The Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s current Stackner Cabaret offering Dino! An Evening With Dean Martin is built off a clever conceit that a January blizzard finds Dean Martin on his own after his band can’t make it to Milwaukee for the show. It’s a great premise to work from but last night the real humor came from the real world January 2023 where Milwaukee is experiencing one of the driest winters in my memory…and we have NO snow and even the temperatures aren’t typical January. So actor Tally Sessions, who is portraying Dino here, got a few extra unexpected laughs! And we all enjoyed it.
But the show must go on and we get an ‘improvised’ show from Dean Martin as PJ Ju accompanies Dino on piano and guitar. Besides being an accompanist, PJ serves as Martin’s sidekick or foil, all without speaking a word! Just a nod or a smile or starting in on the next musical number is all he needs to provide…and Dean rolls on with his song or his tale after carrying on the conversation from his point of view!
Tally Sessions provides a sincere and thoughtful Dean Martin while also nailing every song and gag as the night progresses. And woven in between the songs is the story…immigrant’s son to onstage star in a popular duo to rat packer to movie star to Vegas standard. We learn how he came to work with Jerry Lewis, his marriages and families, and how his persona as a drunk came about. All described with the poise and smooth that earned Dean Martin the King of Cool.
And we hear the songs…the great Dean Martin songbook from the pop music culture of the 1950s and 60s…perfectly rendered without missing a beat by Tally Sessions and PJ Ju! And there are a number of points where the audience is encouraged to sing along…take advantage of those moments…it will feel really good!
And the stage is great…scenic designer, Sydney Lynne has given us a neon lit, curtain shrouded proscenium to highlight our performers from behind…and placing them in a stage space that serves from one time to another as a piano bar, Vegas style stage, or talk show seating area. And kudos to director Jonathan Heller for the smooth flow and Dino style skits, dance features, ‘extemporaneous’ disclosures, and song segments while keeping us engaged by moving both actors around the entire set. Truly an enchanting experience.
One thing that I would like to see in the Playbill is a list of the songs that are performed and their composers. The Rep provided such a list for their previous Stackner presentation, Beehive. I think that should become a standard feature!
And this is a minor quibble, but I think PJ’s guitar should be upgraded just a bit. To my ear it could use a little more bite and bottom to compete with and complement Tally’s voice! Although it may inhibit his walking around a bit, I guess.
Dino! An Evening With Dean Martin runs at the Stackner Cabaret through March 19, 2023. Click here for more information and to order tickets!
And if you haven’t eaten in about a week, and you’re so hungry when you walk you squeak, make reservations for dinner at the Stackner before your show as well. But don’t dawdle, dinner reservations often sell out. (and I apologize for the teasing: but they don’t do Houston)
Extra credit reading: The Dino! Program
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