Milwaukee Repertory Theater Launches The Holiday Season with Nuncrackers!

Yes, Nuncrackers, and it’s exactly what you think it is. The hilarious and slightly dysfunctional nuns of Nunsense are poised to bring you a portion of the Nutcracker ballet with pink tutus at the ready…but sudden disaster and hilarity ensues!

Do you need to have seen the original Nunsense to understand Nuncrackers? Heavens no! Like any successful sequel, author and composer, Dan Goggin has made sure that the characters are re-introduced and that any required story from Nunsense is back filled here. And quite frankly, I think that Nuncrackers might be even funnier if you don’t have knowledge of the original and come into the theater without any expectations or preconceived notions. But maybe that’s just me.

So here we are in the basement of the convent at Mount Saint Helen’s School, as Sister Mary Paul, Sister Mary Hubert, Sister Robert Anne, and Sister Mary Regina prepare to tape a Christmas show in their new TV studio for a public access channel. And they are being assisted by Father Virgil…not necessarily ably assisted but enthusiastically so!

photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

The action revolves around the nuns presenting Christmas carols and some new songs that riff off of Christmas carols. There is an incredible amount of humor to be mined here! And in between the singing and dancing…Mr. Goggin has sprinkled in a generous supply of jokes, puns, and little skits. The front facing story is a lot, lot of fun!

There are a number of side bars here…they happen off stage and are relayed by our favorite nuns…or they are translated for us from several interrupting phone calls delivered by a black rotary dial wall phone. The phone and the mention of public access television, for me, was a bit of humor on its own since those are things are so very last century!

photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

Fortunately for Milwaukee audiences, director and choreographer Kelley Faulkner understands the gags and songs and nuisances to a tee and has assembled the perfect ensemble to bring us the Little Sisters of Hoboken and of course Father Virgil! This troupe plays together like they have been a team for years. The rhythms and timing of the jokes is as quick and sure as the songs and dance numbers. All of the principles are remarkable in their roles. And after reading their bios in the playbill, I was amazed that three of our five actors have appeared on other local stages but are debuting at the Rep…and our other two intrepid nuns are debuting here as well. After this performance, I am sure that we will be able to enjoy their work in future Rep presentations for years to come.

photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

Seth K Hale is Father Virgil…a role of a very humble and disarming priest but obviously inspired to assist the nuns to the best of his ability…and he is something of a ham as well. Hale embodies the character through and through.

As Sister Mary Regina, Ashley Ovidedo is an absolute scene stealer. An infectious presence on stage, I don’t think I have ever seen anyone adopt the character so absolutely as Oviedo does here. It was a literal thrill to watch.

photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

And my goodness, the song and dance chops of Katie Kallaus as Sister Mary Paul, Meka King as Sister Mary Hubert, and Isabel Quintero as Sister Mary Regina are flawless…add to that their comedic gifts…and you have the perfect Nuncrackers! I really think that this is one show where the actors are having more fun than the audience.

photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

Now, without being too much the spoiler, three things to watch for. The arrival of the Three Kings, the dueling sugar plum fairies, and the puppet. I hadn’t been promised a puppet, so I was amazed and pleased at its appearance.

Nuncrackers is my recommended start for this holiday season! And arrive early and have dinner and a refreshing beverage!!

Nuncrackers runs through January 7, 2024 at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Stackner Cabaret. But this is an extremely popular musical, so don’t dawdle on acquiring tickets. You can do that HERE!

Extra Credit Reading: The Program

Milwaukee Rep’s: Country Sunshine: The Legendary Ladies of Nashville!

Crazy, For thinking that my love could hold you, I’m crazy for trying, And crazy for crying, And I’m crazy for loving you

Now when you read that, if you heard Patsy Cline singing it in the back of your head…this show is absolutely for you! And if you didn’t, this show is absolutely for you because you have a lot of catching up to do!

The Milwaukee Repertory Theater is on a run with special tributes to musical stars presented in their Stackner Cabaret. And they have extended it one more time with their opening offering for the 2023/2024 season. And it’s a long overdue tribute to “The Legendary Ladies of Nashville” starring Katie Deal!

Now Katie Deal is the real thing…for sure. Georgia born and bred and a stalwart of America’s country scene. And here in Country Sunshine, she brings us the back stories and hit songs of all of our favorite women in Country Music. So she has the twang and the swing and the charm that exemplifies all of the singers that she pays tribute to. And her enthusiasm and energy had many of us in the audience tapping our feet and singing along and there was a little chair dancing going on. And Deal recognized the fans who were most engaged with a smile, a nod, and when she could, just a little wave in their direction.

photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

Now, I am not going to be able to remember all of the wonderful performers whose songs Deal recreated for us. But she nailed them and brought a lot of memories back for me since my first exposure to many of these songs came from my dad’s table radio back in the 1950s and 60s. But of course, Patsy Cline, as I mentioned in the opening, got a medley of her biggest tunes, ending with Crazy of course. But she also covered Dottie Wells, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, and a lot more! If you don’t hear a favorite song during this show, you aren’t paying attention!

And Deal is backed by a tight quartet of musicians, hitting all of the right notes and keeping the sounds alive! The band? : Jeff Hamann on bass, Johnny Rodgers on piano, Bob Monagle on guitars, and Terry Smirl on drums…AND Kristin Doty on supporting vocals. This show wouldn’t happen without them! Too bad they were covering so many songs and didn’t have the time to stretch out a bit and show us all of their chops!

The only thing I wanted from this show that I didn’t get…more music! LOL! Yeah, I would have loved more Dottie or Emmylou or Linda or Patsy! But I loved what I got. And yes, as I suggested in the opening, this show is for everybody!

Country Sunshine just opened so there is plenty of time to catch it, although don’t wait too long, because I expect that it will be a popular ticket.

So click here for more information on dates and tickets and some trailers from the show. And for extra credit reading, here is the Playbill!

And it’s in the Stackner, so plan ahead and make dinner reservations so you can eat, drink, and kick back a bit before the show!

The Greatest Love for Whitney, A Whitney Houston Tribute Created By Mark Clements At The Milwaukee Rep

I am feeling like a bit of a Stackner Cabaret ‘tween at the moment…too young to have appreciated Dean Martin (Dino just closed at the Stackner : see my response here) and too old to have been a fan of Whitney Houston. But I am being a little melodramatic here because I should admit that Beehive was in my wheelhouse (see my response here).

But yes, I didn’t really know what to expect from The Greatest Love for Whitney other than I was about to experience some incredible performers in outstanding performances…the high bar that The Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Stackner Cabaret has set for itself. But everyone else knew why they were there and from the shout outs and sing-a-longs and applause, this show met with their expectations for a Whitney Houston experience!

And obviously Rep Artistic Director Mark Clements is a huge Whitney fan. And he has created an elegant and moving tribute to Whitney. The Stackner stage is just filled with star presence in actors Alina Cherone and Alesia Miller and the Rep’s own Musical Director Dan Kazemi as accompanist.

Alesia Miller and Alina Cherone, photo by Michael Brosilow and courtesy of The Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

Cherone and Miller have the perfect voices to showcase Whitney’s catalog of songs. And they trade off one after another taking the lead role…or double up when the song calls for extra emphasis…or bring up the harmonies when needed! Not a wrong note here. And in between the songs they present some background from Whitney’s career. And they also provide us with how Whitney provided them with a role model that helped bring them to the Stackner stage.

Alina Miller; photo by Michael Brosilow and courtesy of The Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

And Kazemi accompanies them on piano and keeps the orchestral backing tracks rolling right along. It was great to see him in the footlights on stage rather than just a photo in the program this time!

And I almost forgot…and how could I? Alesia Miller is a Milwaukee native and brings some local color to the stories she tells about growing up and pursuing the stage and music!

Alesia Miller; photo by Michael Brosilow and courtesy of The Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

And just an elegant and simple cabaret stage…stools…piano…microphones…drape rear curtain…and a neon Whitney signature sign. A completely supportive environment…nothing to distract from the actors or the music.

The Greatest Love for Whitney continues at the Rep’s Stackner Cabaret through May 28, 2023…additional information here. The link includes access to the trailer and rehearsal videos.

Extra credit reading: The Program.

And when you go, you may see Charlotte Odusanya as one of the actors…she wasn’t on stage the night that I attended the play. I imagine that she has her own Whitney story to tell as well!

Charlotte Odusanya; photo by Michael Brosilow and courtesy of The Milwaukee Repertory Theater.