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.

PSA: Milwaukee Repertory Theater Announces Their 2023/2024 Season!

During a thirty minute streaming event last evening, Milwaukee Rep Artistic Director Mark Clements announced the Rep’s 2023/2024 season. Here is the recording of Mr. Clements presentation and listed just below are the full descriptions from their press release:

To celebrate our 70th Anniversary Season, an extraordinary milestone, we’ve hand-picked a season of exceptional plays including our first World Premiere musical on the mainstage, beloved literary adaptions, the return of Milwaukee Rep favorites and exciting new works.

Energizing moments, empowering stories, passionate performances – with bold theatrical experiences to captivate the heart and stir the soul. Our 2023/24 Season has something for everyone! 

The Quadracci Powerhouse season will open with Run Bambi Run, a new musical about America’s most infamous woman turned American folk hero Lawrencia “Bambi” Bembenek, written by Oscar-winner Eric Simonson (Lombardi) with music by Grammy-nominee Gordon Gano of theViolent Femmes. Following will be the celebrated mystery Dial M for Murder, which inspired Hitchcock’s masterpiece. The new year brings two celebrated adaptations – Louisa May Alcott’s endearing Little Women and Chaim Potok’s The Chosen. Closing the season will be Nina Simone: Four Women, a play with music recalling events that shifted Simone’s career from artist to activist.

The Stackner Cabaret features four blockbuster shows starting with Country Sunshine: The Legendary Ladies of Nashville With Katie Deal, featuring songs from the Queens of country music and Nuncrackers our favorite nuns return to film their first TV special filled with songs and hijinks. Last seen eight years ago, Guys on Ice returns for a special anniversary production as one of our most popular shows ever, followed by Piano Men 2, a smash hit with audiences, in which no two performances are the same as our dueling pianists take requests live! 

The Stiemke Studio features two ground-breaking new works – the World Premiere of Parental Advisory: a breakbeat play from award-winning storyteller Idris Goodwin (HBO’s Def Poetry Jam) and direct from a sold-out Broadway run What the Constitution Means to Me, called “the best and most important new play” by The New York Times.

Subscriptions On Sale Now! Get the BEST Seats at the BEST Price before the individual tickets go on sale to the public. Call 414-224-9490 or visit

And here are the details!

And the one annual event that we all are waiting for:

Milwaukee Rep’s Dino! Finds Dean Martin Stranded In Milwaukee!

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.

photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

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.

courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater: photo by Michael Brosilow

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!

courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater: photo by Michael Brosilow

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.

courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater: photo by Michael Brosilow

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