Sunday, Aug. 8, 2010

2009-2010 Year In Review Pt. 1

Another Year of Transition for Milwaukee Theatre

By Russ Bickerstaff
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The 2009-2010 Milwaukee Theatre year comes to a close as a number of theatre companies open their doors for the 2010-2011 season. 09/10 began with the 4th Annual Milwaukee Comedy fest and ended with the 5th Annual Milwaukee Comedy Fest. Here are some highlights of what happened between those two festivals:

 

AUGUST:  AROUND THE WORLD AND INTERROGATION IN STYLE

August began with a touring production of Phantom—a show definitely beginning to show its age. The Milwaukee Chamber Theatre 

launched one of the most stylish shows of  the year—a steampunk staging of Around The World In 80 Days featuring Chris Klopatek and Matt Daniels, who return to Milwaukee Chamber this month in a production of Jeeves Intervenes in somewhat reversed roles. The visually dynamic production of Around The World was highly ambitious and actually came away with a remarkably memorable production. (Off The Wall Theatre  will be launching an equally ambitious two-part adaptation of the classic speculative fiction novel this season.)

 

Also in August—one of Insurgent Theatre’s final performances as a Milwaukee-based group made its way to the Cream City Collectives as Ben Turk and Kate Pleuss presented their two-person interroagation drama Ulysses’ Crewmen in a dazzlingly uncomfortable space.

SEPTEMBER: INVADER? WWJD? AND OTHER QUESTIONS

September opened The Milwaukee Rep’s last season with Joseph Hanreddy as Artistic Director as a stylish production of The Government Inspector made its way to the stage of the Quadracci Powerhouse Theatre. It also saw the opening of Next Act Theatre’s final season in the Off-Broadway Theatre as it presented the romantic drama Mary’s Wedding.

Stage experimentation started relatively early this year with the first of the year’s many untested bits of theatre to make it to the stage as Jason Powell’s campy sci-fi musical Invader? I Hardly Know Her! debuted at the Alchemist Theatre. A show that featured a respectably weird plot also housed some of the more interesting lyrics to be staged in a musical this year.

September’s Hansberry-Sands show featured an audience verbally clashing with WWJD? A particularly vocal audience responded to the dramatic story of a married man having a relationship with another man. I’ve never seen an audience so drawn against a show. It was a courageous move for Hansberry-Sands. The audience reaction was every bit as intense as the show itself.

 

Windfall Theatre also staged a memorable show last September with The Receptionist. An office comedy turns overwhelmingly dark. Larry Birkett, Sonia Rosenthal and Boulevard Theatre Artistic Director Mark Bucher played office suits conducting sinister business behind close doors against Carol Zippel’s sweetly oblivious title character. The Adam Bock script slowly peels back the day-to-day world to reveal something brilliantly sinister.

OCTOBER: HALLOWEEN AND THE PARADE OF MONOLOGUES

The Halloween vibe permeated the month. Alchemist Theatre’s annual Halloween show was a look at the  countenance of Dracula: The Undead. Radio WHT followed suit with a comic Dracula of its own. Sunset Playhouse did Death Trap. Renaissance Theaterworks did brilliantly dark comedy about a group of women leaving their husbands locked in a walk-in freezer with The Smell of the Kill.

October saw the first of several monologue shows that appeared on Milwaukee stages over the course of the year. Angela Iannone played Katherine Hepburn in In Tandem’s Tea At Five while Elizabeth Norment played Joan Diddion in Milwaukee Rep’s The Year of Magical Thinking. (The following month, Laura Gordon would play Ann Landers in an exceptionally memorable production of The Lady With All The Answers on the Rep’s main stage.) One of the more powerful staged monologues this past year was easily its most intimate. On the tiny stage of the Boulevard Theatre, David Ferrie performed Norman Gaullin’s tribute to legendary lawyer Clarence Darrow.

NOVEMBER: THE LEDGE INSIDE THE SECOND FLOOR

Next Act Theatre’s final year in the Off-Broadway Theatre space with a number of really interesting shows, the most memorable by far being 7 Stories—a clever comedic show taking place entirely on the 7th floor ledge of an apartment building. The show’s thematic and comedic complexity with a cast that included Robert W.C. Kennedy, Tami Workentin, Debra Babich, Doug Jarecki and Mark Ulrich as The Man On The Ledge. It was a pleasantly surreal experience of walking into a second floor studio theatre and being confronted with a seventh floor ledge. Next Act Producing Artistic Director David Cescarini had fun with it—delivering the opening curtain speech from a ladder not far from the set.

In the much smaller space of the MGAC, the late RSVP Productions staged its final show—a production of Paul Rudnick’s shorts program The New Century, featuring the second appearance of a local theatre company’s Artistic Director appearing in a show with another company as Dale Gutzman played a man deemed too much of a gay stereotype for the contemporary LGBT community.

DECEMBER: THE EVOLUTION OF TRADITION

The holidays are a big time for the performing arts in any town. Theatrical traditions have firmly established themselves in Milwaukee over the years, but gradually some of those traditions are changing. In Tandem Theatre’s long-running holiday tradition A Cudahy Carolers’ Christmas was avoided this past year in favor of the Vaudeville-style Christmas Carol spoof Scrooge in the Rouge, which In Tandem will return to next December. The Milwaukee Rep continued its long-running Christmas Carol as The Alchemist Theatre continued to establish a holiday tradition with it latest production of Patrick Schmitz’s holiday comedy Rudolph The Pissed-Off Reindeer. Schmitz’s hit show returns again next year in a couple of local productions. The Bo Johnson-produced Neil Haven puppet comedy Who Killed Santa? Returned again this past December as well. The show moved from the Carte Blanche theatre to the second floor of the Bay View Brew Haus on a stage space just a few paces from the Alchemist Theatre.    

    

In an enjoyable bit of counter-programming for the month, Off The Wall Theatre did a production of La Cage Aux Folles that featured the trademark incongruous mix of talents that have come to define shows at the tiny studio theatre. Carl Miller’s portrayal of the temperamental Albin stands out as one of the more remarkable performances of the season.

 

Tomorrow: January through July, 2010

 

 

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