Seeking an ensemble of performers to bring the music of Beetlejuice, Hairspray, and La La Land to life this summer in the interactive screenings of popular movies during Kith & Kin Theatre Collective’s Music & a Movie series. The series rehearses and performs at Inspiration Studios.
Please note that a) actors can be considered for more than one show, b) performance tracks in the screenings are not bound traditionally by character tracks from the shows, and c) actors are expected to be available for all rehearsal dates for their selected show.
Beetlejuice: May 15th – 18th, directed by Anastasia Esther, music directed by Jim Van Deusen
Hairspray: June 5th – 8th, directed by Adrianna Jones, music directed by Jim Van Deusen
La La Land: August 14th – 17th, directed by Carmen Castello, music directed by Jim Van Deusen
Over the past few decades, as I’ve witnessed the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s presentations of plays from August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle, aka Century Cycle, I have reached the conclusion that Wilson is the most important and most significant American playwright of the 20th Century. With a play set in each decade of the 20th Century, most of which occur in Pittsburgh, Wilson shows us how much has changed in America over that one hundred years while how little has changed around race relations and civil rights. Set in 1948, Seven Guitars represents the status of race and hope and poverty and desperation in post war America for its black citizens. And this is a very accurate and direct portrayal. But Wilson’s plays go beyond that and all of us will recognize the humanity in the characters and the longing for love and family and community that Wilson invites us to understand. And there is one other item here as well…how those with mental illness were/are treated in America, particularly if they are people of color.
And those of us who live in mid-size cities in America will probably feel the urban environment that Wilson provides for us in his description of Pittsburgh. And we will certainly recognize the back yard of the probably turn of the 20th Century apartment building so accurately portrayed by scenic designer Shaun Motley and the Rep’s crew.
Seven Guitars opens and closes with his friends and neighbors discussing his funeral…he being blues musician, Floyd ‘Schoolboy’ Barton…with the central play presenting his hopes and dreams, his frustrations, and his untimely death as he works to being a famous and successful blues musician. His desire will be familiar to a great number of us who ran out to buy our first guitar after seeing the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show (which ironically started in 1948). And the music will be very familiar to much of the same cohort who discovered American blues music through the likes of the Rolling Stones, the Animals, John Mayall, Cream, and Jimi Hendrix, But Barton has indeed released a hit record and has a letter from the record company requesting that he record additional tunes!
So, Dimonte Henning, portrays Barton on his return to Pittsburgh from the great recording Mecca of Chicago. He’s here to round up his musician partners, Canewell, an incredible blues harp (harmonica) player, played by Vincent Jordan, always with his harmonica at the ready, and drummer Red Carter, played by Bryant Bentley, who can tap out a rhythm almost anywhere.
But his main goal is to coax his former girlfriend, Vera Dotson, to also accompany him to Chicago…an idea that, Kierra Bunch, as Vera, admirably and strongly resists at first until Barton finally wears her down with his charm and determination.
But there are any number of set backs. Barton spends some time in jail for vagrancy. Despite having a hit record…he hasn’t been paid hit record type royalties. And there are problems getting his electric guitar out of pawn and issues with his would be manager and of course getting everyone to agree with his dream! But he works through the issues and seems set on his way…except the real and an imagined world get in the way…resulting in his death.
The other characters here are Louise, the apparent landlady, and neighborhood anchor played with calm and wisdom by Marsha Estell. Her in trouble niece, Ruby, Saran Bakari, who shows up to stay with Louise for ‘a while’. And Hedley, played by Kevin Brown, another resident of the building who is suffering from tuberculosis and has some mental health issues. All three contribute to the understanding of how race impacts the lives of average Americans in so many negative ways and round out a vibrant neighborhood.
Director Ron OJ Parson, insists on having the characters tell the story front and center and he has done a masterful job here. And it certainly wasn’t easy, given seven major characters, and what seems to me, to be Wilson’s wordiest play (running time is three hours plus an intermission).
And I won’t go into detail, but you will put a glamorous job as stage hand out of your mind as you watch the stage reset during intermission. When you attend you will understand!
Milwaukee’s foremost theater for young people, First Stage, is currently performing The SpongeBob Musical For Young Audiences at the Todd Wehr Theater at the Marcus Performing Arts Center. And there is no way that the young (or even older) audiences aren’t going to have fun. And yes, there is some turmoil and some danger but we all know that SpongeBob SquarePants to solve the problem and the delight is watching him come up with a solution.
Now, before we get too far into the musical, performance, or cast, let me mention the stage set. First Stage always amazes with how much they get our of their sets and how they repurpose common objects in props that we easily accept as the correct time or place or environment. And they have done that time and time again all season…but in SpongeBob they have completely outdone themselves. Waiting for the play to start, you sense that we are underwater as the flickering stage lighting gives us that feeling of light shimmering on water but we are under the surface. Pool noodles become sea weed, kelp, and the stem of the world’s most famous pineapple. And if you look carefully you’ll see the huge abandoned Wisconsin license plate (first three letters: FST), a surfboard with a huge bite out of it, and other bits of flotsam and jetsam that indicate we are in fact, looking into Bikini Bottom! Scenic Designer, KRISTIN ELLERT and Lighting Designer, JASON FASSL have done some amazing work here and it all frees the director and choreographer to pull off this fast paced and entrancing musical. This set is simply enchanting!
Now on to the story! It’s a great day in Bikini Bottom and we get to meet all of the residents as they come to spend their day on our stage. But something isn’t right as a few tremors shake our landscape and scare a few residents. It turns out the nearby active volcano Mt. Humongous is going to erupt and threatens the existence of Bikini Bottom…and there is just over 24 hours to do something about it! Well, only Director Tommy Novak and Choreographer Katelin Zelon know whats going to happen but they let us know how all of the residents feel and what they all are going to do as they keep the music, action, and dancing moving at break neck speed.
And although the story is aimed at families with young people 6 and older, the story and characters present us with a lot of personal and social dynamics. Different characters have different roles…different solutions…and different rationales for what actions they decide to take. And of course we have a delightful villain in Sheldon Plankton who wants to take advantage of the situation to the advantage of his restaurant the Chum Bucket…and his enabling assistant Karen. Meanies for sure but so cute you can’t quite bring yourself to boo them! All of the other characters are here as well. Squidward wants to finally put on a show and gain some recognition. SpongBob’s best friend forever, Patrick, gets distracted easily but comes through when he needs to. And Sandy Cheeks, the diving suit dwelling squirrel, is initially overlooked but brings her science to save the day…with help.
And what finally wins out? Friendship, teamwork, and co-operation as Sandy, Patrick, and SpongeBob manage the climb up unclimbable Mt. Humongous and save the day to everyone’s delight…well…except for maybe Sheldon!
AND! Oh my goodness, I almost forgot. There is another character who isn’t ‘on’ stage…and that’s the Foley Artist who provides any number of sounds and sound effects as required during the performance. The Foley Artist is hiding in plain sight on an elevated platform to the audience’s right…behind a railing and string of colored plastic soda bottles. I wanted to watch but the stage action was too fast and too engrossing to allow that. There are two artists manning the platform, Paul Helm and Jonathon Gideon ( the understudy who was on duty when I attended).
And as always First Stage employs two casts of young actors who alternate performances…so check the program and links below for cast members. The photos here will show members of both casts. And the casts always have clever names relevant to the play so in this case we have the Sponge and Starfish casts! But we mustn’t overlook the adult actors who provided the anchor (no pun intended but it works, right) for our story and younger cast members. What fun and what a wild ride from Doug Clemons as Squidward, Jesse Bhamrah as Plankton, Zach Thomas Woods as Krabs, Bree Beelow as Karen, Lachrisa Grandberry as Mrs. Mayor, and Raven Dockery as Puff!
Oh, and did I mention that there are bubbles? There ARE bubbles!
The SpongeBob Musical For Young Audiences runs through April 2, 2023 and what a perfect way to get us ready for spring! And there is always a 5 minute talk back after the performance for young audience members to ask a question about what they have just experienced! What fun…