Sunday, Dec. 30, 2007

A Few Words About the Furniture

By Russ Bickerstaff
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It’s that time of year again—with all of the holiday shows winding-down, there are almost no openings between mid-December and mid-January. For someone who usually attends 2-3 theatre openings per week, this can feel like a pretty dramatic theatre vacuum. As one could probably imagine, that kind of attendance involves a lot of sitting around in theatre seats. What follows is a list of some of the most comfortable theatre seats in Milwaukee. This is by no means a complete list. These are, however, five or six of the best places to see a show in the city.


Side Loge Left A1 and Side Loge Right A 50
Marcus Center’s Uihlein Hall


It seems pretty strange that seats like these would even exist. Two levels up from theatre’s ground floor orchestra level is a “U”-shaped balcony known as the loge. The tips of the “U” taper-off as they shoot out towards the stage. The very front row of both tips consists of one, lone seat with aisles on both sides of it. If you must attend a show alone (an occupational hazard as a critic) these are the very best theatre seats in the city. Sitting there, one feels as though he/she is suspended alone directly over the rest of the audience directly in front of the stage. It’s the paradoxical experience of seeing a show in a huge audience while simultaneously being in complete solitude.

DRAWBACKS: Obviously, with the nearest adjacent seats being directly behind them, these are probably the worst date seats in the county. As most people go to the theatre with other people, these seats wouldn’t be desirable to most people. Also—many of the performances in Uihlein are acoustic musical performances. Because of their location, the mix of sound coming to these seats in such performances is less than ideal. These seats are only perfect for an individual seeing something with a uniform, pre-fab sound design such as a touring Broadway show.

Rear Row, Section A Right and Left Orchestra
Broadway Theatre Center’s Cabot Theatre


Frequently used by the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre and the Skylight, the Cabot’s European opera-house-inspired appearance is only slightly less beautiful than the historic Pabst Theatre, making it one of the most beautiful performance spaces in all of Milwaukee. 4 of its seats 368 seats are some of the most comfortable seats in Milwaukee. On the ground floor, furthest back from the stage on either side of center orchestra are a pair of rows with a pair of seats each. Visibility of the stage from these seats is perfect. There’s plenty of leg room. A pair of people can comfortably see a show in a crowd while simultaneously being separated from it in what are easily the best date seats of any live theatre space in Milwaukee.

DRAWBACKS: While extremely comfortable, these seats are relatively far away from the stage. As performances here tend to be smaller, (a recent Skylight production of White Christmas being a notable exception) the ideal would be to sit much closer to the action for many of the shows staged at this theatre.


Converted Multiplex Seats
The Alchemist Theatre


Having only opened last month, the Alchemist Theatre on South K.K. is extremely new. The people responsible for opening the theatre have a real passion for providing the best possible studio space. Quite a few of the seats in the theatre are refurbished multiplex-style movie theatre seats complete with plastic cup holder at the end of the armrest. At first, it’s a bit strange sitting in one of these seats for a live performance in a space that is decidedly smaller than even the smallest theatre at any multiplex. After the first few minutes, you get used to it. As most studio spaces use folding chairs or those stackable molded plastic seats, the Alchemist houses some of the best seats available in a theatre space. With the Alchemist Theatre bar right next door, the cup holders make this one of the best places to have a drink while seeing a show. Yes, you can bring drinks into the Milwaukee Theatre downtown in seating complete with cup holders, but the space there is far too big to be cozy and the drinks are far too expensive to be comfortable.

DRAWBACKS: Most of the studio theatres in town have some sort of a thrust stage, amplifying the intimacy quite a bit. (When Colleen Madden performed The Syringa Tree at the Broadway Theatre Center’s Studio space, some of the seats were even onstage with her.) The Alchemist is essentially a proscenium theatre space, detracting a bit from the natural intimacy of studio theatre. With taller than average theatre seats, sight lines can be a bit obscured if the action of the play get too lose to the front row. I have the tendency to want to sink into a multiplex seat, which doesn’t really work here if I want to be able to see all of the action onstage. Admittedly, I have only been to this theatre one and my opinion may have been skewed by the performance and a couple of beers.

Left and Right Section E 1 and 2
Raabe Theatre
Wisconsin Lutheran College

Okay, I’m pretty certain that these seats are actually designated “handicapped,” but in the event that they’re available, they really are some of the best places to see a show if you happen to find yourself at Wisconsin Lutheran College. They are comfortably offset from the rest of the seats at a point elevated enough to see all of what’s going on onstage. There’s even a cozy little railing to rest one’s arm on. The overall proportions of these seats wth respect to the railings feels very much like being behind the wheel of a motor vehicle while watching a show. This is oddly pleasurable for some reason. It's difficult to explain why.

DRAWBACKS: There really isn’t much that gets staged at the Raabe Theatre. What little finds its way to the stage there can sometimes come across a bit rough and uneven. With the audience for any given show largely consisting of WLC students already familiar with the actors onstage, one can’t help but feel like an outsider at this theatre.



Anywhere in Row A
Orchestra Level
Quadracci Powerhouse Theatre
And
Any Seat in the Front Row
Ground Floor
UWM Mainstage Theatre


Both the Rep and UWM’s main stages are exceedingly comfortable from just about any seat, but the front rows of both are ideal. As both are thrust stages, there are quite a few to choose from. Front and center at the Quadracci has the added bonus of being very close to the set. There’s almost a feeling of intimacy there in spite of the relatively large size of the theatre.

DRAWBACKS: Being at the base of a relatively large theatre means a considerably long wait to leave, whether that be during intermission or the end of the show. The angle of these seats can sometimes obscure shows that were blocked for those with more of a complete view of the thrust set.

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