It’s been a long hot summer, but now the signs of fall creeping closer are unmistakable. Kids and parents are doing their back-to-school shopping. The lakefront festival season is winding down, and the theater season in Milwaukee is getting started. There’s nothing better than Shakespeare under the stars on a hot July night, but these exciting productions, which will grace local stages through the end of 2018, have me looking forward to the months ahead.
“Sherlock Holmes & the Case of the Jersey Lily,” Milwaukee Chamber Theatre
August 10 – 26
Ever since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle penned the first Sherlock Holmes mystery in 1887, people have been fascinated by the genius detective; a misanthrope who lacks basic people skills but thrives on solving baffling crimes, in between playing his violin and feeding his chemical addictions. And after Benedict Cumberbatch brought the Victorian character into the present for the BBC series “Sherlock,” the demand for new stories has only grown. Now Milwaukee Chamber Theatre has a Baker Street adventure to share with audiences. In “The Case of the Jersey Lily,” directed by MCT Associate Artistic Director Marcella Kearns, Sherlock and his partner Dr. Watson are asked to intervene in a case of blackmail by writer and bon vivant Oscar Wilde and the celebrated actress Lily Langtry. The historical and fictional worlds collide in what promises to be a very witty show.
“Doc Danger and the Danger Squad,” Milwaukee Opera Theatre
August 23 - 30
Composer and lyricist Jason Powell is teaming up with director Jill Anna Ponasik once again, for more comic book fueled musical adventures. The dynamic duo that brought audiences “Fortuna the Timebender vs. The Schoolgirls of Doom” is diving back into the superhero genre with new characters, such as the titular scientist Doc Danger, jungle protector Jesai of the Jaguars, and space cowgirl Satellite Sally, along with an enigmatic detective known only as The Lady in Black. This band of unusual heroes must do battle with the reality-warping Professor Z, who threatens to un-make the entire universe. With Ponasik in the director’s chair, audiences should expect a wacky, unconventional and engaging production that’s equal parts great musicianship and sci-fi kitsch.
“In the Heights,” The Milwaukee Rep
September 18 – October 28
While theatergoers are still waiting for the national tour of “Hamilton” to arrive in Milwaukee, audiences are invited to see the musical that first catapulted creative genius Lin Manuel Miranda to fame. “In the Heights” focuses on the everyday lives, loves, dreams and disappointments of Latinx characters in the New York neighborhood of Washington Heights. It was Miranda’s first hit, garnering 13 Tony nominations and taking home 4 trophies — which is not a bad feat, considering he started working on the show when he was still a college kid. With a score that features salsa, merengue, soul, hip-hop and R & B, in addition to Miranda’s familiar freestyle rap, it’s sure to be a high energy production, helmed by Rep Associate Artistic Director May Adrales.
“Pippin,” Skylight Music Theatre
September 21 – October 7
Long before Stephen Schwartz penned the music for “Wicked,” he wrote a very 1970s ensemble piece about the son of Charlemagne — nicknamed Pippin — who went on an existential quest to find himself. Combined with the talent of Ben Vereen as the lead player and the choreography of Bob Fosse, the musical did indeed have a lot of “magic to do.” In 2013 it was re-imagined with a circus theme for a successful Broadway revival. Now it’s coming to the Broadway Theatre Center as the Skylight’s season opener, directed by Artistic Director Ray Jivoff.
“Outside Mullingar,” Next Act Theatre
September 27 – October 21
Although Milwaukee is known for its German heritage, there are plenty of Irish descendants that fill its neighborhoods as well. And even if audiences don’t have a bit of blarney in them, it will be hard to resist the charm of John Patrick Shanley’s unorthodox Irish love story “Outside Mullingar,” which begins Next Act’s season. Featuring Producing Artistic Director David Cescarini and Milwaukee favorite Deborah Staples in the main roles, it’s a story of inheritance and legacy, letting go of long held grudges, and seizing a last chance for happiness.
“Native Gardens,” Renaissance Theaterworks
October 19 - November 11
As long as there have been property lines, there have been disputes between neighbors about whose grass is too long, whose fence is in the wrong place, and whose little bit of the American Dream should stay on its own side. This is the basis for the Karen Zacarias play that will start the Renaissance Theaterworks season. But forget the Hatfields and the McCoys — the tensions between these two neighbors run deeper, delving into race, class, politics and privilege. Fortunately, the animosity only goes so far. “Native Gardens” is a comedy that pokes fun at the pettiness that sometimes overtakes people who live in close quarters, revealing that they are actually much more similar than they are different.