PSA: Milwaukee Repertory Theater Launches Their “Powering Milwaukee Campaign”, To Bring Milwaukee State Of The Art Theater Spaces.

There have been a number of ‘soft’ announcements about the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s plans to remodel and improve their downtown theater complex. But today, they sent out the official announcement to get their Powering Milwaukee Campaign off the ground. From their email announcement:

Today We Launch A Campaign For Our Future!

Nearly 70 years ago, Mary John Sullivan and Fredrick C. Miller joined forces to ensure that Milwaukee would be one of the first cities in the country to have a professional theater based in its community. Knowing that a world-class city needed both professional sports and theater, shortly after bringing Major League Baseball to our city, Miller Brewing CEO Miller would team up with Milwaukee Rep founder Sullivan to create our first home on Oakland Avenue – the Fred Miller Theater.

Over the decades, we would grow into one of the largest theaters in the country and the largest performing arts organization in Wisconsin, serving 300,000 people including 20,000 students annually with 700 performances coupled with award-winning educational programming. However, we are facing a critical challenge. While it has served us well for four decades, our aging and inefficient Patty & Jay Baker Theater Complex severely limits the productions we stage, the plays we develop, and the kind of educational impact we have — and will soon jeopardize our mission.

Therefore, we have embarked on the Powering Milwaukee Campaign which will define the standard of theater in Wisconsin for generations to come. The Campaign will fund the creation of the new Associated Bank Theater Center, including three state-of-the-art performance spaces, a large unified lobby providing ample opportunities for community events, an expanded offsite production center employing hundreds of local artisans, and venues with modern audience amenities.

One of the more exciting new features will be a robust arts education center housed within the new complex to expand our highly impactful student programs. Milwaukee Rep is one of the largest providers of arts education programs in the Midwest focusing on literacy, critical thinking and social-emotional learning. Our award-winning programs improve both hard and soft skills necessary for future employment and post-secondary education. The new complex will allow us to meet the growing needs of our community and schools on our waiting list. 

In addition to education impacts, the Associated Bank Theater Complex will:

  • Strengthen Milwaukee’s brand as a hub of creativity and innovation by allowing us to tour popular productions around the world and to Broadway.
  • Attract talent and new audiences by building on our growth and creating exceptional, highly in-demand work on par with the best theaters globally.
  • Be Milwaukee’s most inclusive and accessible cultural destination allowing us to best serve persons with social, cognitive and/or physical disabilities.
  • Drive increased economic activity attracting tourists, young professionals, and new residents expanding our current $30 million annual economic impact on Downtown Milwaukee.

In the last twelve months, we have been busy and we’re pleased to share the following progress:

  • EUA and Hunzinger Construction have completed conceptual designs, a phased construction plan and renderings for the Associated Bank Theater Complex.
  • We raised nearly 60% of the $75 million campaign goal including 100% participation from our Board of Trustees due in large part to the generosity of our Founders Circle.
  • An all-star team of nearly 100 trustees and community leaders is leading the effort to create our new home, including campaign co-chairs Tammy Belton-Davis, Bill & Sandy Haack, Jeff & Sarah Joerres, and Craig & Mara Swan.

It’s been nearly 40 years since we have called upon our community to give generously to ensure that Milwaukee continues to have theater that produces exceptional art, inspires people, cultivates community and ignites education. Now, we need to make that ask.

We invite you to learn more about our Powering Milwaukee Campaign and how you can participate here.

Together, we can power Milwaukee — our theater, our community, our future!

Judy Hansen, President, Board of Trustees

Chad Bauman. Executive Director

Mark Clements, Artistic Director

Lake Country Players present : Cabaret!!

photo courtesy of Kimberly Laberge

Life is a cabaret, old chum. A quote that anyone with an interest in theater or has seen the movie version of Cabaret or heard the Liza Minnelli recording is certainly aware of and may have actually sung or hummed the tune when you read the title for this blog post. Director Kimberly Laberge paraphrased it in her bio in the program as Enjoy the Cabaret, ole chum…and the production of Cabaret that she has unleashed at the Lake Country Playhouse invited us to enjoy it at every turn. And we did!

This was my first visit to Lake Country Playhouse, a little jewel of a theater housed in a former Masonic Temple in downtown Hartland WI. At my estimate of 100 seats, it is a pleasantly intimate space where everyone in the audience will feel like they are front row! Although this is great for the audience, given the size of the cast of Cabaret and the often energetic and boisterous activities of the cabaret, it is a challenge for a director and choreographer to wrestle. Particularly with a rather shallow stage, front to back, and I don’t imagine a lot of room in the wings. So bravo to Kimberly Laberge, choreographer Jackay Boelkow, stage manager Trinity Sullivan, and set constructor Adam Harrison for mastering this space and bringing Cabaret to life!

photo courtesy of Kimberly Laberge

But here we are, in the Cabaret, the Kit Kat Klub, a seedy little dive with peeling wallpaper and a ‘proscenium’ arch with out any facade…just the structural two by fours. With just enough space behind the proscenium to accommodate the house combo, a patient lot of musicians who were in place well before the action begins and while the patrons were being seated. And they were the wholly appropriate accompaniment for the singers and dancers to come, thanks for music director Ashley Sprangers. This minimal set is incredibly suited for the content of the play and makes the majority of the stage available for the actors and the action. Again, props to Trinity Sullivan, set designer.

photo courtesy of Kimberly Laberge

And on to the cabaret. One of the key issues with any play is casting…and given the era of Weimar Germany and the denizens of the Kit Kat Klub, casting Cabaret has to be a unique challenge. But here Laberge found an amazing and diverse ensemble to present us with a Cabaret we can all identify with and enjoy!

One of the stand outs here is Viktoria Feely as Emcee. Having grown up in a world of Joel Grey, I felt that this is an amazing casting choice, going against expectations but exceeding in delivery. Feely has all of the requisite moves and is just amazing as she transforms from the brash and impertinent Emcee of the early acts to the sad and broken character we see as the play comes to an end. She gives us the complete spectrum that the role inspires and cleanly exhibits the underlying emotions that the play itself explores. And you knew she was giving her all throughout the play…in every single scene she was in…and that was a great bit of the play. I hope that we see Feely in other productions in the near future.

photo courtesy of Kimberly Laberge

And one of the other real treats here, is Maggie Wirth as Fraulein Schneider. An older woman renting rooms to make her living. She can be direct when conducting business, harsh with an unruly tenant, but easily swayed by an honest face. Her love story with Herr Schultz is touching and apparent in Wirth’s manner and the attentions she pays to Schultz. And her delight in the fresh fruits that he brings to her from his shop go beyond the pleasure of some fresh fruit. And Wirth brings it to the songs that are her’s and her’s alone. She really brought Fraulein Schneider out as a major character and a delight to watch.

And of course, you can’t have a successful Cabaret, without a Sally Bowles! And Laker Thrasher brings us the saucy, provocative, sexy, and sometimes questioning Sally. And of course their interaction with Clifford Bradshaw is a key element of the other love story in the play, and Thrasher plays it true. And yes, they are in exquisite voice, every bit the chanteuse!

photo courtesy of Kimberly Laberge

And don’t let me forget the men here. Ezekiel N. Drews as Clifford Bradshaw, the American novelist, convinced us he was the soft hearted and maybe a bit naive American somewhat lost in a Europe he didn’t quite understand and lost in his own desires that he also didn’t quite understand. Kyle Kramer gave us the tender and thoughtful Herr Schultz . He clearly showed us the feelings that Herr Schultz had for Fraulein Schneider, even before she was quite aware of them.

One other player that I want to mention is Shana Quandt as Fraulein Fritzie Kost. Besides her outstanding work as part of the dance chorus at the Klub, her verbal sparring with Fraulein Schneider about the visitors to her room were a welcome bit of humor against some of the more sober topics presented in Cabaret.

photo courtesy of Kimberly Laberge

And how do you costume sixteen characters in period pieces…several costumes per actor actually…and keep them original…and unique…and keep up with costume changes. I don’t know but oh my goodness, but costume designer Cas Mayhall certainly does. If you take a few moments and look at the photos, you’ll see exactly what I mean. Aren’t they just simply amazing? The costuming here certainly helped deliver the story just as well as the actors.

Now, this entire cast has to be one of the hardest working stage crews around. As the scene shifts from club to rooming house to train station and back, as actors move on and off the stage, they take the couches, tables, benches, and seats with them…and then back again…during brief between scene blackouts. Again kudos to Laberge, Boelkow, Sullivan, and cast for making this all work.

I missed opening weekend so if you plan on attending there is only one weekend left. And it was a full house at the Sunday matinee that I attended. Click here for performance and ticket information!