Perf. Arts





‘Mother’s Day’ best way to spend Mother’s Day? 

In Tandem’s ‘Ernest’ cleverly balances satirical look at high society, romance

Often in preparing to write a movie review, I find myself ignoring the studio-produced press notes. In the case of Garry Marshall’s “Mother’s Day,” however, I’ve elected to read what the publicists had to say.

MENOMONEE FALLS - There are four thriving community theaters in Waukesha County: Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove, the Lake Country Players in Hartland, the Waukesha Civic Theatre in Waukesha and the Falls Patio Players in Menomonee Falls. 

‘Elvis & Nixon’ revisit poignantly funny, but ‘Adderall Diaries’ rough
It’s unthinkable Kevin Spacey would forsake screen acting.  However, if the unthinkable ever became actual, Spacey - based on his spot-on rendition of Richard Nixon in “Elvis & Nixon” - could easily earn his livelihood as an impersonator.

Bagwise, ‘Criminal’ is mixed while ‘Miles’ may, or may not, be yours
Advertised as “the story of the right man in the wrong body,” Ariel Vromen’s “Criminal” is a mixed bag. Positives about the espionage-sci-fi flick include excellent pacing, the curious ability to compel viewers to empathize with a character who himself has no empathy, and a cast featuring Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman and Tommy Lee Jones - a trio that first worked together 25 years ago on Oliver Stone’s “JFK.”

Computer-generated ‘Jungle Book’ revisits 50-year-old cartoon
he magic of Disney combines - once again - with the creativity of Kipling to create “The Jungle Book” on screen. Producer-director Jon Favreau’s version is a live action/computer-generated retooling, in 3-D, of the animated “Jungle Book” from 1967.

‘Boss’ not up to last two McCarthy films
Melissa McCarthy is a gifted comedian, a talented actress.  Unfortunately, there’s also the raunchiness factor with her movies.   “St. Vincent” with Bill Murray two years back was an exception and McCarthy delivered an excellent performance.

‘Greek Wedding 2’: year’s No. 1 comedy
It’s taken Hollywood 14 years to come up with a sequel to “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” So, was “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” worth the wait? I’m not sure. I saw bits and pieces of the first installment after it moved from big screen to television screen, but I remember very little about it. What I do know is that I found “2” enjoyable from start to finish.

R-rated comedy ‘Bronze’ has golden moments
“The Bronze,” which stars Melissa Rauch, is occasionally surprising, occasionally predictable.  Take that to mean the movie is contradictory, if you will. 

Fey’s effort highlights ‘Whiskey’
A yeoman’s job by star Tina Fey highlights “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” a dramedy based on Kim Barker’s book, “The Taliban Shuffle,” about her days as a war correspondent in Afghanistan.

‘Messiah’ better than it sounded
“The Young Messiah” didn’t sound too promising. SeveraI weeks ago I received notification of the new film that described it in part as “the inspiring story of seven-year-old Jesus Christ and his family.” 

Time for Oscar predictions - and lamentations
The annual Academy Awards gala is nearly upon us. With the nominees chosen, it’s time for predicting the winners - and lamenting others who’ve been left out of the race. 

‘Eagle’ soars; ‘Witch’ less than beguiling
“Feel-good film” is the cliché I thought of as I watched “Eddie the Eagle,” a pleasant flick about bona fide Olympic skier Eddie Edwards.

Critical kudos for ‘Lady,’ ‘Deadpool’
As narrator of “The Lady in the Van,” author Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) describes the title character (Maggie Smith) with a barrage of awful adjectives: “bigoted, cantankerous, devious, unforgiving, self-serving, rank and rude.”

‘Son of Saul’ finer than ‘Finest’
If Hollywood presented rookie of the year awards, the Hungarian Laszlo Nemes would definitely be in contention. Unfortunately for the 38-year-old “Son of Saul” director, who also co-wrote the film’s screenplay, the rookie award remains a baseball phenomenon. 

Isaac captivates, but whither goes ‘Mojave’?
Written and directed by William Monahan (“The Departed”), “Mojave” stars Oscar Isaac, who’s become quite the prolific performer (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Ex Machina” and “A Most Violent Year”).

‘Ride Along 2’ nothing special, but then again ...
“Ride Along 2” is nothing special, particularly when compared to truly outstanding movies playing locally like “The Revenant” and “The Force Awakens.” Then again, the comedic “Ride Along 2” is infinitely better than the tasteless Christmas comedy “The Night Before” and certainly no worse than M.

Looking forward to cinema’s spring
Several distributors - Broad Green Pictures, A24 Films, Lionsgate, Sony Pictures Classics and Universal Pictures - have released titles, and descriptions thereof, for the spring.

‘Revenant’ a Western ‘painfully realistic’
“The Revenant”  is a painfully realistic pre-Civil War Western with incongruously gorgeous photography.

2015 was a great year at the movies
It’s been an excellent year for motion pictures. Interestingly, most of the ones I’ve liked best - the top six of my top 10 - are reality-based. 

‘Concussion’ is a different but good gridiron movie
“Concussion” is a different sort of football film, one concerned with debilitating head injuries that have too frequently spelled death for ex-NFL players. It’s a movie with inventive casting. 

Hustle’ director Russell helms ‘Joy’ to behold
David O. Russell’s new movie “Joy” is a tantalizingly quirky comedy in the tradition of his 2013 ABSCAM-based endeavor “American Hustle.” 

Episode VII good, just not great
A friend hit the nail on the head when he predicted the seventh film in the “Star Wars” series “will be a good movie, (but) won’t be great.”

‘Episode VII’ awakens new hope
Franz Buchholtz didn’t care for the last three “Star Wars” movies. In an interview, the Bay View resident summarized those prequels as “poorly acted, poorly written, not very well thought-out.” He added that “Episode I: The Phantom Menace” (1999), “Episode II: Attack of the Clones” (2002) and “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” (2005) each “came off more like a video game than a movie.”

‘Letters’ inspirational, if not cutting-edge
It may be that Mother Teresa, the Albanian nun revered for her work among India’s impoverished and the subject of the newly released biopic “The Letters,” was from the day she joined the Sisters of Loreto at age 18 a saintly personage - chaste and obedient in accordance with the vows nuns take, prayerful, other-centered.

Patron’s harsh ‘Night Before’ assessment proves accurate
Minutes after a screening of “The Night Before,” I heard a woman comment, “I just wasted an hour and 45 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back again.”   

Well-paced drama’s heart in right place … or places
Home is where the heart is. But can the heart be in two places at once? That seems to be the basic question John Crowley’s “Brooklyn,” based on a novel by Colm Toibin, is asking. 

‘Spotlight’ up to ‘President’s Men’ but ‘My All American’ no ‘Rudy’ 
If it takes a village to raise a child,  an attorney for clerical sex abuse victims in the movie  “Spotlight”  remarks,  it takes a village to abuse one. 

‘Spectre’ has superior production values, but ‘Suffragette’ is superior film
As good as Carey Mulligan was as “Far From the Madding Crowd’s” leading lady last spring, the English actress is even better as a pre-World War I women’s rights activist in “Suffragette.

‘Room’ fascinating, if not flawless
“Room” is a well-cast movie, with emotionally wide-ranging performances by Brie Larson (also very good in the recent “Trainwreck”) and 9-year-old Jacob Tremblay (truly remarkable). Both actors could get Academy Award nominations, as could “Room’s” Irish director, Lenny Abrahamson.

Truth be told, Redford’s Rather credible
In one of “Truth’s” final scenes, Robert Redford as Dan Rather is cheered by a roomful of co-workers after signing off for the last time as “CBS Evening News” anchorman. While applauding Rather, the other actors could also have been applauding Redford, who, made up to resemble the newscaster, deserves kudos for capturing Rather’s voice and mannerisms in an appropriately low-key performance.

Stine-based ‘Goosebumps’ a bumpy ride, but Spielberg’s ‘Bridge’ worth negotiating
Amidst outsized monsters and a militia of evil-intentioned garden gnomes, the most interesting subjects in “Goosebumps” are human: three pretty sensible kids and a couple of kooky adults. 

‘Coming Home’ is great, but not in today’s 3-D adventure sense
“Coming Home” is an extraordinary film, but it’s hardly a bells and whistles film. Cops and a criminal may be at its center, but this Chinese movie with English subtitles and a 20th century time frame is no action-adventure picture, no breakneck-paced police procedural with bullet-dodging or madcap driving or other acts of derring-do.

Zemeckis’ ‘The Walk’ another fine fall flick
In my review a week ago, I exulted that several good movies had accompanied our new autumn movies like that review’s 3 1/2-star subject,  “The Martian.” Ridley Scott’s sci-fi adventure may or may not have been the best release since Labor Day; now, however, as quickly as it burst upon the scene,  “The Martian” has been overshadowed by Robert Zemeckis’   humor-spiked drama  “The Walk.” 

Ridley Scott’s ‘Martian’ looks to be among better autumn crop of movies
“The End of the Tour.” “Grandma.” And now, “The Martian.” History does seem to repeat itself: Autumn approaches; a better crop of feature films emerges.

Shyamalan’s latest: One ‘Visit’ you need not make
To the list of places you need not visit, feel free to add theaters showing “The Visit,” M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film. 

Tomlin terrific as ‘Grandma’ 
you wish you had
It may not be a technical trailblazer, but “Grandma” is a terrific motion picture: unfailingly amusing, poignant, very capably acted, a thorough - and thoroughly captivating - story in 79 short minutes.  

Maybe ‘Walk’ should take a hike
Robert Redford’s latest movie, “A Walk in the Woods,” has been done before, more or less, and done better. The previous rendition occurred last year, a drama with Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern instead of a comedy starring the less impressive duo of Redford and Nick Nolte. 

Big screen keeps it real this fall
If reboots have figured prominently in this summer’s cinematic landscape, the fall season promises to place emphasis on movie art imitating life.

TV retread 'Man From U.N.C.L.E.' passes muster as feature film
OK, I’ll add my thumb to those already thrust in the air in support of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” Guy Ritchie’s feature film based on the old TV series with the same handle.

Interview-based movie anything but dull
Nobody’s proposing David Foster Wallace, late author of the well-regarded novel “Infinite Jest” and subject of the feature film “The End of the Tour,” for canonization. 

New films take two societal glimpse set in San Francisco, Ireland
It’s  1976. Patty Hearst, seen on a TV clip in “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” is big news this Bicentennial year while Watergate has apparently been forgotten.

Documentary suggests 
truth stranger than fiction
Documentarian Crystal Moselle’s “The Wolfpack” concerns a most unusual family: the Angulo brood of seven children, all but the youngest of them males, their Peruvian papa, Oscar, and their mother, Susanne, of Midwestern farm stock.

‘Irrational Man,’ ‘Pixels’ revisit Dostoyevsky, Pac-Man
Woody Allen’s “Irrational Man” begins as a potential revisiting of “Educating Rita” with Joaquin Phoenix in the Michael Caine role. It becomes an updated screen version of Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” with Phoenix as above-the-law Raskolnikov.

'Trainwreck' a misnomer  for Schumer movie?
Midway through Judd Apatow’s “Trainwreck,” a character is denounced as universally offensive but then immediately lauded as likable, everybody’s favorite person.

'War is hell' theme dominates 'Testament of Youth'
“Testament of Youth,” based on an autobiography by the same title, begins on Armistice Day, 1918. World War I, the inaccurately dubbed “war to end all wars,” is over and there is jubilation on the streets.

Offbeat 'Me and Earl' definitely worthwhile
I find myself wondering whether it’s merely coincidental that “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” the  movie based on Jesse Andrews’ novel, takes place in Pittsburgh.

While 'Max' isn't 'Mad,' dog story has positives
First, a clarification. “Max,” from “Remember the Titans” director Boaz Yakin, is not to be confused with another new movie, “Mad Max: Fury Road.”   “Mad Max: Fury Road” has been applauded by critics. “Max,” although not without positives, is ultimately a middling effort.  

'Spy' offers a lot of hilarity and a bit of bawdiness
“Spy,” the latest Melissa McCarthy movie, at first looks and sounds like a James Bond film, with handsome Jude Law in the Bond role and a song remindful of “Goldfinger” playing as the credits roll.

Cast aside, 'Aloha' leaves little  to capture the imagination
“Aloha,” the first film since 2011 from writer-director Cameron Crowe (“Almost Famous,” “Jerry Maguire”), has met with considerable public grousing due to, among other things, its allegedly disproportionate amount of Anglos for a Hawaii-set production. 

'Pitch Perfect 2' strikes several sour notes
I don’t know that I’ve seen a theater empty quite as quickly as the one where I watched “Pitch Perfect 2” the other day. 

Scary future could have used a lot more laughs
Characters, including the one played by George Clooney in a new Disney extravaganza, could’ve chosen to heed the biblical recommendation ”do not worry about tomorrow.” 

'Madding Crowd' packed with performances in a beautiful film
Like Shakespeare and Dickens, Thomas Hardy is an oft-filmed British writer. Movies have been made of Hardy’s “Jude the Obscure,” “Tess of the d’Urbervilles,” “The Mayor of Casterbridge” and now, for the second time, “Far from the Madding Crowd.” 

'True Story' is actually two stories - 
and both have been better told
The movie “True Story,” like the 2005 book on which it’s based, is actually two stories. One concerns Michael Finkel’s reporter job loss. The second, and larger, story deals with Finkel’s identity loss to a man accused of murdering his wife and three children.

Pacino can't sing in 'Collins,' Isaac 
can dance in 'Machina' but both can act
I really liked “Danny Collins,” despite some implausibilities. Agile and captivating, the picture stars Al Pacino - still capable of commanding the screen - as a pop singer who receives a letter, waylaid for 40-plus years, from John Lennon. 

'Salt' worth 1,000 words, 'Woman' good as gold
That old adage “One picture is worth 1,000 words” rings true, time and again, in the documentary “The Salt of the Earth.” 

3-D 'Home' has endearing hero, J. Lo songs, memorable messages
From DreamWorks, the company responsible for the “Shrek,” “Madagascar” and “How to Train Your Dragon” series, comes another example of stellar computer animation.

'Merchants of Doubt' pits spin 
doctors vs. climatologists
If, based on our last two Wisconsin winters, you’ve decided global warming is a myth, the new documentary “Merchants of Doubt” might just change your mind.

'71' captures turbulent Belfast on many levels
Affecting nighttime footage and daytime scenes of a dark nature; evil characters and good ones whose largesse stops slightly short of heroism;  long takes and a relatively - and appropriately - skimpy musical score in which a drum figures prominently.

Better 'Red' than dead
Slava Fetisov went from playing schoolboy hockey with flattened cans for pucks to captaining what some considered the best hockey team on earth, to building leagues and arenas - plus bringing the 2014 Olympic Games to Sochi - as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s minister of sport

Russian 'Leviathan' Worth Your Time
Put the Russian movie “Leviathan” in the worthwhile viewing category.  It isn’t light fare, isn’t a happy story (it’s a drama devoid of comic relief), but the subtitled “Leviathan” is well-acted, well-directed, well-photographed and definitely capable of holding an onlooker’s attention for its two-plus hours.  

Oscars likely to parallel Golden Globes
WAUKESHA - The prediction here is that Academy Awards night Feb. 22 won’t yield many surprises - at least not in the prominent categories of leading and supporting actor and actress, director and motion picture.

'Violent Year' tantalizingly cryptic
WAUKESHA - Tantalizingly cryptic. That adverb-adjective combination came to mind as a description of composer Alex Ebert’s jazzy-solemn score for “A Most Violent Year.”  

Time '4' movie buffs to 
brush up on Oscar history
WAUKESHA - Now that the Golden Globe Awards have been distributed, it’s time to turn our attention to the Oscars. 

‘Selma’: How far have we come?
WAUKESHA - “Selma,” the formidable screen story of the Martin Luther King Jr.-led civil rights march between Selma and Montgomery, Ala., in 1965, virtually ends with a rap number called “Glory.” 

Intense 'Foxcatcher' among 2014's best films
WAUKESHA - Terrifying pipsqueak may be an oxymoron, but it also seems a spot-on description of John du Pont - or least the du Pont portrayed by Steve Carell in “Foxcatcher.”

'Dr. Cabbie' mostly drives the wrong way
WAUKESHA - Cast an engaging actor (Vinay Virmani) as the lead in your comedic flick and a lovely actress (Adrianne Palicki) as his significant other. Surround the pair with cartoonish relatives and buffoonish current and former friends.

'Penguins' offers enough  for animation fans
WAUKESHA - “Penguins of Madagascar” opens on a snowy scene - a meandering march (or should I say wintry waddle?) of the titular creatures, who are generally unconcerned about an egg hatching in their midst. 

Turkeys of the year on the silver screen
WAUKESHA - In about a month, on the cusp of a new year, film reviewers near and far will be offering their top 10 lists for 2014.

'Theory of Everything' at 'St. Vincent' winners; 'Beyond the Lights' mired in mediocrity
Considerable Oscar buzz is attaching itself to “The Theory of Everything,” a film about physicist Stephen Hawking.

'Interstellar' boasts solid acting, story line
WAUKESHA - Director and co-writer Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar,” this year’s marginal comparison to last year’s “Gravity,” includes enough positive elements to qualify as recommendable.

'Birdman' flies high; 'Before' needs more
Directed and co-written by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Babel”), “Birdman” has everything from A to Z: A: An apple - the Big Apple - provides “Birdman’s” setting. 

'Whiplash' recalls classics; 'Judge' raises objections
I once knew a guy who seemed happily married. He was even happier when he was performing in amateur plays, however, so he opted to act professionally. This new commitment, he decided, would necessitate breaking up with his wife.

'The Best of Me' hardly a winner
WAUKESHA - “The Best of Me” isn’t the best of movies and “The Judge” raises some objections, as well. Here are more detailed evaluations

In Tandem’s ‘Ernest’ cleverly balances satirical look at high society, romance
MILWAUKEE - ”The Importance of Being Ernest,” Oscar Wilde’s most popular and successful play, continues to amuse audiences worldwide.

‘Spelling Bee’ finds the right words, strikes all the right notes
ELM GROVE - Spelling bees have always been a part of our education system, but it is a relatively recent phenomenon that they have gone national and appeared on TV and in movies. “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” takes advantage of the growing popularity in this particular form of competition.  

Marriage roles explored, pushed in ‘A Doll’s House’
MILWAUKEE - Plays about marriage are usually a big draw since most people have engaged in this venerable institution at least once. “A Doll’s House,” a Henrik Ibsen play written in 1879, created an uproar when it was first performed.

‘A Bald Soprano’ gongs in the wacky and absurd
MILWAUKEE - Eugene Ionesco, a Romanian-French playwright, is labeled an absurdist and an existentialist. His philosophy was quite dour. He described society as “full of decay, corruption, and meaningless repetitive actions.” 

Frequent Ten Chimneys guest’s play weathers the years well
MILWAUKEE - Noel Coward, a frequent visitor to Ten Chimneys in the Town of Genesee, the center of the theatrical universe for many years, once said about one of his visits, “I dined with Alfred and Lynn - just the three of us. 

Stacy Madson steals the show in ‘A Shot in the Dark’
WEST ALLIS - ”A Shot in the Dark,” adapted from the French play “L’Idiote,” is probably better known as a film by the same name starring Peter Sellers. The play was used as the basis for the movie.

Faces of ‘Motherhood’ highly identifiable
MILWAUKEE - We’ve all had mothers, for better or for worse, and chances are that most of them have tried to keep us alive by caring for us and shielding us from danger.

‘Ella’ explores the lengths of obedience in thoughtful First Stage production
MILWAUKEE - As children we are taught that it is good to obey our parents and teachers and priests or ministers, but the present production at First Stage Children’s Theater, “Ella Enchanted,” questions that directive. 

Top performances heighten ‘Witness for the Prosecution’
HARTLAND - Agatha Christie, the British Grande Dame of mysteries, converted one of her many short stories to the stage in 1953. 

‘Once’ charms, but Tony winner falls short on message
The musical runs through Sunday with two performances on Saturday and Sunday at the Marcus Center, 929 N. Water St., Milwaukee, as part of its Broadway Series.  Call 414-273-7121 or visit

‘Censored on Final Approach’ explores sexist view of World War II pilots
MILWAUKEE - Renaissance Theatreworks, whose aim is to present plays with significant roles for women in order to achieve gender parity in the arts, does so again in its “Censored on Final Approach.” 

Script too ordinary for ‘Ordinary Days’
MILWAUKEE - Whenever playwrights want to develop the theme of loneliness in the midst of millions of people, they often use New York City as their setting. It lends itself to a feeling of being lost.  The complexity of a very large city can be overwhelming to a neophyte, but actually people can be lonely anywhere.

Exploring a voice in thought-provoking ‘Song’
The play runs through April 10 at the Milwaukee Rep, 108 E. Wells St., Milwaukee. Call 414-224-9490 or visit for times and tickets.

‘Hattitude,’ music, faith overcome hardship in ‘Crowns’
MILWAUKEE — A colorful fusion of faith and fashion is being delivered at the Skylight Music Theatre via their present production of “Crowns” by Regina Taylor. It combines Gospel, jazz, blues and rap in a delightful, soulful mix, celebrating African-American culture through music and fashion.

Many lessons populate First Stage’s ‘The Snow’
MILWAUKEE - ”The Snow” by the prolific playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer is a story about solving problems, facing difficulties with creativity and hope, and coming to terms with one’s own abilities and limitations. 

Autumn romance in ‘Sea Marks’ raises questions of priorities
ST. FRANCIS - The sea casts its mark upon the shore as a reminder that it has been here and that it will be back, so those who live beside it should never become complacent.  

‘Autonomy’ explores the big questions and private lives
MEQUON - ”Autonomy” by Jayme McGhan, on stage at Concordia University, provides us all with something to think about. 

‘The Foreigner’ not foreign to area audiences
ELM GROVE - Larry Shue became a legend in the Milwaukee area when he was killed in a plane crash in 1985. In the previous seven years before his untimely death, he was involved at the Milwaukee Rep as an actor and playwright-in-residence.

‘Leading Ladies’ leaves them laughing at Waukesha Civic Theatre
WAUKESHA - We’ve seen some of Ken Ludwig’s comedies before. “Lend Me a Tenor” and “Moon over Buffalo” are two community theater favorites.   

Former Brookfield playwright requires rapt attention in ‘The Invisible Hand’
MILWAUKEE — It is not easy to write a review that captures the power of “The Invisible Hand” by the talented American-Pakistani playwright who grew up in our midst.

One-man ‘Lamps’ a tribute to families
MILWAUKEE - “Lamps for My Family,” a one-man tour-de-force by Mark Corkins, was written by native Milwaukean Michael Neville as a memory play.

‘Slowgirl’ takes audience on journey as it winds its way through unpredictable plot
MILWAUKEE — “Slowgirl” is a sweet, poignant story of a mismatched pair of characters who meet again under rather unusual circumstances after a nine-year hiatus and end up helping each other.

Run to the Cabaret
MILWAUKEE - ”Cabaret” by John Kander and Fred Ebb is a fascinating mix of fear, love, dark humor and decadence. It has been re-crafted and several times since its inception in 1966.

‘Sons of the Prophet’ shines a comic light on human suffering
MILWAUKEE - Playwright Stephen Karam was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize for “Sons of the Prophet” in 2012 and the recipient of the Drama Critics Circle Award the same year. The honors were well-deserved.

Love, satire and Shakespeare at Wisconsin Lutheran College
MILWAUKEE — “Loves Labour’s Lost” is one of Shakespeare’s original plays. And the production harkens back to entertaining techniques from the period.

Zonya Love sparkles as larger-than-life Bessie Smith
MILWAUKEE - As we entered the Stackner Cabaret, we could hear the voice of Bessie Smith on an old recording. 

No element falls short in WCT’s clever exploration of ‘Almost, Maine’
WAUKESHA - If you’ve never had the pleasure of seeing the play “Almost, Maine” by John Cariani, run, not walk, to the Waukesha Civic Theatre this weekend. 

Latest ‘Odd Couple’ explores if two women can live together without driving each other nuts
MENOMONEE FALLS - We’ve probably all encountered “The Odd Couple,” either the movie with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau or the TV series with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman.

‘Twilight’ packs power in look at Rodney King beating
MILWAUKEE - Sometimes it is painful to relive an event, but it is useful to look back and see if we have learned anything from it. This is especially evident in our country with its history of slavery that continues to haunt us.

Skylight Music Theater presents 'Powder Her Face'
MILWAUKEE - With music by Thomas Ades and the libretto by Philip Hensher, “Powder Her Face” tells the story of Margaret Campbell, a British duchess who was known for her beauty, wealth and style. 

‘Not Now Darling’ offers pleasant romp
HARTLAND - Ray Cooney, sometimes called the British Neil Simon, is known for his farces. His most famous play, “Run for Your Wife,” ran in Great Britain for more than nine years. 

Sunset’s ‘Steel Magnolias’ highlights heart with a smile
ELM GROVE - The title “Steel Magnolias” is an oxymoron used by playwright Robert Harling to describe the beauty and strength, the delicacy and toughness of women. 

The Rep’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ grippingly moving
MILWAUKEE - John Steinbeck often wrote survival stories where human strength and loyalty are tested. “Of Mice and Men” is assuredly one of his most heart-wrenching works.

Trio of actresses delivers in ‘Agnes of God’
MILWAUKEE - The drama “Agnes of God” raises more questions than it answers, but it is intriguing and mentally stimulating to engage in the journey of listening in on Agnes, a young nun, who is being tried for murder; her Mother Superior; and the psychiatrist, Doctor Livingston, who has been hired to determine Sister Agnes’ sanity.

Flight of ‘Starlings’ is puzzling at times
ST. FRANCIS - If you’ve ever watched a flock of starlings, it looks like an amorphous group of birds flying around without any discernible pattern or direction.  Ben Parman’s new play, “Starlings,” is well named because it, too, is somewhat unstructured. 

‘Holes’ appears too weighty for its young target audience
MILWAUKEE - When a theater recommends that a specific show is targeted for a particular age group, one expects that there is a good match. I’d like to have a discussion with a group of fourth-graders to discern what they derived from “Holes,” presently playing at First Stage Children’s Theater.  

‘Legends’ brings big-name mix, Vegas glitz
FORT ATKINSON - ”Legend” and “Carrie Underwood” might not usually go in the same sentence because of longevity. 

Dancing takes center stage in ‘Newsies’
MILWAUKEE - “Newsies,” a touring Broadway show now playing at the Marcus Center, is based on a true story, the newspaper boys’ strike of 1899 in New York. 

The best plays of 2015
Writing my “Best of the Best” article at the end of the year is always fun, but also very challenging. Enriched as we are in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties with many quality theaters and a plethora of talented people, making the best choices as I travel back in time can be stressful, but I’ll do my best to be thorough and fair.

Latest ‘Guys on Ice’ another keeper
MILWAUKEE - I have seen “Guys on Ice” many times, my favorite play of the talented Wisconsin playwrights, Fred Alley and James Kaplan. It’s the sort of comedy that provides a lot of laughs as well as affords some insight into male friendships. 

Questions stirred in ‘Month Before Christmas’
MILWAUKEE - ”‘Twas the Month before Christmas” has Waukesha’s Doug Jarecki written all over it.  It oozes his unique spirit - a bit wacko, generous, childlike, creative and spirited, even sweet and sentimental. 

Brumder is especially welcoming for ‘Heir’ 
MILWAUKEE - The Milwaukee Entertainment Group, which performs at the Brumder Mansion, almost always makes use of the beautiful estate and playhouse in its productions. 

‘A Twisted Carol’ tries too hard to be funny
MILWAUKEE - In Tandem Theatre is well-known for offering an alternative show at Christmas. It is usually irreverent, satirical and quite funny for those who appreciate this brand of humor where sacred cows are not worshipped. 

‘Story of My Life’ proves moving
MILWAUKEE - “The Story of My Life” is a little gem that is hard to describe. Being played out in the Boswell Bookstore gives it an intimacy not always experienced on a typical stage setting.

A Christmas treat for the community
WAUKESHA - One senses in the first few minutes that many changes have been made in Waukesha Civic Theatre’s long-running traditional Christmas show “Candy Cane Tales and Holiday Carols” when the first number is about texting a merry Christmas. 

Two takes on ‘A Christmas Carol’ produce pleasing results
The outstanding feature of the Lake Country Players’ production of “A Christmas Carol” is the music, and when Catherine Pfeiler has a hand in it, you can be sure that it will be of high quality.

Realism provides twist to ‘Love Stories’ by famed authors
MILWAUKEE — It is not so uncommon for a married couple to both be engaged in the acting profession. In the Milwaukee theater scene, it’s fun to watch several pairs work together, including in the current run of the trilogy “Love Stories.”

Discovering the meaning of the holiday through ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’
MILWAUKEE — Although I’m a big Charlie Brown fan, I thought that “A Charlie Brown Christmas” at the First Stage Children’s Theatre was a bit disappointing. Snoopy was the biggest feature and very well-played by Matt Daniels.

Skylight’s ‘Fair Lady’ astounds
MILWAUKEE — “My Fair Lady” remains the ultimate musical in my book. With its brilliant script adapted from the consummate writer George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” its soaring music by Frederick Loewe and clever book and lyrics by Alan Lerner, it can hardly miss.

A showy season heavy on ‘Christmas Carol’
The festive season is almost here, and a flurry of Christmas shows await us in Waukesha and Milwaukee counties and beyond.

‘Mousetrap’ ensnares audience’s attention
MILWAUKEE - Any play that has been performed more than 25,000 times for over 60 years in London, not to mention its frequent production around the world, obviously has strong appeal. 

It’s a wonderful version of a beloved holiday classic
FORT ATKINSON - “It’s a Wonderful Life” has been around since 1946 as a memorable film with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. Standard holiday viewing, it has also emerged as a radio show.  The Fireside Dinner Theatre in Fort Atkinson is now showing a musical version, a relatively new creation (2005), which adds another delightful dimension to this cherished story.

A Jewish Christmas story
MILWAUKEE - Coming from a small theater company that has survived for 30 years, “Handle with Care” by Jason Odell Williams is another victory for founder Mark Bucher and his penchant for making wonderful choices. 

‘Bravo Caruso’ encore deserves applause
MILWAUKEE - Thanks to playwright William Luce, many icons have been resurrected. With his life-like biographical dramas, he has brought Charlotte Bronte, Lillian Hellman and Emily Dickinson back from the dead. 

Deliciously ‘Wicked’ and in-depth
MILWAUKEE - Prequels are not as common as sequels, but the intriguing and popular musical “Wicked” is an example of a prequel we’re glad that Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman created. 

‘Ballad of Emmett Till’ still resonates today
MILWAUKEE - In 1962 Bob Dylan wrote a song about the horrendous death of the 14-year-old Chicagoan Emmett Till, who was killed in Mississippi in 1955 by two brothers who were later acquitted by an all-white, male jury for the crime they admitted to. 

Spirit of ‘Lockerbie’ shines through tragedy
WAUWATOSA - Except for the inconsistency of the Scottish dialect among the characters, Wisconsin Lutheran College’s “The Women of Lockerbie” was one of the most beautiful, most moving plays I have seen this year. 

‘Turn of the Screw’ open to interpretation
WAUKESHA — Henry James has never been an easy read. “The Turn of the Screw” is a strange tale, one which literary scholars have variously interpreted. I’m sure the audience at the Waukesha Civic Theatre also regarded the play with some degree of ambivalence and befuddlement over many unanswered questions as the play ended.

‘The Lion’ emerges as a powerful one-man autobiography
MILWAUKEE - Put together a skilled guitarist, a talented singer, a good storyteller - all united in a very personable, handsome young man - and you have the formula for the success of “The Lion.” Now playing in the Milwaukee Rep’s Steimke Studio Theatre, it is a true story written and told by Benjamin Scheuer.

‘James and the Giant Peach’ yields delicious outcome
MILWAUKEE - First Stage Children’s Theatre usually delivers pretty amazing shows, but occasionally there’s one that goes beyond amazing.  

Stackner hits home run with ‘Back Home’
MILWAUKEE - A show that pays tribute to a singer of renown, assembling his most famous songs and giving us interesting tidbits about his or her life is always welcome, especially when it comes from the pen of a person who traveled with the star for eight years. 

‘She Kills Monsters’ takes on gender roles, death
WAUKESHA - Based on fantasy role-playing adventure, “She Kills Monsters” at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha picks up on the flavor of Waukesha Reads this year. It is a perfect fit for those who enjoy.

‘Dream Girls’ conflicts, songs, costumes sparkle
MILWAUKEE - Though the composers of the award-winning musical “Dream Girls” (Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger) deny that their show is reminiscent of the rocky career of The Supremes, there are enough similarities to warrant one’s drawing that conclusion. 

‘Addams Family’ a real scream
ELM GROVE - The one and only Addams family has been with us since Charles Addams began creating his cartoons for The New Yorker. Since the inception of this family in the 1930s, there have been countless spinoffs in other media - most recently a Broadway musical. 

Freud and Lewis - exploring one of history’s biggest hypotheticals
MILWAUKEE - It is always interesting to speculate on the “what-ifs” in life.  What if I had pursued a different career,  what if I had married a different person, what if ... ?  Robert Frost addressed this issue in his famous poem “The Road Not Taken.” 

Lake Country tops area ‘Shrek’ musical productions
HARTLAND - Shrek is an ogre who represents all those who feel unaccepted or scorned because they don’t fit the mold of what’s considered normal. 

False accusations, profiling rise up in ‘Back of the Throat’
MILWAUKEE - When several members of a group do something wrong, it’s often a tendency to stereotype all members of that same group. 

‘Any Given Monday’ proves to be an unforgettable, complex drama
MILWAUKEE - On any given Monday night, there will probably be millions of men and some women watching “Monday Night Football.” That’s predictable. But, a play by the same name, now showing at the Tenth Street Theatre under the auspices of In Tandem Theatre Company, is anything but predictable. 

West Allis Players capture spirit of Neil Simon’s ‘Barefoot in the Park’
WEST ALLIS - It is no surprise that Neil Simon’s 1963 play “Barefoot in the Park” continues its popularity.  Simon’s longest-running Broadway show still amuses us because of its recognizable situations, its accessible characters and its humor.

‘Dirty Dancing’ mesmerizes at the Marcus Center
MILWAUKEE - You could feel it in the air as soon as the show opened. “Dirty Dancing,” a very popular movie in 1987, starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Gray, has a huge fan base, and they were ready to experience the thrill of the dancing again, this time live, as the opener of the Marcus Broadway 2015-2016 Series.

Patio Players open 50th season with ‘Godspell’
MENOMONEES FALLS — Patio Players opened its 50th season with a stunning production of “Godspell,” a musical which surprised audiences when it opened in 1971 and has been delighting millions ever since.

Play’s treatment of loss, surprisingly, leaves one feeling ‘Amused’
MILWAUKEE - A new local playwright and director has hit the stage at Brumder Mansion under the auspices of the Milwaukee  Entertainment Group.  “Amused” is Megan Ann Jacobs’ first published play, and it is a delightful, fanciful one with the theme of moving on after a loss.

Skylight Opera amazes with Puccini’s popular ‘Tosca’
MILWAUKEE - One often hears of the artist as a pauper and one who only achieves fame after his death. Not so in Puccini’s case. He made more money in his lifetime than any other classical composer before or since. He died a millionaire at 65. 

Moral ‘Ghosts’ of Ibsen’s time remain issues
MILWAUKEE - Henrik Ibsen, one of the most renowned Norwegian playwrights of the 19th century, was severely criticized during his life for tackling issues that were not culturally acceptable as material for literature. 

Two poets’ lives artfully captured in ‘Dear Elizabeth’
MILWAUKEE - Anchored by a strong script by Sarah Ruhl and stellar performances by Norman Moses and Carrie Hitchcock, the lives of poets Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop are brought to light in the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s second offering of the 2015-16 season.

WCT outdoes itself musically with ‘A Little Night Music’
WAUKESHA - Versatile, edgy, clever, unusual, creative, humorous,  moving - all these words and more cannot fully describe the music and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim. Unlike many composers, his music is difficult to classify.  

Lily Dale’ reflects grim life reflected in ‘Orphan’s Home Cycle’ series
WAUWATOSA - In Horton Foote’s last years, after a life of prolific playwriting, he ventured into his last ambitious work, “Orphan’s Home Cycle,” a series of nine plays about small-town life in Texas over a period of 30 years, following the fortunes and misfortunes of three families.

‘Dogfight’ examines human cruelty, spirit
MILWAUKEE - Based on a 1991 film of the same name, “Dogfight,” the musical, opened off-Broadway in 2012. This is its first showing in the Milwaukee area. 

Holmes’ ‘Final Adventure’ adds laughs to mystery
ELM GROVE - For more than 125 years, Sherlock Holmes has been an icon among detectives. 

Fans of ‘West Side’ won’t be let down by Fireside
FORT ATKINSON - Fireside has taken on the challenge of an American masterpiece, “West Side Story,” a 1957 update of Shakespeare’s classic romance “Romeo and Juliet.”

Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’ explodes at APT
SPRING GREEN - Shakespeare has created many memorable tragic heroes, but none among them is more heart-wrenching and gullible than Othello, nor is there another villain more conniving, ruthless and despicable than Iago. 

Lives of quiet desperation on full display in ‘Picnic’
TOWN OF DELAFIELD - Whenever I see a William Inge play, I am reminded of that Henry David Thoreau quotation about most people leading lives of quiet desperation.  Born in Kansas, Inge is sometimes called the artist who was the voice of small-town life in the Midwest.