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

PSA: Milwaukee Rep Theater’s New Year’s Flash Sale!!

Start 2023 out right and save up to 50% on four amazing productions filled with heartfelt storytelling, incredible voices and hilarious comedy. 

Kick off the New Year with The Heart Sellers, Seven Guitars, God of Carnage and The Greatest Love for Whitney and get the best seats at an amazing discounted ticket price – our special gift to you. Don’t wait – this special offer must end Monday, January 2!

And to get tickets and read more about these performances, click here: Lloyd Suh’s The Heart Sellers; or here August Wilson’s Seven Guitars; or here Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage; or here: The Greatest Love for Whitney (Whitney Houston)!

Hopefully, I will see you there!!

But wait, some extra credit reading!

The Heart Sellers: Funny and deeply moving, this World Premiere by Lloyd Suh (The Chinese Lady) 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?”

Seven Guitars: 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: 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.

The Greatest Love For Whitney: Created by Milwaukee Rep’s Mark Clements: 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.”

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