A Christmas Carol at the Milwaukee Rep: A Tradition Like Few Others!

In his program notes as the Artistic Director, Mark Clements states that the 2022 presentation of A Christmas Carol is the 47th time that the Rep has performed this classic. And that he and his family are now invested in the tradition as well since this is his 12th year of guiding it as the Artistic Director of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. But he doesn’t really delve into the whole meaning of ACC nor it’s new tradition either. But the current version and the one that has run for any number of years now is his adaptation of the Dickens novel and he downplays his role as the director, bringing his vision to life on the stage of the venerable Pabst Theater. This too has become a tradition.

Cast and ensemble of A Christmas Carol. photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

And many of us have probably developed a favorite scene or two in the Clements adaptation that we always look forward to. The ghosts of course! And who is playing the role and how will they torment and enlighten Scrooge this year. Scrooge’s final turn to the light. But I always look forward to the party at Mr. Fezziwig’s Shop and the startled reactions from fellow Londoners, employees, and relatives as the rejuvenated Scrooge makes himself known.

And I am sure other bits have become favorites…like the introduction when we are coaxed to turn off our phones and Scrooge’s ‘attributes’ are recited in alphabetical order until Mr. Dickens arrives to get us started and suddenly transforms into Ebenezer Scrooge!

Tami Workentin and Matt Daniels. photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

Now just as things are much the same…and I imagine we all know the story by now…we again have a new Scrooge for 2022. Although a familiar name and familiar face to Milwaukee area theater goers, Matt Daniels makes his first appearance as Ebenezer Scrooge. And he does the role and the tradition proud here…smoothly moving from the bah humbug cantankerous old Scrooge to the fearful and kowtowing Scrooge confronted by the ghosts, to finally the happy and sociable good will toward men fellow of the final act. Following in the footsteps of many fine players and Milwaukee favorites of the past, Mr. Daniels never for a moment misses a step and we completely forget those ghosts of Christmas past.

Matt Daniels and Mark Corkins. photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

But there are two veterans who I was most pleased to see on stage again this year. Mark Corkins as the Ghost of Marley and James Pickering as Mr. Fezziwig. Marvelous.

And reprising her appearance from last year, Lainey Techtmann provided us with a Tiny Tim for the ages.

The Cratchit’s at dinner on Christmas day. photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

And as I’ve written in previous responses, the set here is a major star of each performance. Multiple turntables move the sets around from London Streets, to Scrooge’s office and later home, the Fezziwig shop, the Cratchit home and more. From the audience this all moves so effortlessly but it is a marvel of not only design but remarkable skill in moving it throughout the play as one scene melds into the next.

So even if you’ve seen this recently, this is still the play to attend during December. If you haven’t seen it for a bit…a good time to reacquaint yourself with A Christmas Carol and the Pabst Theater. And of course the ambience of the Pabst lends it own sense of time and place for presenting a piece in time from Dickens’ London.

So here we are, finally starting to feel our theater traditions return in a post-pandemic world…and once again it snows inside the Pabst Theater!

The Milwaukee Rep’s A Christmas Carol at the Pabst Theater runs through December 24, 2022. More information and tickets can be found here!

And for extra credit reading: here is the Program! and here is the PlayGuide!

cast of the 2022 presentation of A Christmas Carol. photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

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

Beehive: The 60s Musical at the MKE Rep

If you are considering seeing Beehive, “STOP, In The Name Of LOVE”, and buy your tickets right now. This is a fun show…and if you know the lyrics to any of these songs you will be singing along. But I took a bit of license here with my opening sentence. “Stop In The Name Of Love” isn’t actually one of the numbers performed in this review but I urge the creator and director to correct that oversight post haste…I had worked out the choreography for it from an old Supremes video!

Photo by Michael Brosilow and courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

So what do we have here? We have an ensemble of six singers/dancers enthusiastically entertaining us with thirty-four songs that represent the best memories of female music stars from the 1960s! And everyone of the women featured here take their turn as the soloist with any number of their peers providing the backing vocals and harmonies…so the music just keeps moving forward and the energy never flags as the hits keep on coming!

Photo by Michael Brosilow and courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

So: the songs here represent the most talented and most popular ‘girl groups’ and solo artists of the period. Starting with the silly Shirley Ellis hit, “The Name Game” then rolling into Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party”, we also are reliving the thrills we got back in the day from the Supremes, The Ronettes, The Chiffons, The Angels, The Crystals, and more…and I loved everyone of them.

Photo by Michael Brosilow and courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

And for those of you who followed certain songwriters, these hits also represent some of the best output from Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Jeff Berry and Ellie Greenwich, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Phil Spector, and the Motown triple threat, Holland, Dozier, and Holland!

Photo by Michael Brosilow and courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

But despite being titled Beehive, this isn’t limited to ‘girl groups’ with piled up hair. Near the end of the first act, creator Larry Gallagher signals the later 60s shift in pop music and pop culture with the iconic anthem, “You Don’t Own Me” by a revitalized Lesley Gore. From then on we feel the effects of the British Invasion and the renewed influence of blues on rock and roll…and the rise of the big voiced big presence female vocalists…Tina Turner, Grace Slick, and of course, Janis Joplin.

Photo by Michael Brosilow and courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Sarah Lynn Marion as Janis

So this is an incredible experience in music and music history for those of us who lived it but even if you don’t know every song and every lyric, this is a lot…and I repeat…a lot of fun!

The only regret I have is the cast didn’t have time to perform the entire song because they nailed the performances and feel of the original material in a very dramatic fashion. But if they’d done that, it would be a five hour show instead of two hours and fifteen minutes.

The cast really did an amazing job of bringing these songs to life. The cast: Jackey Boelkow, Tess Marshall, Sarah Lynn Marion, Jamie Mercado, Desiree Tolodziecki, and Amaya White. They switched roles so many times, that I can’t tell you which actor took on which singer…so watch closely and carefully…but absolutely, no one disappointed. And director Laura Braza did an outstanding job in keeping everyone in motion and upfront and singing! And to choreographer, David P. Roman, hats off to you, beehive and all!!

Extra Credit Reading: Beehive The Program

Beehive, The 60s Musical runs through January 15, 2023, at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Stackner Cabaret. And I recommend making reservations for dinner at the Cabaret before the show as well.

More info and tickets here: