First Stage & Milwaukee Chamber Theatre
First Stage mixes world premieres with returning classics and an extra Young Company show; MCT offers five intimate looks into private lives.
Call me the nerdiest of theater nerds if you want, but there’s not much that gets me more excited than the beginnings of spring, when theater and performing companies everywhere start announcing their new seasons. The latest two to cross my desk: a strong collection of shows from First Stage and an intriguing quintet from Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.
Cool, eh? Here’s the skinny on what we know of the season so far:
Shrek the Musical, Oct. 11 – Nov. 17: Yep, you’re thinking of the right Shrek; First Stage’ll present the musical version of the Dreamworks cartoon, which first treaded the boards of Broadway in 2008. John Maclay, associate artistic director and Young Company director, will take on the verdant title role.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Nov. 29 – Dec. 29: A frequently produced First Stage show (last performed in 2009) makes its return. The ’80s-themed holiday show follows the chaotic Herdman family from Barbara Robinson’s series of YA novels.
Maul of the Dead, Dec. 6-8: First Stage’s Young Company, its advanced training program for high school actors, is performing two full-length productions this year, and the first is this zombie holiday mashup. Set in a mall overrun by the walking dead on Black Friday, Frank called the show a “campy send-up of all things zombies.” Creepy-cool.
A Midnight Cry, Jan. 10 – Feb. 9: A Midnight Cry is being billed as the latest in First Stage’s Wisconsin Cycle, but unlike the last two in the Badger State-focused series (2011’s Don’t Tell Me I Can’t Fly and this season’s To the Promised Land), it’s not a new work: the James DeVita play premiered to great acclaim in First Stage’s 2002-3 season. The story, about a young slave girl’s journey to freedom on the Underground Railroad, features musical selections by Josh Schmidt and Sheri Williams Parnell.
The Cat in the Hat, Jan. 25 – March 2: I don’t need to explain the plot of The Cat in the Hat, of course – it’s enough to point out that the beloved Dr. Seuss classic is the company’s designated First Steps show, for kids 3 to 6. Also of note: First Stage alumnus Chris Feiereisen has been tapped to play the Cat in this production, originally produced by the UK’s National Theatre.
Anatole, Feb. 21 – March 16: By accident or design, First Stage has thrown their winter a cat-and-mouse theme thanks to this original musical about a French mouse named Anatole who seeks to restore the reputation of the nation’s rodent population. Maclay and Lee Becker collaborated on the book and lyrics; James Valcq (of Spitfire Grill fame) wrote the music.
Crash, March 28 – April 13: While I originally, way erroneously thought this was an adaptation of the Oscar-winning film, Crash actually has its origins in a Jerry Spinelli novel about a middle-school football player and bully who thinks he has it all until his grandfather has a stroke. Taking on the issue of bullying from the less-obvious angle is a smart call by First Stage, and Spinelli’s works are strong enough that adaptor Y York should have supplied something equally powerful for the company.
Nancy Drew and her Biggest Case Ever, May 2 – June 1: While the details on this production synthesizing a number of early Nancy Drew tales are still up in the air, this world premiere by Frank and Maclay will feature an original score by local musician Willy Porter.
Romeo and Juliet, May 16-17: The Young Company gets an extra chance to shine in the spring with a production of Romeo and Juliet, teaming them with some of Milwaukee’s experienced Shakespearean actors.
Adults should be equally as excited for what artistic director C. Michael Wright, managing director Kirsten Mulvey and the rest of Milwaukee Chamber Theatre have in store for 2013 and 2014. This year, their season centers around five shows that offer an intimate look at private moments, billed under the heading “Our Friends & Neighbors: Behind Closed Doors.” I’ll be heading down to the Third Ward later this year to get more details from Wright (and Frank at First Stage, and the rest of the companies as they announce shows), but luckily, MCT’s picked a slate of shows that are easy to talk about. Sidebar: MCT, which has partnered with a number of local universities in recent years, will do so twice in 2013-14.
Art, Aug. 8-25: The subject matter is interesting enough: three friends (Tom Klubertanz, Brian Mani and Wright) find their relationship tested when one buys an incredibly expensive painting on a whim. The thing that’s especially appealing to my eye: it’s by Yasmina Reza, better known as the writer of the incredible God of Carnage, a 2009 Tony Award-winner. And if the conflict in Art is anything like the conflict that brews in Carnage…well, this’ll certainly be a hell of a season opener.
The Detective’s Wife, Sept. 18 – Oct. 13: Described by MCT as a “ghost story,” this one-woman show by Keith Huff features Milwaukee theater regular Mary MacDonald Kerr as a woman who begins to investigate the killing of her own husband. The last time I saw a Huff show – his breakthrough work, A Steady Rain, which toured at Next Act’s space in the fall – I was treated to a gripping, relentless double monologue/confession of a tale, and The Detective’s Wife looks to be more of the same. Part of a collaboration with UWM.
Things Being What They Are, Nov. 20 – Dec. 15: MCT is set to close the calendar year with this “bromance” by Wendy MacLeod, about two male friends (Dan Katula and Ryan Schabach) bonding over their lives, marriages (present and former) and love itself.
October, Before I Was Born, Feb. 19 – March 9: The Montgomery Davis Play Development Series continues to provide ample fodder for MCT with this play, written by Lori Matthews and first performed here as a staged reading in September 2011. The play, about three family members whose loved ones are endangered by an explosion at the local Tennessee Eastman Company, is now ready for a full production in the Studio Theatre.
Lend Me a Tenor, April 10-27: MCT’s season ends with the biggest (cast-wise) show of the season, Ken Ludwig’s larger-than-life farce about an Ohio opera company whose hiring of a world-class tenor goes horribly, horribly wrong. After a season of close-up intimacy, this lighter fare should put a polish on the season as a whole. Part of a collaboration with Marquette University.
Keep an eye on TCD for our commentary on Milwaukee’s forthcoming season announcements in the months to come. In addition to the above, we’ve also turned our editorial spotlight on the 2013-14 seasons of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Milwaukee Ballet and Skylight Music Theatre, the latter featuring an interview with incoming director Viswa Subbaraman.
And for the rest of the 2012-13 season, check out Matthew Reddin’s Performing Arts Guide, consistently kept up-to-date with the city’s shows in theater, music, dance and more.