who formed an unlikely bond in their search for a home. A simple, poetic work, the book was intended to be what Steinbeck called a “play-novelette,” easily transferable from the page to the stage — a goal achieved with much success nationwide over the decades since its printing.

The Milwaukee Rep this month becomes the next theater to take on the work, with a production running Jan. 19-Feb. 21 in its Quadracci Powerhouse. It’ll be the second time British-born artistic director Mark Clements has staged the dramatic version of Steinbeck’s novel, having previously directed a production at Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Playhouse in 2007. 

Clements says the play speaks to him on a personal level and that it also will resonate with Milwaukee audiences the way it has for generations. 

“I think people often view me as very confident and forthright, but it doesn’t necessarily come naturally to me. So I related to all the protagonists in the play, who are all very much isolated,” Clements says. “The other key aspect to the play is the relationship between George and Lennie. It’s their friendship and their efforts in seeking a way to escape the isolation and find validation.”

In the Rep’s production, the pivotal roles of George and his companion Lennie will be played by Milwaukee actor Jonathan Wainwright and Scott Greer (who played Lennie in Clements’ 2007 production as well). WiG caught up with the actors between rehearsals to talk to them about their characters.

When were you first exposed to Of Mice and Men? What was your reaction?

Scott Greer: I read the novel in eighth-grade and it had a huge impact on me. Once I discovered theater in high school, Lennie became one of my “must play this before I die” roles. I feel very fortunate to get to work on it again. 

Jonathan Wainwright: I honestly can’t remember if I read the novel in school. So really my journey has begun right now and the work is new to me. My reactions are still unfolding, but at this moment the play is very personal and personally relevant. 

How would you describe your character to someone unfamiliar with the story? What fatal flaws have led him to his current situation?

SG: Lennie has a disability. He is emotionally and intellectually a child, but physically he is a very powerful, grown man. He doesn’t understand his own strength or have the maturity to control his emotions. 

JW: George is loyal, thoughtful, angry, isolated, scared and untrusting. His best characteristics could also be his fatal flaws, especially regarding his relationship with Lennie. It’s like that with so many of us. 

What approach did you take in developing your character?

SG: The first time I did this play, my daughter was 4 years old. Watching how she processed information, experienced joy and fear and struggled to control her impulses was invaluable to me. I also read a lot about mental retardation, especially a condition known as Fragile X syndrome. Lennie exhibits many traits that are symptoms of that disorder. 

JW: Research-wise, I developed a general understanding of the time and place, economic situations, race and gender issues. But really for me, the play is all about the relationship between George and Lennie. It’s about the relationships we all have in this life, those that both feed us and tear us down. 

What about the story appeals to you? What lessons did you learn about humankind in preparing for your role?

SG: I love the full-frontal humanity of Steinbeck’s characters. Even the villains are vulnerable. I also learned that we’re all capable of great compassion and great cruelty. In this play, it’s hard to see the difference sometimes. 

JW: The appeal is, again, all in the relationships. The language of these characters is rich and telling. There are secrets, layered thoughts between the lines, and a day-in-the-life sort of feeling that spirals into profound, life-changing actions and reactions. Making daily life suddenly extraordinary, as life itself often happens. 

The story epitomizes a distinct place and time in American history, but are there universal truths or characteristics that carry over to today?

SG: Without getting into a wealth disparity debate, I think people are as worried as ever about the American Dream.

JW: Loneliness, isolation, poverty, racial inequality, gender issues, care of the mentally handicapped, friendship, deep love and respect, life-changing decisions, life-ending decisions and loyalty. The more we change, the more we stay the same. The things these characters deal with, are the things we all deal with, always. 

ON STAGE

The Milwaukee Rep’s production of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men runs Jan. 19 to Feb. 21 at the Quadracci Powerhouse, 108 E. Wells St., Milwaukee. Tickets start at $20. To order, dial 414-224-9490 or visit milwaukeerep.com.

Pop artist JoJo is more than ready for a reintroduction

The last time pop artist JoJo was a household name — thanks to hits like “Baby It’s You” and “Leave (Get Out) — the music industry was a lot different. But the now-24-year-old star is more than ready to embrace the changes in distribution and marketing brought on in the digital age. 

It’s been almost a decade since JoJo’s last album, The High Road, due to a contract battle with her former label Blackground that kept her from making new music. But she made up for lost time in August, releasing a surprise “tringle” — not one, not two, but three new singles.

“When Love Hurts,” “Save My Soul,” and “Say Love” prove she has grown and evolved as an artist since she got her start as a young teenager. Now that the legal nightmare is over, Atlantic Records has since come to her rescue and she plans to release her third album next year. 

In the meantime, she’s hitting the road for her self-described intimate “I Am JoJo” tour, which includes a stop at Milwaukee’s Turner Hall Ballroom on Nov. 16. Before the show, WiG caught up with the singer to talk about the tour, her tringle and healing from years of struggle to sing again.

How’s rehearsal going so far? It’s going great. It’s really fun to flesh out ideas and see them come alive and try different things. I’m having fun with it. 

Your “I Am JoJo” tour kicked off on Nov. 2. What about being back out on the road and performing again in front of a live audience are you most excited about? I love traveling and getting to do it with some of my favorite people is just icing on the cake. I love my team and I don’t mind being in closed confines with them. It’s fun in each city and it’s hard for me to choose a favorite city because people are awesome everywhere. I love every night to get the opportunity to connect with audience and to have a shared experience. It’s special. 

By now, most people who’ve read about you know that you were in a battle with your old record label Blackground. What did you take away from that experience? I think I learned how to separate personal and professional a bit more. The label that I was signed with, I got involved with them when I was 12 years old, so they were pretty much father figures and very good to me. It was particularly painful to sever those ties because it felt like family. I think the next chapter of my career, it’s kind of important to separate those two and to realize that business is business and to really keep them a distinct thing. 

I know it’s been a little while since you’ve been out of the media spotlight with new music and everything, but were you nervous at all about returning? Absolutely. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t nervous. It’s always anxious when you’re putting something out when it’s been such a long time. The Internet really kept me going and kept me afloat in terms of connecting with fans, but other people thought that I fell off the face of the earth. So, to get the chance to come back and have all this experience while still being so young is pretty awesome. 

That’s great that you used the Internet to let your fans know that you haven’t really gone anywhere, you just haven’t made music in awhile. (Fans) orchestrated a “Free JoJo” campaign to raise awareness to what was going on so people didn’t think that I left music or whatever the case was. They were just everything to me and continue to be, so “yay” for the Internet and “yay” for Team JoJo! 

Since “Leave (Get Out)” came out, a lot has changed within the music industry in terms of the emergence of new artists, to how music is made and released, all the way to how music is discussed, especially in social media. How has this change affected you as an artist and how will you embrace this change? Content is so much more freely given today than when I first came out. It’s important to stay active. Taking time off was a very calming thing. I think there’s a fear of becoming irrelevant now that most artists probably feel more than they did 10 or 15 years ago just because our attention spans are getting shorter all the time. 

There are so many ways to get music and there are so many options. It doesn’t freak me out because this is my generation, you know what I mean? I’m surrounded by forward-thinking young people who grew up with the Internet, so it just makes me feel like I want to look less to the label to tell me what to do or what’s cool and really just do it. 

You’re making up lost time with what you call the tringle: “When Love Hurts,” “Save My Soul,” and “Say Love.” It seems that love is a continuous theme. How do you think love has influenced you and your music? Love is one of the biggest influences, if not the biggest. You know … having it, losing it, taking it for granted and shitting on it (laughs). Self-love, lack of love, familial love … it’s all fair game and definitely represented on the album that’s coming out next year and on full display on the tringle. It sounds like I’ve been in all of these terrible relationships. But really, I’m a lover who loves love and I’m always in it. 

The name of your upcoming tour, “I Am JoJo,” suggests that this’ll be more of a re-introduction to your established fan base and an introduction to people just discovering who you are. What can your fans, both old and new, expect? It’s starting from the beginning and there are chapters in the show. From my old hits starting 10 years ago through the mix tapes to where we are now and even a couple of new songs that no one’s ever heard from the upcoming album. It’s fun, it’s energetic; it’s going to be intimate. I want to be vulnerable and strong at the same time. It’s kind of just a nostalgic intro all the way to a really fun present. 

You’re working on a new album that’s coming out next year. What can you tell me about it? It’s been a long time coming. I started from scratch when I signed a new deal because I wasn’t able to take any of the old material that I worked on. I just stepped into it with fresh energy and an open mind and open heart and wanted to try different things that I’ve been loving and listening to and infuse them into my own stuff. You can definitely hear the influences of stuff that I love to listen to like hip-hop, dance music and R&B. I wanted to sing about love and other things that can make you feel high. It’s coming together and I’m really excited. We’re not fully done, but we’re almost there. 

You said in a recent interview that music has healing qualities. Do you feel that, after recording music for the new album, you’re healed from your unfortunate experience with Blackground? I think the experience absolutely helped me grow as an artist. Am I fully healed? No. That’s not just from my experience with the label. I have healing to do. Period. You know what I mean? 

At 24, I’m starting to unearth some issues from my childhood, including the label situation, that are affecting me today. Does it help me get through? Absolutely, because I feel more connected when I’m singing even when I do when I’m talking. To explore my range and get those feelings out through song is definitely therapeutic. 

You’ve been in movies such as Aquamarine and RV. Would you ever consider taking on more movie roles? Maybe a sequel to Aquamarine? Probably not a sequel to Aquamarine, but I definitely want to get back into acting. I love it and I’ve been doing that since I was a little girl. When time allows, I’d love to. 

ON STAGE

JoJo will perform at 8 p.m. on Nov. 16 at Milwaukee’s Turner Hall Ballroom, 1040 N. Fourth St. Tickets are $23 in advance, $25 day-of-show. Call 414-286-3663 or visit pabsttheater.org to order.

‘Silent Sky’ sheds light on forgotten female astronomers

Most people would recognize the name Hubble, as in the Hubble Space Telescope and its namesake, American astronomer Edwin Hubble. Fewer know of the debt he owes to Henrietta Leavitt, one of many female astronomers operating in relative obscurity at the Harvard College Observatory in the early 20th century.

Madison’s Forward Theater Company aims to shift that focus with its first show of the 2015–16 season. Playwright Lauren Gunderson’s Silent Sky, running Nov. 5 – 22, sheds new light on the early days of astronomy and how Leavitt’s star-mapping contributions led Hubble to realize that there were galaxies extending beyond the Milky Way.

“Henrietta Leavitt was a brilliant scientist and astronomer who made some fundamentally important discoveries,” says Forward artistic director Jennifer Uphoff Grey, directing the production. ”Not surprisingly, there is very little known about her personal life, so the playwright took the facts we do have and then imagined the rich life from there.”

Leavitt (Clare Haden), the Massachusetts-born daughter of a Congregational Church minister who relocated his family to preach in Beloit, graduated from Radcliffe College before joining a group of women employed by Harvard professor Edward Pickering to measure and catalogue the brightness of the stars. 

The women, who were not allowed to touch the telescope, were computers in the original sense of the word — working from glass photographic plates to compute the distances and characteristics of the heavenly bodies.

Pickering hired the women because he found the work of male astronomers less accurate and unsatisfactory, Gray says. As a woman of some means, Leavitt was initially not paid for her efforts, but eventually worked her way up to a wage of 30 cents per hour.

Silent Sky is one of a growing number of efforts to tell the story of women’s contributions to scientific development, Gray says. She adds that the play is a story well told, with dimensions that reach well beyond the play’s scientific content.

“It is a phenomenal play about a phenomenal group of women and a gorgeous blend of science, history and art,” Gray says. “One of the things I love about it is that, while it is a fantastic girl-power story, there is nothing man-bashing about the play.”

Gray says the play also offers high production values, an original piano score performed live onstage and a cast that, in addition to Haden, boats Colleen Madden, Carrie Hitchcock, Michael Huftile and Liz Cassarino.

Playwright Lauren Gunderson also will make an appearance in Madison. The Atlanta-area native will give a presentation, “Survival of the Storied: Why Science Needs Art and Art Needs Science” on Oct. 24 at the Wisconsin Institutes of Discovery, 330 N. Orchard St. on the UW-Madison campus. The 50-minute presentation will explore the ways that science and story share a structure that begs for heroism, action, surprise, mystery and wonder.

It’s a concept that could well describe Silent Sky, Gray says, with its emphasis on how analytical and creative perspectives benefit each other.

“There is a real desire to tell the unknown stories of women in science who have been overlooked,” says Gray. “History, science and art intersect at the same time and I love that. It’s a fantastic, beautiful story.”

ON STAGE 

Forward Theater Co.’s production of Lauren Gunderson’s Silent Sky runs Nov. 5 – 22 in The Playhouse in Overture Center for the Arts, 201 State St., Madison. For tickets, call 608-258-4141 or visit forwardtheater.com.

Forward Theater’s New Season

Lauren Gunderson’s Silent Sky kicks off a strong season for Madison’s only equity theater troupe, all performed at the Overture Center, 201 State St., Madison.

Annie Baker’s The Flick, a funny and touching play about three underpaid movie theater workers in Massachusetts that won the 2014 Pulitzer Play for Drama, is the company’s first show of 2016. The story about race, class, family and sex, all seen through the eyes of ordinary people, runs Jan. 28 – Feb. 14.

The season closes with Anne Washburn’s Mr. Burns (A Post-Electric Play), a 2014 Drama Desk nominee for best play. Washburn’s imaginative dark comedy, a post-apocalyptic thrill ride that depicts retellings of the same episode of The Simpsons in the days, years and decades after a catastrophic event, runs April 7 – 24.

‘America’s Test Kitchen’ cooks up quite the stage show

Christopher Kimball, host of the PBS series America’s Test Kitchen, would like you to know that he ties his own bowties. He also admits he has no personal experience as a celebrity chef or in any kind of commercial cooking whatsoever.

That would make him a strange choice for his hosting role, were it not for his 25 years’ experience in food journalism, which ultimately led him to his other gig: editor-in-chief of Cook’s Illustrated. The culinary magazine promotes recipes and techniques useful to home cooks who want to realistically develop their kitchen capabilities.

That same goal also drives America’s Test Kitchen, which operates as a television show, radio program and, increasingly, an online outlet. Next month, it finds another medium to educate — live shows. On Nov. 3, Kimball will be hosting America’s Test Kitchen LIVE at Milwaukee’s Riverside Theater, an evening in which he’ll reveal the show’s inner workings.

The evening-long look inside the test kitchen was originally scheduled for the Pabst Theater, but was moved to the much larger Riverside due to a groundswell in ticket demand. Such interest supports Kimball’s notion that more people are cooking than ever before, driving up the demand for affordable, accessible recipes.

“The concept is simple,” Kimball says. “Most recipes don’t work and therefore home cooks have a fear of failure. By doing extensive testing, trying almost everything, and by showing and discussing our mistakes, we can bring home cooks into our kitchen and make them comfortable with the process and the recipe.”

America’s Test Kitchen’s approach is one of simple show-and-tell, Kimball explains. The show employs some 40 cooks in its own test kitchen, several of whom appear regularly on the air. Recipes are discussed, dissected and tested in ways that are accessible to cooks without professional culinary training. He says that’s the show’s secret to success.

“For the most part, we stay away from professional dishes and chefs’ recipes because that is a totally different type of cooking,” Kimball says. “The challenge with all recipes is to figure out how the home cook plans on messing up a dish. They make substitutions, skip steps, change techniques and rarely follow a recipe as written.”

Correcting those mistakes before they happen — and in the process promoting successes while easing the frustrations of home cooks — is the main course offered by Kimball and his colleagues.

“At the heart of what we do is an authentic process,” Kimball says. “What we do on radio, TV and even onstage is not about showmanship. It’s about bringing our audience into our very real test kitchen.”

The stage show coming to the Riverside offers audience members a variety of ways to enter the test kitchen. Videos and photography highlight the presentation by Kimball and co-presenter Dan Souza. However, there is little cooking that goes on during the presentation.

“We have tried it and watching someone cook onstage is like watching paint dry,” Kimball says. ”We do have contests, taste tests, weird science experiments and even Dan Souza jumping at a Velcro wall wearing Velcro suit. However, we have not road tested this idea yet.”

The videos also show things that do not work, including a now infamous episode of NBC’s The Today Show featuring a recipe gone awry. Unlike episodes in the PBS series, the stage show does not seek to replicate the work of area chefs and adapt it for home cooks, nor does it offer a kitchen gadgets segment like one seen in the series. 

The purpose of the stage show is to expose audience members as much as possible to the test kitchen process and make them more successful in their own kitchens, Kimball says. Part of that success for any cook is taking the proper approach with the proper tools, he adds.

“Preheat your pan properly so you are cooking with heat,” Kimball says. “Use a sharp knife and buy a good knife sharpener. Use enough salt and check all of your seasonings before serving for those recipes which can be modified before serving.”

The show also does not predict food trends, something to which Kimball has a personal aversion.

“I pretty much hate trends,” he adds. “The only trend I really like is that more people are cooking. And you can keep that quinoa on the shelf.”

ON STAGE 

America’s Test Kitchen LIVE featuring Christopher Kimball is coming on Nov. 3 to the Riverside Theater, 116 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee. For tickets call 414-286-3663 or visit pabsttheater.org.

‘Wicked’ lends its themes to anti-bullying campaign

Wicked’s reign as one of the most popular and lucrative stage shows in history continues 12 years on, with crowds eagerly packing theaters on Broadway and on tour.

Two of those theaters will be in Madison and Milwaukee, where Alyssa Fox will take the stage to portray Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West.

Over the course of Wicked, and the novel of the same name, Elphaba begins as a gifted, strong-willed and intelligent young woman, but is increasingly painted as an evil witch by those around her. Their fear and misunderstanding is initially prompted by one unmistakable difference — her green skin.

“Elphaba was born as someone who is immediately different from everyone around her and got a lot of criticism for just being who she is on the outside because she’s green,” says Fox, who has been playing Elphaba since January and has been with the tour since 2011.

“I think I relate to her a lot,” she adds. “I was a little bit of a different kid. I was very sensitive and quiet and shy. I had different interests than other people and I got made fun of too for that and that’s something I really can put myself into as the character onstage.”

It isn’t easy for Elphaba to be green — and that’s something that victims of bullying culture can relate to intimately. So as musical has become more of a cornerstone in society, the show has partnered with an organization called BullyBust to help school-aged children learn about bullying through the story. The program trains students to identify bullying in their school communities and work to diffuse it. 

Fairy tales and social morality have been linked for centuries, and Wicked is truly just the latest example of this tradition.

In Wicked, Elphaba’s ultimate best friend was first her enemy, a so-called “popular girl” named Glinda. As both Elphaba and Glinda mature, their relationship develops into a close friendship as they learn more about each other. 

“That absolutely can happen in real life if people open themselves up to each other and accept each other despite their differences,” Fox says. “You can be two completely different people who disagree on things but still be really wonderful friends.”

As a prominent social climber at their school, Glinda, with a turn of phrase or simple action, can sway the position of other students. Taking the first step and speaking out can likewise be the first step for students to be positive forces for equality in real life. 

“As Glinda changes the temperature around her, because people look up to her, if she does something kind for Elphaba and brings her into the community then everyone else rallies around that,” says Fox. “It’s a really great example for social leaders in schools these days. One person can take a stance and be accepting and other people will catch onto that kindness.”

The show not only works to bring the issue of bullying in schools to light, but also touches upon cultural and racial stereotyping as well as abuse and mistreatment. There are characters of many creeds and colors who are persecuted throughout the show by the overwhelming group-think of the residents of Oz.

“The show was written in that time after 9/11 when a lot of judgments were being made,” says Fox. “Wicked definitely touches on that subject a lot in the show, (where there is) somebody who is seen as ‘the other’ and as ‘the scapegoat’ and people end up making those people the enemy.”

When asked what one lesson could be taken away from this particular theme in the show, Fox responded that, “The important thing is to not ever consider yourself to be over someone else, likewise, no one is under you — we are all equal, we’re all human and we’re all fighting our own battles. That speaks volumes, because if one person steps up then it opens the doors for everyone else too.”

ON STAGE

The national tour of Wicked will appear at Madison’s Overture Center, 201 State St., through Nov. 1, and Milwaukee’s Marcus Center, 929 N. Water St., Nov. 4 – 15. Tickets in Madison are $33 to $135, while tickets in Milwaukee are $42 to $152. Visit overturecenter.org or marcuscenter.org to order tickets.