Milwaukee theater, music and dance performances to see in early 2022


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Milwaukee artists and art directors are all too familiar with an old sports cliché: Ability that matters most is availability.

In this era of COVID-19, theater, music and dance companies are devoting great rigor and energy to protecting performers and spectators from the virus so that performances can continue.

“Navigating the pandemic and labor shortages” are the most difficult factors right now to put on shows, said Jill Anna Ponasik, director of Skylight Music Theater’s upcoming “Ernest Shackleton Loves Me”.

“Difficulties have everything to do with, can you get the right people to do what needs to be done at this time?… Can we stay healthy?” she said.

Despite 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 members of the public to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test, and wear a mask. (Next Act shows require vaccination – no testing option there.)

These are listed in chronological order by date of first performance.

“Toni Pierre”: The Milwaukee Repertory Theater performs Lydia R. Diamond’s play about the first woman in professional baseball in the big leagues: Stone performed for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues in 1953. This production has a lot of movement; 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 their players down as a negotiating 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. Visit milwaukeerep.com or call (414) 224-9490.

“Ernest Shackleton loves me”: Ponasik is directing Skylight Music Theater’s production of this unusual musical, which truly deserves the eccentric label: the contemporary single-mother songwriter falls in love through 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.

Rána Roman will star in the Milwaukee Chamber Theater production of "Mala." She is pictured here singing in a holiday performance at the Skylight Music Theater.

“Mala”: Melinda Lopez’s one-actor play reflects the days 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 previous ad “Where Did We Sit on the Bus?”, Suspended due to an artist’s injury). January 21-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 travel to Alabama for the summer to visit their grandmother. Personal and coming-of-age family adventures intersect with a dramatic event in the civil rights movement. First Stage recommends this show for people 8 years of age and older. January 21-Feb. 13. Todd Wehr Theater at Marcus Performing Arts Center, 929 N. Water St. Visit firststage.org or call (414) 267-2961.

“Bad girls”: The Broadway Touring Musical, adapted from the signature motion picture comedy penned by Tina Fey, is taking to the Marcus Performing Arts Center for a week of teen social anxiety and the rules of fashion. January 25-30, MPAC, 929 N. Water St. Visite marcuscenter.org or call (414) 273-7206.

“Sounder”: Danceworks Performance MKE performs new choreography by Gina Laurenzi to live music by Chicago band Twin Talk; DPMKE describes it as “a contemporary movement experience with a jazz influence”. January 27-30. Next Act Theater, 255 S. Water Street. Visit danceworksmke.org/dpmke-presents-sonder-coming-jan-22/ or call (414) 277-8480.

“The song of Antonio” / “I dreamed of a son”: Antonio Edwards Suarez teamed up with playwright Dael Orlandersmith to write this one-actor show, based on Suarez’s life, about an artist trying to reconcile his ethnic, human and artistic identities. This show has been part of director Mark Clements’ passionate projects for several years. From January 26 to March 6. Stiemke Studio, 108 E. Wells St. Visit milwaukeerep.com or call (414) 224-9490.

“Genesis”: It is a distinctive tradition of the Milwaukee Ballet: every two years, three choreographers are invited to create a new work with MB dancers; the winner gets a contract to come back the following season. But this time there is 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 while the operetta meets the telenovela. Singing in Spanish, the Baumgartner Studio Artists 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. Visit florentineopera.org or call (414) 291-5700 ext. 224.

Pianist Aaron Diehl will perform music by Gershwin and Florence Price from February 4-6 with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra: Pianist Aaron Diehl returns as a soloist on two works: Gershwin’s Second Rhapsody, also known as “Rhapsodie aux rivets”; and the Piano Concerto by black American composer Florence Price. Both works were premiered in the 1930s. This Bill, conducted by music director Ken-David Masur, also includes “Three Places in New England” by Charles Ives, Symphony No. 1 in One Movement by Barber and “Out of the Silence” by black American composer William Grant Still (a segment of his “Seven Traceries”). 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 works inspired by the horses of American composer Joan Tower, “And… They’re Off” and “Big Sky”, as well as music by 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 plays Dominique Morisseau’s drama about a black teacher in an overcrowded public school who tries to keep her own son out of the school-to-prison pipeline – but fears she can’t do it. From February 10 to March 6, visit to 255 S. Water Street nextact.org or call (414) 278-0765.

Contact Jim Higgins at jim.higgins@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jhiggy.


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