The All Night Strut

This is a reprint of my remarks about “The All Night Strut ” at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater presented in their Stackner Cabaret during the 2018 – 2019 season. This originally appeared on my Facebook timeline on November 14, 2018!

Finally getting around to writing about The All Night Strut at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Stackner Cabaret! The conceit here is we are all traveling cross country and enjoying entertainment in the bar car of a train from the 1930/40s. We have four entertainers and plus a musically adept conductor who run through the big band hits of the period. Unlike Paul McCartney these weren’t songs that were hits before my mother was born. Instead they were songs I heard as a child of the 1950s on my father’s favorite oldies station. So it was a bit of a stroll down memory lane. Songs that I enjoyed now and enjoyed in 1950 but came to detest in adolescence.

But other than the train ride, there really is no story as we mainline from one song to another…with the songs apparently related to the ‘stops’ along the route. Decent renditions…really motivated performers…nostalgia galore for those of us old enough to remember these…maybe too much kitsch at times. Besides singing, everyone dances…and everyone plays instruments. My favorite on Sunday night was Nygel D Robinson…the man can sing…dance…and play piano, guitar, string bass, drums…a..a..n..d trumpet. And he seemed to be the most relaxed member of the cast thoroughly enjoying himself…although our conductor, Jonathan Spivey, seemed to be having just as much fun. It was opening night so there were a lot of Rep royalty in the house and we shared a table with Sound Designer Eric Backus…he done good! If you are looking for serious theater…don’t stop here. But if you want to hear some great songs…well performed with little story line getting in the way…this is the holiday show for you! And the Manhattans here are great!

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley

This is a reprint of my remarks about “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater presented on their main stage Quadracci Powerhouse Theater during the 2018 – 2019 season. This originally appeared on my Facebook timeline on November 17, 2018!

‘Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley’ is billed as a sequel to “Pride and Prejudice”. Now I am a guy of a certain age…so I have never read Jane Austen…so I didn’t have any expectations for Miss Bennet. And I was totally blown away by the language…the humor…and the messages exhibited through out the evening. The action is during a family reunion of sorts at Christmas in the home of the Darcy’s at Pemberley. Even I recognize the name Darcy, lol. So of course there is the usual dynamics around family and holiday as the core theme in the play. But on top of that love and romance and a bit of conflict to bring out the worst and then eventually the best in the characters.

The playwrights, Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, did an amazing job maintaining the feel of 18th Century culture and language and overlaying them with 21st Century societal concerns and trends. Extremely well done!

And the central story is the developing romance around Mary Bennet and holiday house guest Arthur de Bourgh. It necessarily starts slow…unknown to the protagonists at first…and nearly disappears when a surprise third party gets involved later. But there is a happy ending and a Happy Christmas to All!

I loved Rebecca Hurd as Mary Bennet. Incredible range from quiet questioning scholar to interested suitor to angry ‘jilted’ party to romantic lead. Wow! And Jordan Brodess as Arthur de Bourgh, her love interest and interested love is remarkable. His explanation to Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley of the unusual and unfamiliar feelings he was experiencing is quite hilarious and amazingly accurate! That alone is the price of admission.

I almost ignored this play. My ‘manly’ inclination was to avoid all things Jane Austen. But my membership in the Rep’s Social Media Club let me attend a rehearsal a few weeks ago and that changed my mind on attending. (side note on that rehearsal: the activity that we saw in rehearsal for probably 40 minutes or so was cut from the play. I was watching for it. BUT: the play worked much better without it in IMHO) But this was still more than I anticipated…the humor most of all. What a fun time all the while discussing society, marriage, love, the relationships of the genders, expectations, choices and freedoms.

And to the other actors that I didn’t mention! You too are truly amazing. All of the characters come to life and are fully believable. Thank you for a wonderful evening of unexpected joy! And special thanks to Kimberly Senior who directed this cast of superb actors into a family at holiday!

And to the Rep support teams. My goodness the sets and props and most of all the costumes were perfect in every way.

My wife Rosalie said the characters and their personalities are what she expected, having read the book. And she loved the men’s wardrobes…and wished men still dressed like that. I apparently will be searching for Edwardian tailors and knee high riding boots in the new year!

So, not trying to take away from A Christmas Carol, which is coming up in a few weeks, If you can only see one show this holiday season, see ‘Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley’.

group photo during rehearsal…yes I am in there somewhere!

Guards At The Taj

This is a reprint of my remarks about “Guards At The Taj” at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater presented on their Stiemke Studio Theater during the 2018 – 2019 season. This originally appeared on my Facebook timeline on October 1, 2018!

It’s a thrill when a play challenges you. It is often one of the reasons you attend live theater. But “Guards at the Taj” (The current play at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Stiemke Studio Theater) goes way beyond challenging, it is brutal. Brutal to the point that another friend who attended last night called it R rated, not safe for children. “Guards at the Taj” finds two imperial guards on the dawn shift guarding the just completed Taj Mahal on the morning of its scheduled unveiling. Humayun (Yousof Sultani), an unremarkable son of a prestigious father, and Babur (Owa’Ais Azeem), a dreamer of grand imagination whose friendship with Humayun seems unexpected!

Their conversations in anticipation presents some challenges. We are faced with the opposition of beauty to banality, imagination to casual acceptance, a sense of adventure to a practiced desire for safety. Certainly topics that resonate in our century…not just in 17th Century India.

But the emperor has decreed that nothing as beautiful as the Taj Mahal can ever be built again. The resulting brutality initially destroys Babur’s mind, then his soul and finally his body…as he takes on the weight of the world under the mantle of having killed beauty. Alternately Humayun retreats into himself and relies on his careless need for safety and normality.

This. Is. a. brutal play. It was written by Rajiv Joseph but you wouldn’t be surprised to think that Samuel Beckett didn’t have some fingers in it.

Mr. Sultani and Mr. Azeem are incredible in their respective roles…and they are not easy to play. Bravo to them for their performances.

Director Brent Hazelton had staged a moving and well-orchestrated presentation that visually makes sense and is timed perfectly. The initial set is beautiful and dutifully opens to reveal a prison room behind. Unfortunately we never get to see the Taj Mahal!

The play runs through November 4th!