Guys and Dolls rolls box cars in production of “Guys and Dolls”

Nicholas Rodriguez and Emma Rose Brooks in “Guys and Dolls” at The REp.

Here’s the dilemma faced by Mark Clements and his team of scalawags.

You’ve got this 67 year old musical that won five Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Direction. Then you’ve got the same show as a movie 62 years ago with no less than Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra in the lead roles.

You’ve also got a musical that has been produced by countless grade and high schools, community theaters, semi-professional and professional companies.  To suggest that since its Broadway debut it’s been performed over a million times may not be stretching the truth.

Clements was faced with the issue of how to take “Guys and Dolls” and make it interesting and meaningful.

What he finally did was to take Popeye and Olive Oil and turn them into real people who were much more than animations on a piece of paper or a television or movie screen.

And the decision was greeted with magnificent approval by the full house at The Rep last week.

Everybody knows about this musical. How it’s adapted from several Damon Runyan short stories. How it’s about the ne’er do wells who hang on the fringe of New York City crime. They aren’t the big dogs of the Mafia, but the small dogs of the corner crap games and and five card stud in backrooms. It’s those guys and the dames who hang around them. Where every word that starts with “th” sounds like it starts with the letter “d” and it sounds like everybody talks through their nose instead of their mouth.

These characters – especially the four main characters – have been around so much that they have turned into cartoon characters. Nathan Detroit, who runs the crap game, Adelaide, his fiance of 14 years who dances at the Hot Box, Sky Masterson, a big roller who travels the world looking for games and Sister Sarah Brown, the Salvation Army soldier who is on a relentless holy campaign against all sin (with an emphasis on gambling).

Clements decided somewhere along the way to take these characters and move them from cartoons to full-blooded people. He wanted to add depth and breadth to people who we thought we already knew.

Did it work?

Yes, with a couple of minor exceptions.

The four lead actors in this show are Richard R. Henry (Nathan Detroit), Kelley Faulkner (Adelaide), Nicholas Rodriguez (Sky Masterson) and Emma Rose Brooks (Sarah Brown). They are surrounded by assorted gamblers, dancers, singers, bad people, good people and one befuddled cop, handled smartly by  Milwaukee’s own Matt Daniels.

Nathan and Adelaide have been engaged for 14 years. He’s afraid of commitment and she wakes up each day hoping that THIS  will be the day.

Both Mr. Henry and Ms. Faulkner capture the grit of the street life but the softer (and most important) side of their lives gets buried under a wave of too much of the grit and not enough of the deeper stuff. They remain locked in a single dimension without getting underneath the skin of their characters.

Far more interesting and romantic is the relationship between Sky and Sarah. They meet when he has made a bet that he can lure her out of her cloistered mission to accompany him to Havana for one night of revel. She goes, and the journey of love begins.

He wins his bet but loses his heart, spawning “I’ve Never Been In Love Before,” one of the most beautiful ballads in musical theater history. Mr. Rodriguez’s tenor clasps each note into a delicious hug and drips with emotion.  His journey from seductive  charmer to earnest lover is heartwarming.

Ms. Brooks has the most treacherous journey of all the characters.

She starts as the prim and proper leader of a ragtag band of do-gooders morphs into a girl who gives in to the temptation of rum and a pulsating Latin beat and ends up a wife and a much more tolerant human being.

She has a wonderful voice and her lyric coloratura filled the hall with passion, fear, doubt and joy. She’s as cute as Mr Rodriguez is handsome and they make a striking couple both physically and emotionally. Mr. Clements has steered these two to the same star in the sky and they shine brightly.

Mr. Clements has a way with a big musical that is the equal to anybody else in the country. Shows like this are in his wheelhouse and he never fails to deliver everything that can be squeezed out of a major piece of musical theater.

His “Man of La Mancha” last year was among the best I’ve ever seen, and that includes Broadway productions.

In this one he pulls out all the stops again. The choreography by Stephen Mear is sharp. Too often choreographers create dances that stand on their own, as if to shine alone. Mear creates dance that is in service to the story and it’s a delight for the eyes.

Dan Kazemi, who is a Rep regular, provides music direction that takes some of the most familiar of songs (“Luck Be A Lady Tonight” and “Sit Down You’re rockin’ The Boat”) gives them a soaring interpretation. The ovation after “Sit Down” seemed to never come to an end.

The costumes by Alexander Tecoma are an absolute treat all by themselves. He captures the spirit of the streets of New York as well as the cabanas in Havana with flights of color and fabric.

The writings of Mr. Runyan are an important part of the history of those who chronicle the times of our lives. And Mr. Clements has added to that history with his rejuvenated production of “Guys and Dolls.”

“Guys and Dolls” runs through Oct. 29 and information on showtimes and tickets is available at www.milwaukeerep.com.

Production Credits: Director, Mark Clements; Choreographer, Stephen Mear; Music Director, Dan Kazemi; Scenic Designer, Scott Davis; Costume Designer, Alexander B. Tecoma; Lighting Designer, Jason Fassl; Sound Designer, Megan B. Henninger; Music Supervisor, John Tanner; Dialect Coach, Clare Arena Haden; Casting Director, Frank Honts; Casting Consultant, JC Clementz; Stage Manager, Mark Johnson.

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Connections are hard in “Frankie and Johnny In the Claire De Lune” at Chamber Theatre

Marcella Kearns and Todd Denning in Frankie and Johnny In the Claire De Lune

It’s probably safe to say that there is nothing as important in our lives than the making of a connection with someone else.

A good connection can be a cure for so much – loneliness, self-doubt, fear, sorrow, boredom and maybe even pimples.

Well, pimples may not fit, but the search for a connection gets a searing examination in “Frankie and Johnny In The Clair de Lune,” the Terrence McNally classic being staged under the detailed direction of Mary MacDonald Kerr at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.

This may be the most personal play to be staged in Milwaukee all season, with a biting touch that makes familiar our identification with both Frankie, a well-worn waitress in a New York diner and Johnny, the recently-hired short-order cook.

The evening begins with a dark stage full  of first-date success, we guess, for both of them. There are two people having sex, with the girl full of moans,squeals and orgasmic screams  and he full of groans and grunts and,most masculine of “Oh, my gods.”  At long, long last, the sighs of mutual sexual satisfaction and we sit in the darkness,on the edge of our seats, waiting to see who is having so damn much fun.

Whatever our expectations, the surprise comes once the lights come up. He is pale and nearly bald with a goofy smile on his face. She is dumpy and disheveled, looking somewhere between sad and miserable. Both naked, there is an element of surprise that these are two very ordinary looking middle-aged people. They look like two sides of the same well-worn and slightly scarred toy corn that you might win at your local county fair.

The post-coital glow lasts only a brief moment before we are off and running smack dab into a typical romantic comedy. He likes her, she doesn’t much care for him and” what the hell – will they ever get together?”

Well, in McNally’s play, it’s not the answer to that question that is the most interesting. The journey is fascinating and with two real pro’s, Todd Denning and Marcella Kearns, delivering bravura performances, this journey is both fun and full of depth.

Johnny is a relentless suitor, convinced after this first date that this woman is meant for him, or at least that he is meant for her and she needs to come along for the ride. He has a mouth that runs like a fly trapped in a car – flitting here and there and never landing any one place for long.

He is full of a kind of scattered intensity as he proclaims his love for everything from watching Frankie brush her hair to gazing at her body after persuading her to open her robe.

He’s a belligerent romantic in his never-pausing seduction of Frankie.

This is the only chance we have to come together, I’m convinced of it,” Johnny begs. “People are given one moment to connect. Not two, not three, one! They don’t take it, it’s gone forever.”

For her part, Frankie has no interest in anything more than this one-night stand. She’s been battered and bruised by “thousands” of men. She makes it brutally clear that this single night of “bumping bodies” is just fine with her. Anything more and she’s taking a pass.

While Johnny is a waterfall of emotion, she is the Hoover dam. Nobody, including herself, gets a chance to see the truths hidden deep inside her heart and her soul.

She is increasingly direct in her demands that Johnny go home, demands that he disobeys with aplomb. Johnny ain’t going nowhere until she gives in to his hopes and dreams.

In this day of heightened perception of sexual aggressiveness by men, it could be that this kind of forceful pressure could be seen as distasteful at best and disgusting at worst. It is the skill of these two actors and Ms. Kerr’s careful direction that keeps this story on track and above the muck.

I have seen both of them many times over their careers but this may be the finest and dignified work by both Ms. Kearns and Mr. Denning.

She is fantastically vulnerable and scarred from a journey pockmarked by failure after failure and so much disappointment that it’s become the expected result of anything she hopes for.  She has a face that can display fear and courage and joy and sorrow with nary more than a glance.

Mr. Denning is a gifted actor, especially as a comic. Here he allows his comedy chops to run free but throws in a cocky desperation that lends depth and fabric to his Johnny. While both of these characters are afraid of each other they are more scared of themselves and Mr. Denning captures that fear skillfully.

Ms. Kerr is a sophisticated director who knows that she had two wonderful actors on hand to tell a wonderful story. She made sure that the production was true to the story and didn’t bog down in the distractions that were tempting to exploit.

It’s a collaboration that proves when highly-skilled directors and actors and playwrights and designers are on hand, it’s a perfect example of a great connection.

“Frankie and Johnny In the Claire De Lune” runs through Oct. 15 and information is available at www.milwaukeechambertheatre.com.

Production credits: Director, Mary MacDonald Kerr; Production Designer, Judy Martel; Scenic Designer, Brandon Kirkham; Costume Designer, Amy Horst, Lighting Designer, Holly Blomquist; Properties Masters, Meghan Savagian & Madelyn Yee; Sound Designer Kristian Wilborg; Dialect Coach, Raeleen McMillion

Rep’s “Souvenir” is a glorious piñata but there’s no candy inside

Thank the gods for Jack Forbes Wilson.

Put that Milwaukee treasure on a stage with a piano and he creates magic, the kind of magic that can lift the most ordinary stuff into the realm of excellence.

A perfect example is “Souvenir,” the two-person musical on stage in the intimate Stackner Cabaret at the Milwaukee Rep.

The show is an exploration of the life and times – 12 years of the life – of Florence Foster Jenkins, a wealthy New York socialite who was convinced she could sing the most challenging of operatic arias. In reality, she couldn’t carry a tune in a bushel basket.

Her ear was so far off that the sound of her voice was worse than scratching on a blackboard or a gun being fired next to your ear or Donald Trump giving a speech.

Jack Forbes Wilson and Marguerite Willbnanks in”Souvenir” at The Rep.

Marguerite Willbanks, a Broadway actor with a ton of musical credit, plays the hapless and hopelessly misguided Florence while Mr. Wilson plays Cosme McMoon, the songwriter and pianist who grudgingly becomes her accompanist, her mentor and her support group of one.

Most everyone knows this story, especially after the Oscar-nominated 2016 film starring Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant. The tale begins with tiny recitals at homes, moves to a hall in the Ritz Carlton and finally comes to a merciful end in Carnegie Hall.

Mr. Wilson narrates the story from a perspective forged in the 20 years after the sudden and unexpected death of Florence in 1944. He takes us from his initial dismay and shock upon hearing Ms. Jenkins first sing to him and narrates the progress (there is none) during the 12 years they spent together.

It starts with a caterwauling version of the beautiful “Cantates de Ópera” from Verdi’s “Rigoletto.” The shock and awe and disgust on Mr. Wilson’s face is mixed with an absolute fascination that this woman actually thinks she is hitting the notes that must be hit.

After the butchery of the Verdi, she moves to enchant him with the Schubert “Ave Maria,” a hallowed piece of music. Cosmo plays, listens, grits his teeth and warily suggests that perhaps Florence might want to work a little bit on all the notes.

“Nothing,” she huffs, “is more harmful to great music than this modern mania for accuracy.”

Cosmo is clearly on the horns of a dilemma. He writes songs nobody wants to sing and he’s broke.  He can make a lot of money being the muse to Florence. And he caves into his need for cash, sacrificing his principles. Along the way he develops a kind of affection for Florence.

“One of the things that I have to do is protect her,” he says to the audience. What’s less clear is who he is protecting her from – the crowds that turn out in droves to laugh, or from herself.

“She believed the way a child might believe,” he says. “But is it folly or madness?”

Those are deep and probing questions that don’t come close to being answered during this two hour production.

Just one of the outrageous costumes designed by Jason Orlenko.

The show ends with Willbanks walking to the center of the stage, undressed from the incredible costumes she had been wearing, and singing a haunting version of “Ave Maria.” There are chills., as well there should be.

Ms. Willbanks is a polished performer and she accurately captures the airs of a matron in New York. It’s not easy for a professional singer to sing that far out of key and she manages the task with only a couple of moments when she actually sings in tune.

Mr. Wilson has ample opportunity to shine. He delivers a poignant “One for my Baby ( and One More for the Road).” He follows that with a lively version of the jazz standard “Crazy Rhythm.”

The whole thing takes place on an evocative set designed by Lauren Nigri, featuring a big piano, an upholstered fainting couch and a matching Queen Anne chair.

The costumes, designed by the brilliant Jason Orlenko, could be a show all by itself. The steady parade, especially during the Carnegie concert, is a sight to behold. Florence had a different costume for each song and the whole thing was a dazzling feast for the eyes, filled with fancy and humor.

Everything about this show was top notch except for one thing.

The story.

The story of Florence has only one joke. Cosmo can play and Florence can’t sing. And like your uncle’s favorite joke that he tells every Thanksgiving, it loses it’s grip after enough repetition. Before too long, the whole family begins to yawn.

This show might be better served with one 90 minute act and an effort to create some vivid ups and downs in this relationship. What we get, over and over is, “She can’t Sing and He can’t stand it.” We need something more compelling to make us last so long.

The whole thing is kind of like a gorgeous piñata that when you break it open, there’s no candy inside.

“Souvenir” runs through November 5 and information on tickets and showtimes is available at www.milwaukeerep.com.

Production credits: Director, Laura Braza; Music Director, Jack Forbes Wilson; Scenic Designer, Lauren Nigri; Costume Director, Jason Orlenko; Lighting Designer, Ellie Rabinowitz; Sound Designer, Zack Berinstein; Lighting Designer, Frank Honts; Stage Manager, Audra Kuchling; Production Photos, Michael Brosilow.

 

“Next to Normal” a triumphant return to great theater for All In Productions

Austin Dorman, Steve Pfisterer, Carrie Gray and Hailey Hentz (background) the family in Next to Normal

If you are on a long, long road trip and find yourself wandering roads that don’t lead to where you’re going and you feel just a little bit lost there is just one thing to do.

Go back to where you started.

That’s what All In Productions has done with an absolutely riveting production of “Next to Normal,” the Pulitzer Prize winning musical from 2010.

This production, under the smart and brave direction of Tim Backes and the spectacular music direction of Julie Johnson, is a gripping, muscular show carried fearlessly by a cast of six actors.

All In began its life in December of 2014 with a powerful and inventive production of “The Last Five Years,” the kind of play you rarely see in Milwaukee. It was met with universal critical acclaim and at the time I wrote:  The company is All Productions and they opened their life with a stirring mounting of “The Last 5 Years,” the quirky and intelligent musical by Jason Robert Brown. This production is a perfect example of the wondrous power of live theater.”

Since that time the company has delivered some very good productions but has also had a couple of things that held little interest –  the trite “Little Shop of Horrors,” and “Wild Party” a very sexy musical that All In turned into an evening of boredom.

It seemed as if the company was headed down a road that would keep it in the atmosphere of good community theater companies, but couldn’t compete on a professional level.

So much for that misguided road trip.

This production, with actors I’ve never heard or seen before, is the kind of show that can match anything else you may see in Milwaukee this season.

It starts, of course, with the play.

Carrie Gray and Adam Qutaishat in Next to Normal

It’s the story of a mother, Diana Goodman (Carrie Gray), who is bipolar and who grows more and more troubled as the play moves. She is married to Dan (Steve Pfisterer) and mother to Natalie (Hailey Hentz). There is also a son, Gabe (Austin Dorman) who died at the age of 18 months, a trauma that precipitated Diana’s descent into a kind of madness.

The first sign of madness is the compulsive preparation of sandwiches for her daughter to take to school. Two pieces of bread and a slab of processed cheese. Over and over and over as the tension builds. Will she ever stop this? Why doesn’t Dan do something. And why is Natalie so profoundly angry at her mother and father.

The level of Diana’s disoriented life grows, with a subtle ferocity that has an ever-increasing impact on the family.  Natalie is full of anxiety and finds herself drawn to Henry (Connor Dalzin), a classmate who has carried a torch for years.Dan tries to accommodate his wife but grows increasingly uncertain about what actions to take, or not take.

Diana, after taking a boatload of drugs, professes to not feel anything anymore, is pronounced stable by her doctor, (Adam Qutaishat).

There was a palpable focus in the audience as we all watched this disintegration and the quiet horrors visited on this group of people who were far, far from normal. It was a message that bipolar disorder was contagious, although not a psychiatrist in the world would agree with that.

The music by Tom Kitt and the lyrics by Brian Yorkey (who also wrote the book) are difficult. Ms. Johnson has a very deft touch, wringing with both precision and emotion out of her actors.

One of the most interesting roles in the play is that of Gabe, the son who was only alive as an infant. He is played as a shadow character here, a figure of his mother’s imagination with Diana singing to him, Dan denying his presence, and Natalie unsure of what to think.

For Diana, he is a present member of the family. So much so that she has baked a cake and decorated it with candles each birthday since his death.

Mr. Dorman is spectacular.  He slips and slides through the marvelous two-level set by Mitch Weindorf. And you can tell that he is really just maintaining his eerie presence in his mother’s skewed mind. Mr. Dorman sings well and uses his body like conductor’s baton in keeping the whole thing going.

As Diana, Ms. Gray is a wonderful new face on the horizon. She wrings both the pathos and idiosyncrasy out of her troubled self.  Her voice trembles with the realization of her pains and her lust for the son whom she never raised. There is no doubt about where she is in life, the only question is whether anything can be done to save her and her family from her demons.

Ms. Gray has been seen in many community theaters around Milwaukee and let’s hope that she moves up into some of the major theaters in town.

Mr. Pfisterer has a ripe tenor and  is vivid in the portrayal of his gradual paralysis from fear. He’s afraid of his wife, afraid of his daughter, afraid, even of himself. His face showed every single worry, each stab of pain, the accumulation of doubts and crushed hopes and  grabbed the audience and cried out for a sympathetic shoulder to cry on.

Ms. Hentz was a stunning surprise. She is a sophomore at UWM and is a doppelganger for Taylor Swift, except the pop princess never sang with the kind of emotion and expression that Ms. Hentz has. She was angry, sad, perplexed, anxious, flirtatious and depressed at different times. She’s got a voice that cuts to the heart and was the first one to draw tears during the evening.

Mr. Dalzin and Mr. Qutaishat each had special moments that provided both moments of humor and moments of defined and serious gravitas.

There is nothing quite so delightful in the theater as seeing a cast new to you in a play full of meaning and a company at the very top if its game.

That combination served All In and the audience very well.

Production credits: Director, Tim Backes; Music Director Julie Johnson; Stage Manager Kathy Staats; ASM/Deci Chief, Jessica Betts; Set Designer, Mitch Weindorf; Costume Designer, Christy Siebers; Lighting Designer, MikeVan Dreser; Sound Designer/Engineer, D. Buckles; Master Carpenter, Tom Backes; Dramaturg, Nancy Backes; Graphic Designer, Brian Bzdawka; Production Manager/Assistant Director, Robby McGhee.

“Next to Normal” runs through September 16 and information on tickets and showtimes is available at http://www.nextact.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Skylight hires Ponasik in the hope it can expand its traditional audience

Skylight Music Theatre has made a very interesting announcement with the appointment of Jill Anna Ponasik as Artistic Associate.

Ponasik, who has  roots in the world of opera – although she has clearly expanded what opera means in Milwaukee – will join Ray Jivoff, the new Artistic Director at Skylight, artist who has roots in musical theatre.
It should be an interesting pairing and may well expand the audience for Skylight.
Opera fans in Milwaukee frequently sneer at Skylight and it’s productions that the hard-core opera fans regard as “opera light.” These fans have stayed away in droves, but the combination of Jivoff and Ponasik may well prove to have broader appeal. Both have established solid reputations in Milwaukee and will surely tap into that for artistic decisions.
I wouldn’t want to bet against this pairing bri
Here’s the release from Skylight.
Milwaukee, Wis. (September 1, 2017) – Skylight Music Theatre Artistic Director Ray Jivoff today announced that Jill Anna Ponasik will join Skylight as Artistic Associate effective Sept. 5, 2017.
Ponasik will continue her role as producing artistic director of Milwaukee Opera Theatre, a company she has guided since 2009. In her part-time position as Skylight artistic associate, she will work closely with Jivoff and Skylight staff to develop and implement Skylight’s strategic, artistic and educational programming and priorities.
“Jill Anna has a long history with Skylight as a director, performer and supporter, and we are thrilled that she will officially be part of our company,” said Jivoff. “She has such a deep passion and knowledge of opera and music theatre and is respected and loved in this community. On a personal level, I am delighted to welcome my dear friend and colleague.”
Ponasik’s prior relationship with Skylight includes directing Tosca (2015) and Cinderella (2014), producing a Skylight cabaret called The One Stop Opera Shop (2013), performing in La Boheme(2008) and Pirates of Penzance (2009) and working on Skylight’s Standard Songbook school touring show as both a performer (2008) and assistant director (2009).
In more than 30 productions at Milwaukee Opera Theatre (MOT), Ponasik has collaborated with community partners in dance, theatre and music to expand access to opera and support artists and their work in lyric theatre.
“Ever since I saw Man of La Mancha as a kid at the old Skylight space, I’ve been hooked on the Skylight,” said Ponasik, referring to the 1990 production that ran in Skylight’s old theatre on Jefferson Street, housed in a converted tire garage. “I didn’t recognize its uniqueness until I left Milwaukee. I had thought it was normal for a city to have a company that performs operas, cabarets and musicals. I am thrilled to join the Skylight staff and cannot wait to work with Ray,” she said.
Ponasik fills the artistic staff position left vacant when Jivoff was named artistic director in March 2017.
Collaboration on The Tales of Hoffmann
Jivoff also announced that MOT will collaborate with Skylight on The Tales of Hoffmann, to be directed by Ponasik, and presented March 16-29, 2018 in the Cabot Theatre.  The partnership will feature a new libretto/adaptation by MOT’s Danny Brylow, which will be developed in collaboration with opera students at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, where Ponasik will be part of the adjunct faculty for the 2017-18 year. Ponasik describes the imaginative new adaptation of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann as a kinetic retelling made specifically for the Cabot Theatre.
Skylight will partner with MOT on their Voice Labs program, a free, intimate, educational performing opportunity for both professional and avocational opera and music theatre singers. Ponasik said she expects to tap into Voice Labs as part of the development process of the new version of The Tales of Hoffmann.
“Jill Anna is an exceptionally creative and joyful artist who inspires and motivates everyone around her,” said Jack R. Lemmon, Skylight’s executive director. “Having her be an official part of our exceptional existing team of artists translates into more good news for Skylight. We continue to strengthen and grow both financially and artistically as we near our 60th birthday. I can’t wait to see what Ray and Jill Anna come up with next!”
About Jill Anna Ponasik
As producing artistic director of Milwaukee Opera Theatre (MOT), Jill Anna Ponasik revels in the opportunity to direct, perform, program, and support artists and their work. She has worked on more than 30 MOT productions, including A Chorus Line, presented last month; a one-night-only version of 1776 featuring 26 performers in Turner Hall in 2016; a percussion playground version ofThe Mikado (2015 and 2017) and Zie Magic Flute, adapted by Danny Brylow and winner of a 2017 Footlights Award. Ponasik has been actively engaged in working with community partners in dance, theatre, and music to generate new work and create innovative productions of existing work that aim to transform the landscape of contemporary lyric theatre – with a special emphasis on artists who live and work in the Milwaukee area.
Projects have included 26 – a fantasy inspired by Italian songs and arias, a toy-theatre production of Amahl and the Night Visitors, Jason Powell’s comic opera Fortuna the Time Bender vs. The Schoolgirls of Doom, Dominic Argento’s From the Diary of Virginia Woolf, Nautilus Music-Theatre’s Meditations on Arion, the tango-opera Maria de Buenos Aires, a classroom Candide, The Eurydice Project – a three-year collaboration with Carroll University, the rock recital Guns N’ Rosenkavalier, the world premiere of Kamran Ince’s Judgment of Midas, Walton and Sitwell’s Façade, and a L’Enfant et les Sortiléges that was built out of trash.
Ponasik has maintained a commitment to new work, fresh approaches to the classics, and working with excellent, innovative companies throughout her career. As a performer, she has appeared in productions with Nautilus Music-Theater, Theatre de la Jeune Lune, St Paul Chamber Orchestra, Minnesota Opera, Skylight Music Theatre, VocalEssence, Theatre Latte Da, Skylark Opera, Ohio Light Opera, Bronx Opera, New Dramatists, Alchemist Theatre, and Milwaukee Opera Theatre among others. As a director and collaborator she has worked with Milwaukee arts groups, including Renaissance Theatreworks, In Tandem Theatre, and Wild Space Dance Company. Ponasik has received awards from The Metropolitan National Council Auditions, The Schubert Club of St. Paul, Milwaukee’s Civic Music Association and the Wisconsin and Minnesota chapters of NATS. She holds degrees from the University of Minnesota and the Rice University Shepherd School of Music.