World Class Season at World Class Theater – APT

Summer is a a traditional down time for theater in Milwaukee but it also heralds the season for the gratest  outdoor classical theater company in America – American Players Theatre in Spring Green, just west of Madison.

Here’s their press release describing the season, which will also mark the debut of the new Up The Hill theater space which is ready for use. It promises to be a dramatic addition to the space.

season will run June 10 to October 22, 2017. In APT’s flagship outdoor amphitheater, TWilliam Shakespeare will bookend the Hill season with A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Also playing on the Hill: A Flea in Her Ear by Georges Feydeau, Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand – a new adaptation by APT’s James DeVita; and Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov.

The 200-seat indoor Touchstone Theatre will host: The Maids by Jean Genet, An Unexpected Man by Yasmina Reza and A View From the Bridge by Arthur Miller. August Strindberg’s The Creditors will comprise the 2017 shoulder season in the Touchstone in November.

Artistic Director Brenda DeVita said, “We’ve put together a season that is quintessential APT. We’ll open our renovated Hill Theatre with Midsummer, the same play that began it all when APT opened in 1980. Together, the plays on the Hill will deliver on what I believe our audience has come to expect: a sweeping, romantic adventure with Cyrano, a hilarious comedy with A Flea in Her Ear, two Shakespeares that are tailor-made for our theater in the woods, and the beautiful, achingly human Chekhov play Three Sisters as our accent piece. For the Touchstone, we have chosen four plays that will showcase our company of actors and be very well-served by the intimacy of that space. I’m especially eager to continue our exploration of American classics with A View from the Bridge.”

ON THE HILL

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

By William Shakespeare

Directed by John Langs

APT’s first season on its newly rebuilt stage will be christened by the same play that kicked off its first season in 1980. Wedding plans between Theseus, Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons are underway when the couple is interrupted by angry parents trying to stop their headstrong daughter, Hermia, from marrying Lysander instead of their choice, Demetrius. A plan that backfires as the couple flees into the mystical Forest of Arden followed by Demetrius and Helena, (who is, in turn, love with Demetrius). There, Oberon and Titania – king and queen of the fairies – are having a quarrel of their own. And when Oberon enlists his servant Puck to cast a spell on his queen, everyone gets caught up in the magic of this iconic Shakespearean fairy tale. Featured casting to come.

A Flea in Her Ear

By Georges Feydeau 

Adapted by David Frank

Translated by Abbot Chrisman

Directed by David Frank

The lovely Raymonde Chandebise wonders why her husband has stopped visiting her bedroom, and assumes he must be having an affair. So she asks her friend Lucienne to write him a love letter meant to lure him to a rendezvous where she can catch him in the act of being unfaithful. But when Raymonde’s (very faithful) husband Victor Emmanuel receives the letter, he assumes it’s for his bachelor friend Tournel and gives it to him instead, setting in motion a hilarious series of events that bounces from the Chandebise home to a hotel of ill repute, where anything (and apparently everyone) goes. Featuring David Daniel as Victor Emmanuel and Marcus Truschinski as Tournel. More casting to come.

Cyrano de Bergerac

By Edmond Rostand

Adapted by James DeVita from the texts translated by: Gertrude Hall; Gladys Thomas and Mary Guillemard; Charles Renauld; and Henderson Dangerfield Norman.

Directed by James DeVita

Cyrano de Bergerac is a fearless soldier. A loyal braggadocio. And a man furiously self-conscious about his very protuberant nose. He’s also a man in love with a woman (Roxane) who’s in love with someone else (Christian), and promised in marriage to yet another (De Guiche). When Christian is assigned to Cyrano’s platoon, Roxane begs him to protect her love, which Cyrano reluctantly agrees to do. And when Christian in turn begs Cyrano to help him woo Roxane, a plot unfurls that begs the question: does love truly lie in the eyes or in the soul? A funny, action-packed romance with a heart full of poetry. Featuring James Ridge as Cyrano. More casting to come.

By Anton Chekhov

Translated by Susan Coyne

Directed by William Brown

Anton Chekhov (The Seagull, staged by APT in 2014) returns with another soul-searing masterpiece about hope, regret and the complexities of love. Three sisters – Olga, an unwed schoolteacher; Masha, a pianist in an unhappy  marriage and Irina, an idealist with plans for a vibrant future – live together with their brother Andrei. In the past, the family lived well-to-do in Moscow, but moved to a provincial town with their father, who had been a military general before his death a year prior. The girls dream of moving back to the city, and more aristocratic lives. Surrounded by soldiers from a nearby artillery post with whom the family has grown close, they watch their lives play out in ways they’d never imagined. A hearty, cathartic story about the moments we allow to pass, and how they shape the future. Featuring Kelsey Brennan as Masha. More casting to come.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Eric Tucker

The most epic of Shakespeare’s late romances, Pericles, Prince of Tyre sails from island to island in a search for love and a place to call home. The first stop is Antioch, where Pericles has traveled to attempt to win the hand of Antiochus’ daughter. But once there, the young prince discovers a secret that could cost him his life. As Pericles flees before he can be murdered, he’s shipwrecked in a storm and recovered by fishermen in Pentopolis, where he catches the eye of Princess Thaisa. Together they create a story that spans oceans, decades and the expanse of the human heart. Featured casting to come.

IN THE TOUCHSTONE THEATRE

The Maids

By Jean Genet

Translated by Bernard Frechtman

Directed by Gigi Buffington

Claire and Solange are sisters and servants. Trapped in a life they didn’t ask for and can’t leave, they pass the time by impersonating their Madame, with Claire dressing up in her fine clothes and makeup and relishing her role as the cruel, bullying mistress; using her character to spar with Solange. As the sisters dig deeper into their make-believe, their games become more sinister as they struggle against and within their identities and class roles. An edgy, absurdist fantasy about sex and pain; power and playacting. Featuring Melisa Pereyra as Claire. More casting to come.

The Unexpected Man

By Yasmina Reza

Translated by Christopher Hampton

Directed by Laura Gordon

Yasmina Reza, author of the international hit Art, brings her unique style of existential comedy to the Touchstone Theatre. Two strangers on a train – an author and a devoted fan – have a secret power struggle as they silently size each other up while reflecting on the decisions and events that led them to their shared train car. A story told through a series of fascinating and funny internal monologues, as two brilliant, lonely people search for a moment of connection. Featuring Sarah Day and Brian Mani.

A View from the Bridge

By Arthur Miller

Directed by Tim Ocel

In Eddie and Beatrice’s humble and hardworking Brooklyn neighborhood, family ties are a fierce point of pride. Case in point, Bea’s orphaned niece, Catherine has lived with them since she was a child and is now ready to make her way in the world, though Eddie seems reluctant to let her grow up. When the couple agrees to take in two of Bea’s cousins, Marco and Rodolpho, who have traveled from Italy to find work illegally, Catherine and Rodolpho start spending more time together, fanning Eddie’s hot temper and driving the family to an emotional boiling point. A Greek Tragedy set in in 1950s Brooklyn. Featuring Jim DeVita. More casting to come.

Opening in November

Creditors

By August Strindberg

Translated by David Greig

Directed by Maria Aitken

Adolph has made a new friend; a mentor of sorts who seeks to guide him both on his artistic ventures and in matters of his marriage to the charming, vivacious Tekla, who is older than Adolph. It quickly becomes apparent that this new friend – Gustav – may have some ulterior motives, as Adolph and Tekla’s relationship becomes more and more fraught due to Gustav’s influence and Adolph’s own insecurities. A dark and chilling psychological experiment played out on the Touchstone stage. Featuring Tracy Michelle Arnold and Jim DeVita. More casting to come.

The schedule for the season can be found at http://www.americanplayers. org.

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Sweeney Todd at Skylight

Christina Hall and Andrew Varela
Andrew Varela as Sweeney Todd

 

Ryan Stajmiger

Nothing like a fun night at the theater than lots of lies, lots of blood,   a little bit of cannibalism and a touch of incest.

Oh, and throw in some young lovers overcoming a bucket full of objection and a story told in very little straight dialogue but rather music – some of the greatest music in the history of musical theater.

If you guessed Sweeney Todd, you have guessed right and you ought to tell your friends to get tickets to see the production that opened over the weekend at Skylight Music Theater in the Third War.

The full title of this Stephen Sondheim masterpiece is “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” Under the masterful stage direction of Matthew Ozawa and Music Director Ben Makino, Skylight is closing its season with as powerful and mesmerizing a production as I’ve seen all year.

The show is highlighted by breathtaking performances from two spectacular leads, and a collection of actors, singer and dancers who all deliver and support the leads and the story.

The tale of Sweeney Todd is well known in the world of musical theater.

Sweeney (Andrew Varela) is a barber who was banished from his London home by the cruel Judge Turpin (Randall Dodge) so that the judge can pursue Sweeney’s wife, Lucy.

Sweeney escapes and heads home, but is set adrift in a sea, only to be rescued by Anthony Hope (Lucas Pastrana) a sailor. The two land in England and go their separate ways.

Sweeney enters the bake shop of Mrs. Lovett (Christina Hall), famous for her horrible-tasting meat pies and a woman who remembers Sweeney from his former life. She provides space on her second floor to allow Sweeney to open his tonsorial parlor once again.

But it is more than cutting hair that drives Sweeney. Lucy has died, Mrs. Lovett tells him, and that his lovely daughter Johanna (Kelly Britt) has been taken in by Turpin. The judge keeps her a veritable prisoner while he turns his seduction to his ward, as sickening a development as you could see. 

For Sweeney it is a tale of horror and he plots his revenge carefully and savagely and begins by practicing on several unsuspecting customers. His chosen method is a simple one. Slather a face with shaving cream, honing his straight edge razor to a weapon he calls “my friend” and then slicing the throat of his customer. Once sliced, complete with spurting and flowing blood, the victim is dropped through a hole in the floor into a cavernous landing spot, only to be pulled away by Mrs. Lovett.

In a grim twist Mrs. Lovett runs the bodies through the grinder three times, uses the resulting grind as the filler for her meat pies, and enjoys a resurgence of her business as customers rave about the new flavor of her pies.

The shock and horror of these moments are somewhat minimized by the uneasy tenderness of the love of Anthony for Johanna. But even that tale finds itself in the midst of an asylum into which Johanna has been imprisoned.

If all of this sounds a bit grisly, it is. Mr. Sondheim and Huge Wheeler who wrote the book, created a piece that was about the revenge of a vengeful person. And they spared nothing in the telling of the tale.

The score is one of the most complex in the body of musical theater works. Only a fourth of the show is traditional dialogue and the rest is sung through. It demands well-trained and exercised voices and this cast is perfectly in tune with the score and the eight-piece orchestra under Makino’s direction.

They are led by the rich baritone of Mr. Varela who is a classic. Handsome and expressive he models a tortured fanatic with his rich and vivid baritone and the fierceness of a man consumed with hatred and an unshakable will to rescue his daughter.

Ms. Hall turns her Ms. Lovett into a scene stealing archetype of a woman who will stop at nothing to change her life. She harbors a crush on Sweeney and relishes the creation of her meat pies for cannibals. Ms. Hall, a mezzo, sings her character with a kind of vicious humor that draws you in just as it repels.

The two leads get vivid support from baritone Mr. Pastrana, soprano Ms. Britt, tenors Ryan Stajmiger and Robert A. Goderich and a spectacular Susan Spencer as the Beggar Woman who is both the conscience and the teaser of the show.

Ozawa has put together a creative team that was clearly up to the task for this prodiction.

The set of Charles Murdock Lucas is inventive and evocative. Two levels with moveable columns at both stage right and stage left, it functions as an evocative and splendidly versatile home for the action. The costumes of Jason Orlenko easily defined the Victorian period of London and Jason Fassl once again delivers a lighting experience that both serves and enhances the story.

Special mention must also go to Megan P. Henninger who created an almost wondrous litany of sound that left not a single moment missed by the audience. The range from tender to bitter was clear and careful under her guidance.

Skylight has had a successful season and the exclamation point of this year may well be this classic production about a crazy barber armed with a well-honed razor and a burning desire for vengance.

Cast: 9Skylight Music Theatre 2016-20 17 SeasonSweeney Todd – Andrew Varela; Mrs. Lovett – Christina Hall; Anthony Hope – Lucas Pastrana; Johanna – Kelly Britt; Tobias Ragg – Ryan Stajmiger – Judge Turpin – Randall Dodge; The Beadle – Ben Tajnai; Beggar Woman – Susan Spencer’ Adolfo Pirelli – Robert A. Goderich; Jonas Fogg – Rick Pendzich;  Ensemble – Doug Clemons, Lydia Rose Eiche, Carrie Gray, Amara Haaksman, Allison Hull, Samantha Sostarich, Brett Sweeney, Dan Tellez, Matt Zeman.

Production credits: Stage Director –  Matthew Ozawa; Music Director – Ben Makino; Scenic Director – Charles Murdock  Lucas; CCostume Designer – Jason Orlenko; Lighting Designer – Jason Fassl; Sound Designer – Megan B. Henninger; Choreographer – Ryan Cappleman; Assistant Director – Colleen BrooksAssistant Music Director –  Anne Van Deusen; Assistant Lighting Designer – Marisa Abbott; Dialect Coach – Raeleen McMillion;  Dialect Assistant –  Rick Pendzich; Production Stage Manager – Daniel J. Hanson; Photographer – Mark Frohna.

Shrek Jr. at St. Robert

I guess you could call it a gas contest, but it has nothing to do with what you put in your car or the fuel you use for your gas stove or the water heater.

Instead it’s the kind of gas that a body can generate and it plays a key part, and a very funny one, in the stunning production of the musical “Shrek Jr.” that made its debut over the weekend at St. Robert School in Shorewood.

Under the masterful direction of Karl Miller and music direction by Valerie Miller, this cast of thousands delivered a heartfelt and highly entertaining performance. Plus, for me, there was the added bonus of seeing two friends in the cast.

One was Joe Schlise, a sixth grader and neighbor who I knew was in the play. He was making his theatrical debut and nearly brought the house down with his over-the-top Bishop who was trying to marry the funniest couple you ever saw.

The other friend was Agrim Cincotta, a sixth grader who I was surprised to see. He was a delightful and very playful baby bear, among those who helped to carry the story along.

The story of Shrek is very well known and the cast lived up to the tale.

Shrek (Jimmy Fox) is an ogre who falls in love with Princess Fiona (Fiona Gallagher).

But, of course, no princess worth her crown would ever marry an ogre, especially one that’s green and has horns growing out of his head. She travels to the Village of Duloc to marry the little Lord Farquaard (an hilarious David Sanders).  Poor Shrek is about to have his heart broken, but at the urging of his best friend, the donkey (the soulful and earnest Sam Fox) Shrek perseveres and eventually wins the heart and hand of his true love.

But, back to that gas thing.

Everybody knows that a surplus of gas in your body has two ways to escape. One is – well we don’t have to mention it – but you know what I mean. The other is through the burp.

While singing “I Think I Got You Beat” Shrek and Fiona have a formidable contest to see who can deliver the loudest of the two types of gas explosion. Each escape seems longer and louder than the one that came before it and the whole thing absolutely brought the house down.

I saw people with tears in their eyes from laughing so hard.

Carl Miller is one of the brightest and most creative choreographers in Milwaukee, having performed a miracle recently with his work on “Carnival” at In Tandem. He also works with high schools in the area and has directed shows at St. Robert for five years.

It can be hard getting kids to have the kind of discipline to create a complicated show like this, but Miller got everyone on board this train. And Valerie Miller, making her St. Robert debut, got all the energy out of the actors and singers and the music was as smooth as a brand new ice rink.

I’ve been reviewing professional theater  for a long time and can honestly say that this production at St. Robert was one of the most fun I’ve seen in a long time. Everyone deserves congratulations and I can hardly wait until next year.

Door Shakespeare Announces Casting

Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin – Door Shakespeare is pleased to announce an exciting acting company of veteran and upcoming players for its 2017 summer productions of William Shakespeare’s TWELFTH NIGHT directed by Joseph Hanreddy and THE HEART OF ROBIN HOOD by David Farr directed by Shanara Gabrielle.

Artistic Director Amy Ludwigsen said “The 2017 season promises to be imaginative, exciting, and relevant. This company of artists holds unparalleled skill and creativity and will surely bring these classic stories to life in a way that will provide our growing audience with a bold, human, and adventurous experience in our unique theater space.”

This season, audiences will enjoy several familiar faces, including returning actors Neil Brookshire, Elliott Brotherhood, Mark Corkins, Elyse Edelman, Carolyn Hoerdemann, Colin Morgan, Norman Moses, and Demetrios E. Troy.

Additionally, Door Shakespeare is excited to introduce Milwaukee-based, critically-acclaimed actress Deborah Staples to this summer’s audiences in the Garden at Björklunden!  Staples joins Door Shakespeare for the first time after playing the title role in HAMLET at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival last summer. She has significant credits to her name including long associations with Milwaukee Repertory Theater and American Players Theatre.

Actors making their Door Shakespeare debuts include Scott McKenna Campbell, Mason Conrad, Mitchell Ferguson, Taylor Harvey, Torsten Johnson, and Ken Sandberg. They round out the cast with such notable credits as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Guthrie Theater, American Players Theatre, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Great River Shakespeare Festival, and Montana Shakespeare in the Parks, among others.

Jaclyn Bjornson (Costume Designer), David Blake (Set Designer), Music Director (Scott McKenna Campbell), and Fight Choreographer (Amie Root) are joining Door Shakespeare’s artistic team for the first time.

Melissa L. Wanke and Claire Kedjidjian will reprise their roles as Producing Stage Manager and Assistant Stage Manager, respectively.

 

In TWELFTH NIGHT, Illyria is a mysterious place full of romantics and eccentrics. At least that’s how it seems to Viola, who’s been cast adrift in this merry world. Out of necessity, she disguises herself as a boy but quickly becomes an object of desire to the woman her employer sent her to woo. Time eventually sorts it all out, but not before Viola and everyone around her are bewitched, bothered, and bewildered as they traverse the often contradictory landscapes of their hearts.

Featuring Elyse Edelman as Viola, Deborah Staples as Olivia, and Norman Moses as Malvolio.

In THE HEART OF ROBIN HOOD, all is not well in Nottingham. A cruel prince is terrorizing the countryside, the poor are overwhelmed with taxes and debts, and Robin Hood has learned to steal from the rich—but hasn’t figured out the other part. To the rescue comes a sword-wielding, sharp-witted Maid Marion, who sets out to show Robin and his band of men that there can be honor among thieves. David Farr’s funny, adventurous tale will surprise you with a new spin on a story you think you know. We are thrilled to turn the beautiful Garden at Björklunden into Sherwood Forest this summer and bring this classic family tale to life!

Featuring Taylor Harvey as Marion and Torsten Johnson as Robin. 

Door Shakespeare’s 2017 season will run July 1st – August 19th, with preview performances June 29th and 30th. All performances and events take place in the magical lakeside Garden at Björklunden in Baileys Harbor. TWELFTH NIGHT directed by Joseph Hanreddy and THE HEART OF ROBIN HOOD by David Farr directed by Shanara Gabrielle will run Mondays through Fridays at 8pm and Saturdays at 5pm.

For more information regarding the 2017 season, including ticketing, visit www.doorshakespeare.com, or call the box office at 920.839.1500.

 

 

 

Jane Eyre at The Rep

Theater can make you feel a lot of things, most of them wondrous. But on rare occasions, it can make me feel like a dummy.

And that’s what I felt like after seeing “Jane Eyre,” the final show of the season at The Rep, open Friday night.

The novel by Charlotte Bronte is regarded as one of the classics and is a popular assignment by English teachers in high school which is where I read it. It was scandalous when published in 1847 because it featured a character, Jane, who was nothing like the accepted version of a Victorian woman.

The novel was adapted almost 20 years ago by Polly Teale, and it’s that version The Rep is staging under the direction of KJ Sanchez.

In preparation for the production, the theater company has provided all kinds of supporting information about the novel, about Bronte, about Jane, about the other characters in the book and about the time period of the novel.

That is where my problem arose with this production. It’s almost as if the artistic team learned and knew too much about this story and forgot that, for most of us, this should be a slightly over two-hour journey told with clarity and thought.

It’s obvious a lot of thought went into this production, but the clarity part seemed to be missing, almost on purpose.

When the play opens, there are two women – one tightly wound and the other full of passionate rebellion – and they seem to be two sides of the same coin. They move in synchronized steps, they say their lines at the same time and with the same inflections, and they share secrets as only two women can do.

One of these women, we soon learn, is Jane Eyre, the homely orphan who has lived a life of abuse and poverty. The other woman spends her time on a second level in a red room, obviously mad, but we have no idea who she is or why she is there.

If you have read the book recently, seen one of the movie adaptations or read some of the pre-show information, you might know that the she is the lunatic wife of Edward Rochester. I hope I’m forgiven, but I had forgotten many of the details of the book.

This becomes important because Jane becomes governess to Rochester’s ward and both she and Rochester fall, ever so slowly, in love with each other. It’s not until the wedding day that it’s revealed that the woman in the red room is Rochester’s first, and present, wife.

Needless to say that revelation throws a serious wrinkle into this love affair between the landed hero and his downtrodden mistress. And, like in all good romance novels, Jane runs away from the love of her life, fearful of what may lay in store, but steadfast in her determination to live life her way.

One of the issues here is that there seems to be a lot of preaching going on, reminding the audience how this story, written a century and a half ago, is still relevant today, especially telling about the status of women.

Somewhere along the way, it seems as if they all forgot that what we are looking for when we go to the theater is a hell of a story well told.

“Jane Eyre” is, above all else, a love story about a rich man and a poor girl. Think “Cinderella” or “Sound of Music” or “South Pacific.” This adaptation takes a long time to get to the love part of the story.

Some of the choices don’t really seem to be of much service to the story either. The set design is cold and brittle, offering not a single glimpse of the opulence of Victorian England. There are gimmicks, like having actors portray horses pulling a carriage or pet puppies. They are distracting to say the least.

It’s almost as if this production is too precious, to cute for its own good. It’s like the story can’t find it’s way out from under the weight of all this production.

There are going to be people who are much smarter than me who understand all the nuances of this novel and this adaptation. They are going to use their vast knowledge of the book to find things in the play that I missed.

But I will say it again: At some point, people who produce plays need to grasp hold of the fact that most of the people in the audience don’t know nearly as much as you do. Tell them the story, thank them for coming and send them home.

And don’t make them feel like a dummy.

“Jane Eyre” runs through May 21 and information on showtimes and tickets is available here.