Milwaukee Rep’s ‘Unforgettable’: A Celebration of the Songs of Nat King Cole!

This is a great show to open the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s 2022/2023 season. And a show that I was looking forward to because Nat King Cole was my mother’s favorite singer. So, for me, there was a bit more nostalgia than just hearing and enjoying songs from my pre-Beatles youth. It felt just right here.

John-Mark McGaha, photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

The star here is of course Nat and his huge catalog of hits…but bringing those tunes effectively to life is John-Mark McGaha. First, bringing us the back stories and then the hits…just like you remember them. And he’s dressed in a blue velvet jacket that I would have loved to wear on stage in one of my early rock bands! Wow! And man, can he pull it off!

And John-Mark McGaha is just fluid and easily moves from the mood of one song to another, just in the manner of Nat himself. The two songs that worked absolutely the best? Well, Unforgettable of course. The audience was primed for each and every song and each one garnered a healthy round of applause but, Unforgettable really hit the mark with the audience in the first act!

John-Mark McGaha with William Kurk on piano, photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

And later L-O-V-E was the song that rocked the house and it seemed to me that even the band was swinging more easily and naturally than at any other time last evening. And Mr. McGaha is a multi-instrumentalist, taking up the guitar to fill out a pair of tunes. And he sat down at the piano a number of times to emphasize Nat’s real life role…and his turn back there doing The Frim Fram Sauce was a particularly enjoyable bit of music making around a silly conceit.

John-Mark McGaha, with Ryan Bennett on drums, Jeff Hamann on upright bass, and Jesse Montijo on sax and flute, photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

And Mr. McGaha was backed by a talented and supportive combo of Ryan Bennett on drums, Jeff Hamann on upright bass, Jesse Montijo on sax and flute, and last night Chuck Larkin was at the piano (Sat and Sun). On Tuesday through Friday you’ll hear William Kurk on the piano.

This was everything you would expect from Nat King Cole and the Rep’s Stackner Cabaret and the Artists Lounge Live who originated this piece. Everyone in attendance had a great time…as exhibited by the liberal chuckles and applause through out and the standing ovation at the end. This would be a great play to start your theater going season too!!

OH OH OH…I almost forgot! YES, their version of Mona Lisa is worth the price of admission!

Is there anything that I would change? Yes, given the talent of the combo, I would have opened with one of Nat’s early jazz trio instrumentals before bringing Mr. McGaha on stage. Feature the band and set the mood in one easy moment.

This show just opened and runs through November 6, 2022 at the Stackner Cabaret. Here is where you can order tickets! And make reservations for dinner before the show!

Extra credit reading: the program Unforgettable John-Mark McGaha sings Nat King Cole is here!

and one last thing…this is for my wife who was particularly charmed by this tune…performed here by Nat King Cole:

Writer and Performer Angela Ingersoll Invites You To “Get Happy” and Experience Judy Garland at the Milwaukee Rep!

In an amazing performance, Angela Ingersoll invites us to celebrate the talent and spirit of American legend, Judy Garland. In a night club worthy, or even better yet, a Carnegie Hall worthy presentation, Ingersoll has created, written, and performs a song filled evening! She recounts Judy’s life, loves, struggles, and triumphs in a very personal conversation with the audience. And besides Judy’s story, we’ll learn about Ingersoll and why she relates to Garland and how she came to put together this show. Done with all of the drama, humor, and music that we should expect.

Get Happy cast and crew courtesy of the Milwaukee Rep

So, yes, this is a close and intimate production…just how intimate? Well, in the Stackner we all feel close to the stage. And Ingersoll is supported by a very adept and agile piano trio of Jeff Hamman on string bass, Charles Heath on percussion, and Chuck Larkin (May 5 – 15) and Jeremy Kahn (May 15 – July 1) on piano. And they are positioned right there behind her. And (spoiler alert), there’s the on stage dressing room where Ingersoll completes one costume change per act during the evening while continuing to regale us with the story.

Angela Ingersoll center, Charles Heath on percussion, Jeff Hamann on bass, courtesy of the Milwaukee Rep

And beyond the apparent physical similarities to Garland, Ingersoll has obviously studied Garland’s physical movements and vocal stylings and gives us an incredible performance. For those of us old enough to remember Garland’s various appearances on mid-20th Century television, the memories will be quite intense. For the rest of us, the show will give us a glimmer of what it might have been like to see Garland in person and the chance to experience an exciting night of song and theater here at the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre.

Chuck Larkin on piano with Angela Ingersoll, courtesy of the Milwaukee Rep

This show was nominated for an Emmy award after being broadcast on PBS. And it will continue its run at the Stackner Cabaret at the Rep through July 1st. Additional information and ticket info here. Approximate running time: 2 Hours and 10 Minutes including intermission. Recommended Age: 12 and up.

And don’t miss a chance to eat dinner at the Stackner as well. In most cases you will be seated at the same table where you will see the show. Dining information and menu here.

And the online program is HERE!

Angela Ingersoll in Get Happy, courtesy of the Milwaukee Rep

PSA: Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s 2022/2023 Season!

Monday night, Mark Clements announced the plays and shows that will grace the three stages of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater this coming season. As always these represent a diverse, challenging, and entertaining lot. Eleven plays at the Rep and of course the 47th presentation of A Christmas Carol! And we have a number of premiers by playwrights who have provided very intriguing plays over the past few seasons…plus another play from August Wilson’s Century Cycle.

So here’s what is new at the Rep:

At the Stackner Cabaret…a favorite locale for just about every theater goer in Milwaukee.

Unforgettable: John-Mark McGaha Sings Nat King Cole

September 9 – November 6, 2022

Remember the genius and warmth of Nat King Cole with acclaimed singer, storyteller and multi-instrumentalist John-Mark McGaha (The Ray Charles LegacySmokey Joe’s Cafe). In this heartfelt concert, McGaha leads a lush jazz ensemble and reflects upon Cole’s trailblazing career with poignant insight and intimate charm. BroadwayWorld calls his voice “crystal-clear perfection.” Classic songs include “Unforgettable,””Route 66,””L-O-V-E,” and “Mona Lisa.”

Beehive: The 60s Musical

November 11, 2022 – January 15, 2023

From Aretha Franklin to Janis Joplin, the powerful female voices of the 1960s have left an unforgettable mark on generations. Beehive: The 60s Musical is a non-stop, energetic celebration of these iconic women and their music in a soundtrack for this decade of change. Six extraordinary women perform more than two dozen chart toppers from Diana Ross, The Supremes, Tina Turner and more. Complete with big hair dos and 60’s fashions, this timeless production will have audiences of all ages singing along and shouting for more.

Dino! An Evening With Dean Martin

January 20 – March 23, 2023

Effortlessly charming and charismatic, Dean Martin rose from humble immigrant roots to embody the definition of cool as a Rat Pack heartthrob and one of America’s most adored entertainers. Dino! transports us to a hip 1970s club where – accompanied by his signature drink in hand – the “King of Cool” entertains all by weaving personal stories with a smorgasbord of classic hits including “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head,””Everybody Loves Somebody,””That’s Amore” and more. Warm and endearing, Dino! suavely shines the spotlight once again on this legendary star and the glory days of the nightclub crooner.

The Greatest Love For Whitney: A Tribute to Whitney Houston

March 24 – May 28, 2023

From her powerful anthems to her glamorous elegance on the silver screen, Whitney Houston’s breathtaking voice helped her become one of the most beloved artists of all time. The Greatest Love for Whitney celebrates the amazing career and legacy of this Grammy Award-winning icon by taking audiences through a journey of her record-setting hits, performed live and in-concert. Featuring songs like “I Will Always Love You,””Saving All My Love For You” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go,” this superstar’s warmth and magnetism takes center stage in a fitting tribute to the woman known simply as “The Voice.”

And on the Quadracci Powerhouse main stage…the really big shows!


September 20 to October 30, 2022

One of the largest and most beloved shows makes its long-anticipated return after a completely sold-out run a decade ago! With bold choreography and a soaring score, this powerful and epic musical captures the sounds and unbridled optimism from the dawn of 20th century America. Ragtime presents a nation on the cusp of change by weaving together the disparate stories of an enterprising Eastern European immigrant, a courageous Harlem pianist and a conflicted upper-crust wife into a melting-pot of a musical that skillfully mixes the hopes and realities of the American Dream.

The Nativity Variations

November 15 – December 11, 2022

In a small midwestern town, auteur theater director Jules and her experimental community theater troupe face their biggest and most ambitious challenge yet – staging the Christmas pageant at St. Ignatius Episcopal Church. As their adventurous vision for the greatest story ever told hilariously evolves to include Shakespearian comedy and even foul-mouthed puppets, Jules – with a gentle nudge by Father Juan – is left to consider the purpose of her art and the true meaning of the holiday season. Modern cynicism meets emotional tenderness in this hilarious and heartfelt World Premiere by award-winning playwright Catherine Trieschmann (One House Over < a very popular Rep presentation).

Much Ado About Nothing

January 10 to February 12, 2023

Laughter, witty wordplay and 1990s nostalgia come together in this joyful and cherished classic, one of Shakespeare’s most delightful romantic comedies. Fast-flying gossip and thick-headed pride threaten to bring down the bash of the decade as a fairy-tale marriage quickly turns from swoon to scandal. With honor and friendship on the line, sharp-tongued adversaries Beatrice and Benedict put their savage battle of wits (and hearts) on hold to restore order, charting them on a collision course that might just lead to true love. Hilarious slapstick, mistaken identities, and a town full of well-meaning (but mostly ridiculous) characters lead to sheer theatrical delight on the Quadracci Powerhouse stage.

August Wilson’s Seven Guitars

March 7 – April 2, 2023

What would you do for a chance to live out your dream? In 1940s Pittsburgh, struggling singer Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton’s shot at stardom comes when a major recording studio offers an unexpected opportunity of a lifetime. Armed with newfound hope and a second chance, Floyd and his friends discover that dreams are heartbreakingly fragile when confronted by a world set against them. This riveting play, Milwaukee Rep’s eighth production in August Wilson’s iconic 10 play American Century Cycle, explores faith, artistry, humor, oppression and love set to the fiery rhythms and intense lyricism of American blues music.

God of Carnage

April 18 – May 14, 2023

Winner of the Tony Award for Best Play, this explosive comedy is all fun and games – until the grown-ups get hurt. When two sets of parents politely meet over coffee and cake to settle a schoolyard spat between their sons, the gloves come off as neighborly decorum disintegrates into laugh-out-loud, no-holds barred mayhem. This “first class” (The New York Times) and “scabrously funny” (USA Today) send up of middle-class manners gives a brutally entertaining look at what happens when the little things end up pushing us over the edge.

And at the black box Stiemke Theater…where the most challenging plays can be seen!

Wife of a Salesman

September 27 – November 6, 2022

Acclaimed playwright Eleanor Burgess (The Niceties < another hit from a season or two ago) brings her gift for sharp dialogue and spirited debate back to the Stiemke Studio with this fascinating new play. When a 1950s housewife, from a certain classic American drama, tracks down the woman who is sleeping with her husband, the two discover that they have more in common than society would like them to believe. Important questions of marriage, duty and happiness rise to the surface in this frank exposé of the ways in which the world has, and hasn’t, changed across generations.

The Heart Sellers

February 7 to March 19, 2023

Funny and deeply moving, this World Premiere by Lloyd Suh (The Chinese Lady , an incredible play from a few seasons ago and one of my first responses) gives voice to the Asian immigrant experience in the 1970s when the landmark Hart-Celler Act granted thousands of professional workers a new path to citizenship. But for new Americans Jane and Luna, life in the USA with their workaholic husbands has left them feeling isolated and invisible. One Thanksgiving – over sips of wine and a questionable frozen turkey – they reminisce and dream of spreading their wings together in the land of opportunity: disco dancing, learning to drive and even a visit to Disneyland. With grace and dignity, this powerful play asks: “Would you give up your heart to make a new home?”

I am not sure which plays I am most excited to see but boy oh boy – I love the chance to see another August Wilson at the Rep!

I am sure that you won’t want to miss any of these great plays…so here’s the link to the Rep’s page with info on ordering series subscriptions for the coming season.

AND No I haven’t forgotten:

Watch for ticket information later in the year

P.S. Note to Mark Clements: We need one or two more plays in the Stiemke! Yes, I mean it!!