Milwaukee artists and art directors are all too familiar with an old sports cliche: the most important ability is availability.
In this era of COVID-19, theatre, music and dance companies are devoting serious rigor and energy to protecting performers and audience members from the virus so that performances can continue.
“Navigating the pandemic and labor shortages” are the toughest factors right now for putting on shows, said Jill Anna Ponasik, director of the upcoming Skylight Music Theater. “Ernest Shackleton loves me.”
“The difficulties have everything to do with, can you find qualified people to do what needs to be done at this time? … Can we stay healthy?” she said.
Despite the viral uncertainties, Milwaukee groups have planned a rich variety of offerings to start the new calendar year.
In general, you should assume that every show requires viewers to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test, and to wear a mask. (Shows at Next act require vaccination – no testing options there.)
These are listed in chronological order of date of first performance.
“Toni Stone”: The Milwaukee Repertory Theater presents Lydia R. Diamond’s play about the first woman in professional big league baseball: Stone played for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues in 1953. There’s a lot of movement in this production; in a previous interview, art director Mark Clements compared it to “Royale,” the stylized boxing game the rep played in 2016. With Major League Baseball owners locking in their players as a bargaining tactic, “Toni Stone” might be the only baseball you can count on for a while. January 4-30, Quadracci Powerhouse Theater, 108 E. Wells St. Tour milwaukeerep.com or call (414) 224-9490.
“Ernest Shackleton Loves Me”: Ponasik directs Skylight Music Theater’s production of this unusual musical, which truly earns her the eccentric label: the contemporary single-mother composer falls in love across time and space with the great Arctic explorer. Matt Daniels plays the fearless Shackleton; Janice Martin sings and plays the violin as composer Kat. The show also includes film footage of the real Shackleton’s expedition. January 14-30, Broadway Theater Center, 158 N. Broadway. Visit skylightmusictheatre.org or call (414) 291-7800.
“mala”: Melinda Lopez’s one-man play reflects the time when the playwright cared for her dying parents while trying to continue living her own life. Rána Roman performs in the Milwaukee Chamber Theater production (which replaces the previously announced “Where Did We Sit on the Bus?”, shelved due to a performer’s injury). 21 Jan-Feb 13 Broadway Theater Center, 158 N. Broadway. Visit milwaukeechambertheatre.org or call (414) 291-7800.
“The Watsons go to Birmingham – 1963”: First Stage stars Cheryl L. West’s adaptation of Christopher Paul Curtis’ award-winning novel, about a black family from Flint, Michigan, who travels to Alabama for the summer to visit Grandma. Personal family and coming-of-age adventures intersect with a dramatic event in the civil rights movement. First Stage recommends this show for ages 8 and up. 21 Jan-Feb 13. Todd Wehr Theater at the Marcus Performing Arts Center, 929 N. Water St. Visit firststage.org or call (414) 267-2961.
“Mean Girls”: The Broadway Touring Musical, Adapted From the Iconic Motion Picture Comedy written by Tina Fey, settles into the Marcus Performing Arts Center for a week of teenage social anxiety and fashion rules. Jan. 25-30, MPAC, 929 N. Water St. Tour marcuscenter.org or call (414) 273-7206.
“Probe”: Danceworks Performance MKE performs new choreography by Gina Laurenzi to live music by Chicago band Twin Talk; DPMKE describes it as “an experiment in contemporary movement with a jazz influence”. January 27-30. Next Act Theater, 255 S. Water St. Tour danceworksmke.org/dpmke-presents-sonder-coming-jan-22/ or call (414) 277-8480.
“Antonio’s Song” / “I Dreamed of a Son”: Antonio Edwards Suarez has teamed up with playwright Dael Orlandersmith to script this one-actor show, based on Suarez’s life, about a performer trying to reconcile his ethnic, human and artistic identities. This show has been a passion project of director Mark Clements for several years now. January 26-March 6. Stiemke Studio, 108 E. Wells St. Visit milwaukeerep.com or call (414) 224-9490.
“Genesis”: It’s a distinctive Milwaukee Ballet tradition: every two years, three choreographers are invited to create new works with MB dancers; the winner gets a contract to return the following season. But this time, there’s a twist: These performances will take place in the cozy Baumgartner Center for Dance, 128 N. Jackson St. Nadine Barton, DaYoung Jung and Price Suddarth are the choreographers. February 3-13, visit milwaukeeballet.org or call (414) 902-2103.
“Zarzuela: Luisa Fernanda”: Florentine Opera brazenly describes a zarzuela as operetta meets telenovela. Singing in Spanish, artists from the Baumgartner studio will perform a condensed version of Federico Moreno Torroba’s musical romance. February 11 and 13, Wilson Theater at the Marcus Performing Arts Center at Vogel Hall, 929 N. Water St. Tour florentineopera.org or call (414) 291-5700 ext. 224.
Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra: Pianist Aaron Diehl returns as a soloist on two works: Gershwin’s Second Rhapsody, also known as “Rhapsody in Rivets”; and the Piano Concerto by black American composer Florence Price. Both works premiered in the 1930s. This program, led by music director Ken-David Masur, also includes Charles Ives’ “Three Places in New England”, Barber’s One-Movement Symphony No. Out of the Silence” by black American composer William Grant Still (an excerpt from his “Seven Traces”). February 4-6, Bradley Symphony Center, 212 W. Wisconsin Ave. Visit mso.org or call (414) 291-7605.
Prometheus Trio: Pianist Stefanie Jacob, cellist Scott Tisdel and violinist Margot Schwartz are planning a program featuring two horse-inspired works by American composer Joan Tower, ‘And… They’re Off’ and ‘Big Sky’, plus music of Dvorak and Mozart. February 7-8, Wisconsin Conservatory of Music Helen Bader Recital Hall, 1584 N. Prospect Ave. Visit wcmusic.org/concerts-events/prometheus-trio.
“Pipeline”: Next Act Theater presents Dominique Morisseau’s drama about a black teacher in an overburdened public school who tries to keep her own son out of the school-to-jail pipeline – but fears she can’t. Feb. 10-March 6, 255 S. Water St. Tour nextact.org or call (414) 278-0765.