Updates On The Milwaukee Repertory Theater 2020/21 Schedule

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am certainly disappointed. But this makes sense to protect the actors and staff of the theater and of course the guests and audience. My email today produced this note about changes to MRT’s 2020/21 season.

We hope that this letter finds you healthy and weathering the current public health crisis well. While we cannot welcome you to our theaters, please know we miss you and that you are in our thoughts.

More than 10,000 Milwaukee Rep Subscribers have renewed their season tickets for 2020/21, which demonstrates an incredible devotion to our theater during uncertain times. With our stages dark, we are pouring all of our energy into roaring back in the fall including investing in paying more than 100 employees during the shutdown.

Due to the increasingly complex challenges of COVID-19, Milwaukee Rep will delay the start of the 2020/21 Season which will now begin October 30, 2020 and play through June 27, 2021 and will include three substitutions of previously announced plays, three cancelled off-subscription plays and a revised schedule. Milwaukee’s favorite Holiday tradition A Christmas Carol, celebrating its 45th anniversary in the Historic Pabst Theater, will continue as planned. 

Steel Magnolias, directed by May Adrales will replace John Proctor is the Villain in the Quadracci Powerhouse and will play June 1 – 27, 2021.

Antonio’s Song / I Was Dreaming of a Son, which was cancelled this past March due to COVID-19, will have its world premiere March 24 – May 2, 2021 replacing Tender Age in the Stiemke Studio.

The world premiere event Piano Men featuring Milwaukee’s favorite piano man himself Steve Watts will replace Blues in the Night in the Stackner Cabaret and will play May 14 – June 27, 2021. 

The off-subscription offerings of Rep Lab, Kathleen Turner: Finding My Voice and Lockdown are cancelled.

Once we announce a season, changes are rarely made, but we are living in highly unusual times. A delayed start is the only way we can increase the likelihood that we will be able to present an entire season of 11 shows in theaters that are well prepared to welcome you back safely. Additionally, given cancellations worldwide, artist availability shifted significantly so adjustments were needed to bring you the world-class work we are known for.

The safety of our patrons is our top priority and we will work with health officials to make any prudent changes to our operations. Social distancing may continue through the fall and if that occurs, we will reduce the capacities of our theaters to provide appropriate distancing.

To read about our entire 2020/21 Season click here.

For additional FAQ’s around our upcoming season please visit our COVID-19 page here.

Thank you for your support and keep an eye on our website, eNewsletters and social media for all the latest on your Milwaukee Rep – including the From Our Home To Your Home series. We look forward to seeing you in the fall. 

If you have any questions please contact our Ticket Office at 414-224-9490 weekdays Noon to 6pm or at tickets@milwaukeerep.com

Mark Clements, Artistic Director Chad Bauman, Executive Director

emphasis mine

If you would like to revisit our original announcement of the Rep’s 2020/21 season, click here!

Murder, Mayhem, and the Modern World, The Milwaukee Rep’s 2020/21 Season

The Milwaukee Repertory Theater announced their 2020/21 season back in February. But I was waiting to have An Intuitive Perspective up and running before I wrote about it. I would have gotten lost in the original wave of articles anyway. But now that we are in the heart of the Age of Pandemic and the remainder of the 2019/20 season has been canceled, it is a pleasure to look ahead to next season with hope and excitement!

Murder you say? Well, yes, the Quadracci Powerhouse will feature Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express from November 10 to December 13, 2020! I imagine everyone will be looking forward to this classic of theater. And who can ever get enough of Hercule Poirot?

And Mayhem? Yes the mayhem of the sinking of the Titanic, as Titanic, The Musical opens the Quadracci Powerhouse season from September 15 to October 25, 2020. The winner of five Tony Awards, Titanic continues the Rep’s tradition of opening with a blockbuster musical.

And the modern world? By all means! I am going to outline the rest of the season by stage!

Also at the Quadracci Powerhouse:

Toni Stone which was named Best New Play of 2019 by the Wall Street Journal. Hey, this one’s about baseball…one of the most attended sports in Milwaukee. So certainly this play displays a portrait of America by discussing America’s pastime. But it also is going to bring to the fore some of the divides in society prevalent for much of the nation’s history. Toni Stone is a talented baseball player who becomes the first woman to play in the men’s Negro Leagues. So certainly this story is fraught with her struggles to be accepted and to be treated like an equal. A very tough act in the male-dominated arena of baseball and in a racially divided nation. Toni Stone runs from January 12 to February 7, 2021.

For a short run in March, John Proctor Is The Villain. This is being billed as a Rolling World Premiere. I am just going to lift the tagline from the Rep here: This challenging, contemporary post #metoo response to “classic” literature explores the power of young girls who fight to tell their own stories. The classic lit they are describing here is “The Crucible” as it is being studied in a present day Appalachian high school.

And the closing feature at the Quadracci, is William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, running from April 20 to May 23, 2021. But there’s a twist or maybe a Twist. The locale is 1960’s British Columbia with cross-dressing lovers and mistaken identities and mishaps and laughs. And the Twist? Well the play will feature 20 songs from the Beatles. This should get interesting.

Now, I will admit that the Stiemke Studio has been my favorite stage at the Rep for years. Not only is the theater intimate but it usually features the most stimulating and challenging plays of the season. So don’t miss these:

The Tasters opens the Stiemke season – September 22 to November 1, 2020. To protect high ranking government officials, three women are employed to taste their food…well until one of them goes on a hunger strike…how appropriate? Billed as equal parts Hunger Games, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Food Network, this is a dark little comedy to enjoy!!

And after the holidays, Tender Age brings us into contemporary America as Martin takes a job at a refugee detention center, where children have been separated from their parents. And when this was written, it could have hardly anticipated the events of 2020, but the story intensifies when an epidemic starts to sweep through the center. Billed as a harrowing, unflinching portrait of modern-day America, it will certainly reverberate even more with the audience than originally planned.

And then everyone’s favorite, the Stackner Cabaret! And don’t forget to make dinner reservations for pre-show…the food is simply delightful here.

But opening the season is My Way and you’ll never guess the subtext: A Musical Tribute To Frank Sinatra. So, you’ll get to hear the best of Frank in a cabaret setting. What simple magic that’s going to be. And I bet there are going to be some signature cocktails on the menu. And you won’t have to go to Vegas or New York, New York to enjoy!  Frank holds court from September 17 to November 8, 2020.

And this next one will be a story for all of Wisconsin and will bring heartfelt joy to some families and maybe a bit of dismay or regret to others…but it all sounds like fun. Dad’s Season Tickets tells the story of inheritance…of dad’s season tickets to the Green Bay Packers! This is one of the most popular plays from Northern Sky Theater and I am sure that it will translate well in Milwaukee’s Packersland.

And then an encore performance of Blues In The Night. A Tony and Olivier Award nominated musical that illuminates the songs of Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen and more. Just the perfect cure for Wisconsin mid-winter blues from January 22 to March 21, 2021. This visited the Stackner in 2012.

And then the season finale is the perfect bookend to My Way, as Get Happy plays from March 25 to May 30, 2021. A bookend to Frank? My goodness, yes, Get Happy = Angela Ingersoll Sings JUDY GARLAND. This is the live stage performance of Ms. Ingersoll’s Garland PBS concert.

Well there you have it! But if feels like I am missing something.

Oh wait! Yes, I almost did. The Milwaukee Repertory Theater is staging its 45th Anniversary Production of A Christmas Carol at Milwaukee’s historic Pabst Theater. And to lend an additional special cache to the 2020 version, Milwaukee favorite, Lee Ernst is returning as Scrooge in the Mark Clements adaptation of the story. He hasn’t played the role at the Rep since 2006. This will be a special treat this year.


I saw Eclipsed at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater on March 6th. I usually try to publish my impressions within 48 – 72 hours. But I found it hard to get my thoughts together on this and the time stretched until the coronavirus pandemic canceled the performances…and I decided it wasn’t necessary to write this…but I was wrong…the play continues to echo in my consciousness.

“Eclipsed” is a 21st Century history play, set in the second Liberian Civil War in 2003. And playwright Danai Gurira has divined a very disturbing play from the basest events of that era. It reminds me of a Shakespeare history play a bit. First we have five very carefully limned woman characters who are as unique from one another as they can be. Women who probably would never have met if they hadn’t been caught up in these circumstances that they can’t control. And then their struggle to control those circumstances that they can.

And like Shakespeare, the characters are speaking English, but the Liberian dialect. And it draws you in because you have to concentrate very hard until you grasp the cadence and accent and start to understand what they are saying. It throws you off your game for the first few minutes. But that’s good.

Lights up, we meet two women who are hiding a teenager under a wash tub. Seems like fairly strange behavior to our eyes but they are hiding a teenager from the commander of the rebel forces fighting to overthrow the despotic leader of Liberia. They are wife number one and wife number three of the commander. Women who have been kidnapped and held as slaves to provide the commander with meals, laundry service, housekeeping, and sex. The stress on the women and the teen are apparent and there is some strains in their relationships.

Whether out of anxiety, naivety, or tempting the inevitable, the teen wanders from the compound and is discovered by the commander who forces himself upon her. She is now wife number four. When she returns her voice says it is nothing but her actions belie her words and it is obviously a serious trauma.

Life goes on and there is a clear hierarchy in the compound with wife number one, played by Jacqueline Nwabueze, as the matriarch. Depending on the situation she takes on the role of boss, teacher, mother, confidant, consoler, and liaison to the commander. She also determines who gets to select items from the spoils of war that trickle down to her charges. She has clearly taken to these roles and shifts easily from one to another as required. Ms. Nwabueze makes these shifts in feeling and focus seamless and natural…given it is invisible to the audience indicates how hard she is working!

Wife number three, played by Sola Thompson, is younger and with child…the commanders child. She shifts from showing pride in being popular with the commander to announcing that she does not welcome motherhood. Ms. Thompson shows her growth as the environment shifts…and she has decisions to make for herself.

Wife number four chafes at her role in the compound until a book arrives in the hand me downs. She is the only woman who has an education and can read so she is charged by wife number one with reading to the group. She is played by Matty Sangare…who effortlessly displays the confusion and shifting ideas experienced by wife number four as new situations are thrust upon her.

And then wife number two, played by Ashleigh Awusie, arrives. She has escaped the compound if not the situation by becoming a rebel soldier rather than a concubine. Ms. Awusie’s swagger will be recognizable as a stereotype some of us will read as Che Guevara. She claims that her AK-47 has given her freedom and she uses this sense of freedom to seduce wife number four into joining her in the rebel army. But her claim doesn’t ring true even as she repeats it several times to anyone who will listen. Instead it allows her to express her anger and pretend to avoid the misogyny in the rebel camps. And she has some pretty unkind things to say about the government soldiers. Though she does seem to revel in her role as mentor to wife number four.  Ms. Awusie does an amazing job of relaying the underlying doubts and fears that wife number two is feeling despite her declarations of independence and sovereignty in her own life.

And finally, Nancy Moricette is Rita, an activist and peace negotiator who appears in the compound to promote a ceasefire and peace agreement. She apparently is the only woman who the commander is afraid of. And she tries to hold out hope and a promise for the future to all four of the others in the play.

There are a lot of changes in the hierarchy and relationships and personal identities as we watch the events change and progress. And when a peace is finally achieved, we just see the compound dissolve as if it never happened…yet we know that these women will be scarred for life. That ending didn’t quite work for me…but it’s not unlike the Prince of Norway just sorta showing up.

There are five incredible women actors portraying the characters on stage…but there are three male characters as well…although they have no spoken words…and are not represented by actors.

The first of course is the commander who is defined in the conversations of the wives and their actions indicating his off stage presence. And then there is President Charles Taylor, the despotic leader of Liberia who eventually resigns and is driven from the country. Wife number two often exclaimed that the rebels would make him wear a dress before they killed him when they took control of the capitol. And then the subject of the book that wife number four is reading, the big man of America, Bill Clinton. The wives were amused that his taking a number two would cause so many issues for him in America.

Director May Adrales made this play speak to us. She managed to keep the suspense and anxiety and doubts in line and all five actresses in character for a very difficult and changing environment. She has been an instrumental force at the Rep and I look forward to her direction of future plays in Milwaukee.

Two disturbing thoughts kept nagging at me…and they weren’t part of the play…but introduced by the play. Why wasn’t I aware that there were two civil wars in Liberia? And was that my own shortcoming or just America’s disinterest in Africa? And how could we allow this to happen?

I am sorry for the cast and audiences who didn’t get to complete this run because of the COVID-19 closures. The actual shortened run was March 3 – 12, 2020 in the Quadracci Powerhouse. This would be a worthy candidate to revive in a very near future season.