CTM's "Tuck Everlasting" Asks Timeless Questions

CTM’s regional premiere of the musical Tuck Everlasting begins with a frail and aged Winnie Foster (Trudy Barash) listening to a delicate tune on a music box, given to her by a friend long ago. On the keepsake’s lid is an intricate carving of a tree — mirrored in the enormous the tree that towers over the performers, carefully wrought to fill the entire back wall of the Overture’s Playhouse (stunning design by Christopher Dunham). This tree overlooks a revolving stage-cum-giant clock—the ideal platform for a magical journey that examines life, death and immortality through buoyant songs, inspired choreography and delightful performances by the 28-person cast, led by the luminous 13 year-old Malea Niesen and uber-talented APT regular James Ridge.

Cool Cats Strut Their Stuff in Latest "Are we Delicious" Show

Puss in Boots, the folktale about the clever cat who wins a princess for his poor but kind-hearted master, has been around for centuries. But it’s never looked quite like this. The seven day outline-to-opening-night company Are We Delicious set its sights on the classic fairytale just one week before debuting its original, fully staged adaptation at the Bartell Theatre, which runs through January 27th.

Join First Stage for a Beautiful Adventure, with "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Toulane"

From “Winnie the Pooh,” to “The Velveteen Rabbit,” to the “Toy Story” movies, there are many fantastic tales for children about playthings coming to life. Now it’s time to add “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Toulane,” to that list, or better yet, see First Stage’s gorgeous production, chronicling the adventures of a very special china bunny and a his many companions, onstage at the Marcus Center through February 11th.

Revisiting Rent on its 20th Anniversary Tour

At the end of Jonathan Larson’s musical Rent, Mark Cohen sings:

December 24th, 10 p.m.. Eastern standard time.
I can’t believe a year went by so fast
Time to see, what we have time to see...

For the 30- and 40-somethings in Overture Hall last night, seeing the twentieth anniversary non-Equity tour of the once groundbreaking show, it was tempting to wonder how two decades “went by so fast.” And it was “time to see” how the soundtrack of our youth held up, in this post-millennium world.

Granted, the era of answering machines, payphones, and filmmakers using actual cameras with film inside seems quaint, and a little archaic now. But the bigger question was, does Rent still have “the power to ignite the air?” Do the characters resonate with audiences? Does the show still say something important? 

"A Christmas Carol" Tradition Continues

Right: Jonathan Wainwright and Jonathan Smoots. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Right: Jonathan Wainwright and Jonathan Smoots. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

When I was 14 (back in the mid-1980s) my parents decided we should do something extra special to celebrate Christmas. Though Milwaukee was almost two hours and a million miles away from our rural, small-town lives, they purchased tickets for the four of us to see A Christmas Carol at the Rep. Other than a couple of musicals at the Fireside Dinner Theater in Fort Atkinson, this was my first taste of professional theater and the very first time I saw this hallowed holiday production live.

The memories of the experience are both warm and fleeting. I remember the gorgeous costumes of the carolers, seeing kids my age acting on stage (!), and a very frightened Scrooge cowering before the impossibly large, black clad Ghost of Christmas Future, its skeletal arm pointing accusingly toward Ebeneezer's grim fate, if he did not change his ways. I also remember the long trip home in the car, long past my bedtime, feeling as if I had experienced something truly magical. 

So when I took my seat in the Pabst Theater earlier this month to see the Milwaukee Rep's 2017 version of the Dickens classic, I had vague memories, and child-like hopes for magic. In that respect, I was not disappointed. 

Surrounded by families on extra special Christmas outings, complete with gaggles of little girls wearing velvet, hair ribbons and shiny dress shoes, I settled in for an evening that could impress children of the digital age, proving that there is absolutely nothing as powerful as live theater. For them, there were plenty of carolers in fancy costumes, emerging onstage as the set rotated and morphed from scene to scene. There were children -- their own age -- making up the Cratchit family, including an adorable Tiny Tim (Ashley Bock), who captured the audience's heart with the line "God bless us every one," and a musical solo that could pierce the hardest of hearts.

And there were ghosts, both terrifying and ethereal, complete with lights embedded in their robes, and crowns made of fire. As the cursed ghost of Jacob Marley, Jonathan Smoots strode down the aisle of the Pabst and onto the stage, an evil zombie with glowing chains and wild, bedeviled hair. After warning his old business partner of the fantastic ride he was about to embark on, Marley was pulled down to the netherworld by grasping goblins in a cloud of smoke. On the other end of the specter spectrum, Deborah Staples' Ghost of Christmas Past talked with Scrooge and the audience, looking every inch the glowing aunt of a heroine from Disney's Frozen

As scenes unfolded, the set of 19th century London row houses took on a dangerous, red glow, as if demons lurked in every dreary window. Entrances and exits were grand, parties at the Fezziwigs' Cloth Factory and nephew Fred's home were full of food, drink, dancing, singing and merriment that was impossibly gay. And Scrooge's future, if not amended, became more frightening than any haunted house full of ghouls. 

As the old miser Scrooge, Jonathan Wainwright embodied a shriveled wretch who was wasting away from lack of love and joy. Pale and wiry, with a gaunt face and thin hair, this skinflint took on the role of an Everyman, doing battle with a legion of Halloween horrors, and finally led back to kindness and light by benevolent spirits and a cheering audience. Instead of choosing to change for the better, he was scared--almost to death--into doing the right thing. As were we.

Ah, but when he did. . . there was magic. It snowed (real snow!) in the auditorium, flakes that I watched melt in my hand. We all rose and sang Christmas carols in one voice. The goblins were banished and for a moment there was unity, community, and joy to the world; the stage was as beautiful as the snow globe that decorated the programs for A Christmas Carol. 

And as I made the long drive back home in the dark, I realized that I had never experienced anything quite like that before, outside of Disneyland. The special effects easily outshone the story, keeping us all amazed, every minute. I thought about how generations of young people would look back on that show with awe. And I wondered which parts they would remember. 


Plenty of Hope for Everyone at "The Spitfire Grill"

For audience members who grew up in small towns in Wisconsin, much about Four Seasons Theatre’s heartwarming production of The Spitfire Grill will look familiar. Everyone seems to know everyone else. There’s one place where the locals hang out to get a cup of coffee and catch up on the latest gossip. Things invariably used to be better, whether that means the local quarry has recently shut down, or GM closed the plant, or the place just looks drearier than it used to. Young people are moving away and the optimism that townspeople once had has been worn down over time. And undoubtedly, there’s nothing more interesting--or suspicious--than someone new settling in the hamlet.

First Stage's "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is More than the Sum of its Parts

When CBS commissioned Charles Schulz to write a 30-minute Christmas special featuring his famous cartoon alter ego Charlie Brown, network executives did not get the sweet, typical holiday program they expected. Far from an exuberant celebration of presents and jingle bells, the 1965 animated program began with Charlie Brown’s gloomy statement that he just didn’t understand Christmas, and didn’t know how to get into the holiday spirit.

Is he dead? Well, yes.

Mark Twain is known as one of America’s foremost writers and humorists. His books, such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are standards on school readings lists and he has been referred to as the father of the great American novel.

But that doesn’t mean he wrote good plays. As sports fans learned when Michael Jordan turned in his basketball jersey for a baseball uniform, being the best in the world in one field does not guarantee success in another. Which brings us to Is He Dead?, a play by Mark Twain that was never produced in his lifetime, and was not published until 2003, when it was rediscovered among his papers by a Twain scholar. More artifact than art, It’s currently onstage in the Mitchell Theatre at UW Madison through December 10th.

Looking Behind The Secret Mask

The “sandwich generation” is a term that’s been applied to Baby Boomers in particular; in mid-life they are working to usher their children out of the nest, off to college, or first jobs, and simultaneously many of them are becoming caregivers for their aging parents. It’s a juggling act that requires not only a lot of love and patience, but a strange transition to new roles — parenting their parents and slowly transitioning to new relationships with their adult children. Inevitably it also involves making a lot of mistakes, even with the best of intentions. And like all complicated relationships, communication is key.

American Players Theatre’s 2018 Season — The Annotated Version

When Artistic Director Brenda DeVita chooses the season of plays that American Players Theatre will mount the following year, it is not a solitary exercise. And surprisingly, it’s not done with a specific theme in mind. Instead, it’s a collaborative process that takes months, involving many conversations with directors and actors. Through ongoing communication, DeVita discovers which plays, authors, and subjects the artists are most excited about tackling next. Then it’s a matter of fitting the projects and schedules together with the theater’s core company of actors to finalize the nine productions the company will put up over the course of five months.