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Sunset’s CHRISTMAS BELLES rings in the season with hilarity

By MARILYN JOZWIK

 

 

 

 

 

If you thought the Christmas pageant depicted in “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” was over the top, wait until you see the one in Sunset Playhouse’s “Christmas Belles.” Think of “Christmas Belles” as the adult version of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” with a sackful of fun. If you’re looking for some laughs this holiday season, this show delivers in bunches.

From a tipsy version of the Christmas Story to an Elvis sighting, the pageant in Fayro, Texas, is one for the ages. But the lead-up to it is full of surprises and humor as the Futrelle sisters gather for one of the most unusual unplanned reunions you’ll ever see. In the hours before the pageant you’ll see them as far apart as the state of Texas and then finding just how much they need each other.

Honey Raye Futrelle, the town floozy, has taken over Tabernacle of the Lamb Church’s Christmas pageant from Miss Geneva, who directed the show for 27 years. Honey Raye has a Vegas production in mind for the show, complete with a guest appearance by a fourth wise man (a local celebrity who will be bringing her butternut squash lasagna for her gift), as well as a part for an Elvis impersonator. It’s sure to be the talk of the very small town for years, but, when things go very wrong and secrets are revealed before the show even starts, the play careens hilariously out of control.

The strength of the show, directed by Becky Spice, is its strong, well-defined characterizations by Sunset’s choices for the Futrelle sisters: Tamara Martinsek as Honey Raye; Heather Reynolds as Twink; and Diane Gard as Frankie. Twink has been incarcerated after setting a fire to avenge her husband’s cheating, but the sheriff is allowing her to see her sister’s pageant. Frankie, along with husband Dub, is expecting twins any minute, a late life second family as they have a grown daughter, Gina Jo (Nicole Gross), who is being romantically pursued by the church pastor, Justin (Keith R. Smith). Frankie and Gina Jo also come to support Honey Raye’s directorial efforts.

 

 

There are such fun folk in this show, and the comedy is almost non-stop. You meet Frankie’s husband (Paul Pfannenstiel), who is playing Santa at the town’s big department store for some extra cash, giving lots of opportunities for humor when he is dealing with a (ho-ho-ho) kidney stone – scenes which Pfannenstiel milks wonderfully. The pastor plays his reindeer helper. Then there’s the 10-gallon hat-wearing town sheriff (Parker Cristan), who has a soft spot for inmate Twink. Parker gives his bombastic sheriff a sort of Barney Fife likeability, while really letting it all out for his Elvis bit.

Nearly every scene ends with a zinger. And this cast knows how to deliver a zinger.

 

 

Martinsek as the dramatic Honey Raye, who wants to name her big-production Christmas pageant “Bethlehem Lalapalooza,” seems to be at the center of every scene with her big red hair, her thigh-high, leopard print boots and her big Southern personality. When she vents her anger by saying, “I am so furious I could spit nails,” it sounds like something she’s said time and time again. Martinsek is just a joy to watch.

Reynolds and Gard complete the sister act to perfection. The three are in sync with one another and the whole cast.  Gross’s Gina Jo is just so sweet, while Cheryl Roloff as Rhonda Lynn, who keeps everyone fed in the church kitchen during play rehearsals, fits in nicely. Beverly Sargeant gives Miss Geneva a no-nonsense attitude as she provides a steady hand through the pageant’s shenanigans.

There are several smaller roles that have big moments in the show that get big laughs, including Joyce Sponcia, playing Patsy, the nosy, intolerant church benefactor. Sponcia is hilarious as she delivers an unconventional Christmas story, while Susan Zuern as Ozella makes the most of her unique solo in the pageant while playing the ukulele. Jacob Cesar as Raynerd, who insists on playing his role in the Christmas pageant with a Batman backpack, is convincing with his oft-proclaimed, “I just love Christmas,” and then saves the pageant with his touching sincerity.

 

 

A concluding singalong at the church pageant – and in the auditorium — puts a cherry on this delicious holiday production.

Who: Sunset Playhouse

What: “Christmas Belles”

When: Through Dec. 23

Where: 800 Elm Grove Road, Elm Grove

Tickets/Info: sunsetplayhouse.com; 262-782-4430

SEASON’S GREETINGS FROM ROSIE & BING, A SideNotes Cabaret

 

 

 

 

SEASONAL FAVORITES AND MUSICAL MEMORIES

AT THE SIDENOTES CABARET

 

Award-winning vocalists ELLEN WINTERS and JOHNNY RODGERS welcome the holiday season with music and memories in SEASON’S GREETINGS FROM ROSIE & BING at the SideNotes Cabaret, December 12-16, 2018, in the Studio Theatre of Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove, Wisconsin.

 

WINTERS and RODGERS reunite after their smash hit cabaret ELLA MEETS MEL, this time in a tribute to Rosemary Clooney and Bing Crosby, written and directed by PEGGY PETERSON RYAN. Backed by a top-notch combo of Sam Steffke on piano, Steve Rindt on bass, and Jim Ryan on drums, audiences will be treated to timeless duets, seasonal favorites, and many of Rosie and Bing’s signature songs.

 

ELLEN WINTERS has appeared at Sunset Playhouse many times in the SideNotes Cabaret and also as part of the Musical MainStage Concert Series, most recently in FRANK & ELLA & FRIENDS.  She has won numerous awards including Jazz Musician of 2017 from the Shepherd Express “Best of Milwaukee.”  Winters is sought after as a vocalist and cabaret singer throughout southeastern Wisconsin and the U.S., and also works as a clinician, adjudicator, and arranger.  JOHNNY RODGERS is an internationally-celebrated singer, songwriter, pianist, Broadway star, and recording artist.  He has been described as an “Ambassador of American music” and has won songwriting awards from the Billboard and The Great American Song contests, as well as the ASCAP Foundation. Rodgers spent several years touring with Liza Minnelli as a featured singer, dancer, and pianist and continues to tour the world presenting concerts and cabarets.

 

Writer/Director PEGGY PETERSON RYAN is well-known to audiences from her many appearances with local theatre companies and from her work with the SideNotes Cabaret Series since its inception in 2008.  In addition to her work onstage and behind the scenes, she also has served as playwright and lyricist for the production of VICTORY FOR VICTORIA at Milwaukee Opera Theatre.

 

Music Director SAM STEFFKE is a three-time WAMI award-winning pianist and a graduate of Berklee College of Music.  He plays with several local bands and maintains a teaching practice. Double bassist STEVEN RINDT is a freelance bassist with the Wisconsin Philharmonic and Festival City Symphony and with several classical and jazz groups. Drummer JIM RYAN has been playing regionally for decades, appears regularly with big bands and smaller combos, and maintains a private drum instruction studio.

 

Performances of SEASON’S GREETINGS FROM ROSIE & BING are Wednesday, December 12 through Saturday December 15 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, December 16 at 3:00 p.m.

 

Sunset Playhouse is celebrating its 59th season and, in addition to the six SideNotes Cabarets, offers eight productions in the Furlan Auditorium, six Musical MainStage concerts, four shows in the new After Sunset series, and three shows in the bug in a rug Children’s Theater series.  To reserve tickets, call 262-782-4430 or visit sunsetplayhouse.com. For group sales, contact Stephanie at 262-782-4431, ex. 291.

Meet the cast of A JOHN DENVER CHRISTMAS

Musical MainStage celebrates the holidays with that mellow fellow, singer-songwriter John Denver. Our talented singers and musicians will cover both his Christmas tunes and his classic hits. Meet the cast:

A big welcome back to LYDIA ROSE EICHE, whom we first met exactly ten years ago when she was a Rising Star! Her Sunset credits include Babette (BEAUTY AND THE BEAST) and Rapunzel/Cinderella’s Mother (INTO THE WOODS). Also: Yitzhak (HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH) with All In Productions, Milica (SVADBA—WEDDING) with Milwaukee Opera Theatre, and Ensemble for SWEENEY TODD at Skylight Music Theatre.

CARRIE GRAY is also back for her second Musical MainStage concert. Her many credits include work with Skylight Music Theatre, First Stage Children’s Theatre, Milwaukee Opera Theatre, and Greendale Community Theatre. Carrie’s favorite roles include The Baker’s Wife in INTO THE WOODS for Sunset and Diana in NEXT TO NORMAL with All In Productions.

 

TOMMY HAHN, one of your favorite performers, is back in his 14th or 15th or 16th appearance—we’ve lost track! Local credits include Milwaukee Rep (MAN OF LA MANCHA) and Skylight Music Theatre (RENT, LES MISERABLES, MUSIC MAN). Regional: Fireside Theatre (PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES, ROCKIN’ AT THE FIRESIDE), Marriott Theatre at Lincolnshire (PHANTOM, EVITA, MISS SAIGON), Northlight Theatre (SIDE SHOW), and DEE SNIDER’S ROCK & ROLL CHRISTMAS TALE (Broadway Playhouse, Chicago.)

 

CHAD LARGET, who made his Broadway debut in the ‘97 revival of CANDIDE, directed by Harold Prince, makes his Musical MainStage debut. Other credits include PIRATES OF PENZANCE (Frederic), DIE FLEDERMAUS (Dr. Blind), and MOST HAPPY FELLA (Pasquale), all for Skylight Music Theatre, featured soloist with the Milwaukee and Racine Symphony orchestras, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and Florentine Opera. At Sunset: MARY POPPINS (Bank Chairman) and SHE LOVES ME (Kodaly).

Our Rising Star is Divine Savior Holy Angels High School sophomore CLAIRE BECKER. Her credits include the school’s production of Les Miserables, along with performances for the Hartford Players, Lake Country Playhouse, and Falls Patio Players.

In addition, we have KERRY HART BIENEMAN on the keys, CASEY OLSON on guitar, and JASON LOVEALL on violin. As always, Susan Loveridge and Bob Hirschi will offer the play-by-play.

Start your holidays out right by letting those country roads take you home!

A JOHN DENVER CHRISTMAS

December 3, 2018, 7:30 pm

December 4, 2018, 2:00 and 7:30 pm

Note:  Performances are almost SOLD OUT.  We are considering adding a performance on Sunday, December 2nd at 7:30 or Monday, December 3 at 2:00.  If you are interested in attending one of these shows if added, please call our box office ASAP at 262-782-4430

MEQUON’S JEFFREY-THOMAS SNOW NAMED RISING STAR

 

 

 

Mequon resident Jeffrey-Thomas (JT) Snow has been named a Rising Star for Musical MainStage, a professional concert series at Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove. JT, the son of Jeff and Mia Snow, is a junior at Homestead High School, where he has appeared in show choir and the musical SHREK. His Wisconsin credits include First Stage Children’s Theatre and the Kids from Wisconsin, and Kentucky credits include the Woodford Theatre, UK Opera Theatre, and Lexington Children’s Theatre. JT will also appear in Skylight Music Theatre’s upcoming production of HAIRSPRAY.

Sunset Playhouse, now in its 59th season as one of the area’s premier community theaters, is also home to three professional series, including Musical MainStage. Each of its themed concerts offers one promising high school student an opportunity to work alongside professional singers and musicians.

JT will join Ellen Winters, Marcya Daneille, Adam Estes, Dominic Russo, and Kerry Hart Bieneman in a show called, “Frank & Ella & Friends,” a 90-minute concert featuring jazz and American Songbook classics.  Performances are on Monday and Tuesday, October 22nd and 23rd. For more information about the production or tickets, you can visit sunsetplayhouse.com or call its box office at 262-782-4430.

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Sunset Playhouse – 800 Elm Grove Rd. – Elm Grove, WI 53122

Sunset delivers a comedic feast in ‘The Man Who Came to Dinner’

By Marilyn Jozwik

The Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman comedy “The Man Who Came to Dinner” is a classic with its bucket list lead role of Sheridan Whiteside.

Hal Erickson can check this plum role off his list with a highly entertaining portrayal of the cantankerous Whiteside, a popular 1930s radio personality who slips on the ice in front of well-to-do family’s home in a small Ohio town and recuperates inside. Erickson has been feasting on these sorts of comedic roles, including the role of Grandpa in another Sunset Hart-Kaufman comedy, “You Can’t Take It With You,” which also had Brian Zelinski as the director. Erickson displayed his comic chops as well in Sunset’s “Any Number Can Die,” as the detective.

Erickson sets the tone for this wacky show, with his Whiteside character dominating just about every scene to great comic effect. Whiteside turns the household of the Stanleys, fans of Whiteside who was arriving for dinner when he fell, upside-down as he orders everyone around. He invites a myriad of zany pals into the house, which provides a number of amusing scenes.

At first, we don’t even see Whiteside, but hear him off in another room, railing at his doctor, nurse and everyone else within earshot. Mrs. Stanley (Rebecca Janny) is delighted to have the demanding celebrity staying in her home, while her husband (Thomas Van Gilder) resents his family being treated like unwelcome boarders.

Few in Whiteside’s orbit escape his acerbic tongue. When his nurse (Lindsay Greiwe) clutches the back of his wheelchair, he spouts: “Take those clammy hands off my chair. You have the touch of a sex-starved cobra.” Of his doddering doctor (Doug Smedbron), he says: “Dr. Bradley is the greatest living argument for mercy killing.”

Whiteside’s longtime secretary Maggie (Tanya Tranberg) puts up with his sarcasm and scheming – “I know what a devil you can be,” she says. But when Bert, a handsome local newspaperman, insinuates himself into the household to interview her boss, she is smitten. Whiteside calls her infatuation “temporary insanity,” and cons a lovely actress named Lorraine (Kat Zilka) into seducing Bert to keep Maggie from leaving his employ. 

Along the way, Whiteside manages to recklessly advise the Stanley children (Emma Losey and Declan Swayne); receive a whole passel of gifts, including cockroaches, penguins and a sarcophagus; and order the Stanleys around, telling them the phone and several rooms are for his use only.

Some 80 years later, this whole scenario is still very funny.

This cast of 22 pulls off the comedy nicely, but Erickson and his onstage compadres are in a class by themselves. Corey Klein as Professor Metz starts the parade of Whiteside visitors, bearing a gift of a tank full of cockroaches. But the comedy reaches a whole new level when British actor Beverly Carlton (Mike Owens) sashays in to visit Whiteside. Owens is marvelous in his depiction, with his theatrical terms of endearment and flourishes. He tells tales that are mesmerizing, dropping names as when he says, “I was then ushered, in my lemon silk drawers, into a room full of Norma Shearer, Claudette Colbert and Aldous Huxley.” His character is supposed to be based on Noel Coward and Owens delivers it to perfection.

On Christmas Day, Whiteside’s buddy, a comedian called Banjo (Jim Stahl), makes a memorable visit and the scene is nonstop schtick, ala the Marx Brothers (his character is modeled after Harpo Marx), hilariously performed by Stahl.

Tranberg does a good job as Maggie, verbally dueling with her irascible boss and usually not losing the battle. Playing her love interest, Bert, Matt Zembrowski is sincere and likable, a calming influence in the stormy household.

Zilka’s over-the-top portrayal of the demonstrative actress Lorraine is entertaining, though her roller-coaster voice becomes somewhat wearisome.

Other characters were generally well done on opening night. Leslie Johnson as Mr. Stanley’s sister could perhaps have seemed creepier or deranged in her portrayal, especially in light of what we learn about her eventually.  There is also one bit when a crew comes to do Whiteside’s live radio broadcast on Christmas Day in the Stanley home. With Lorraine in the living room, a crew member sets up and is obviously taken by the lovely actress, pausing a couple times to drink her in with his eyes as he leaves. The silent scene fell flat with the opening night crowd and created an unneeded break in the flow of the comedy.

Despite that, this comedy had great pacing, due mainly to Erickson’s quick quipping and well-placed inflections that range from indignant to sarcastic, from bombastic diatribes to dismissive baby talk.

Scenic designer Matthew Carr has created a handsome set, befitting a family of means, and doors to a number of areas that serve the show well. Jan Pritzl’s sound is flawless, allowing audiences to not miss any of the Moss-Hart dialogue

Moss and Hart based the protagonist on Alexander Woollcott, a theater critic who once stayed at Hart’s estate bullying the staff and making himself obnoxious. Woollcott’s behavior led them to create the Whiteside character and the foundation for “The Man Who Came to Dinner.”

Info/Tickets: 262-782-4430; www.sunsetplayhouse.com

 

Volunteer Appreciation Party, August 11, 2018

The Sunset Playhouse Volunteer Appreciation Party was held on August 11, 2018.  Over 200 people attended the event which included pre-show appetizers and wine, the volunteer recognition presentation, and the post-show party which featured great food, fabulous desserts, dancing, and the opportunity to mingle with old and new friends.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A big thank you must be extend to Jennifer Allen and Nikki Lueck and their entire committee for creating this celebration.

 

 

 

 

 

The following people were honored as the Spotlight Volunteers:

Supporting Actress in a Play recipient Donna J. Daniels (Mrs Broddock THE GRADUATE) and Maureen Murphy Chobanoff (Celia ANY NUMBER CAN DIE)

Supporting Actress in a Musical recipient Ella Rose Kleefisch (Little Red Riding Hood INTO THE WOODS) and Marcee Doherty-Elst (Mrs Potts BEAUTY AND THE BEAST)

Trouper recipient David Kaye

Unsung Hero recipient Katherine Kralj Dombrowski

Above and Beyond the Call of Duty recipients Lee Szczepanski and Peter Tonn

Newcomer recipient Nate Engle

Supporting Actor in a Play recipient Ralph Frattura (Harry Binion ROOM SERVICE) and Scott Korman (Edgars ANY NUMBER CAN DIE)

Supporting Actor in a Musical recipient Eric Welch-Streisand (Lumiere BEAUTY AND THE BEAST) and Eric Safdieh-Nelson (Roger De Bris THE PRODUCERS)

No Small Parts recipient Jana Greysen Rinelli

Front of House recipient Bonnie and Jim Shiekle

Professional Series recipient Peggy Peterson Ryan

Principal Actor in a Play recipient Ralph Frattura (Nunzio OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS) and Keith Smith (Bernard DON’T DRESS FOR DINNER)

Principal Actor in a Musical recipient Bob Zimmerman (Max Bialystock THE PRODUCERS) and Zach Zembrowski(Leopold Bloom)

Principal Actress in a Play recipient Rae Elizabeth Pare(Elaine THE GRADUATE) and Joan End (Aida OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS)

Principal Actress in a Musical recipient Stephanie Staszak(Belle BEAUTY AND THE BEAST) and Laura Monagle (The Witch INTO THE WOODS)

Rudy Award recipient Charles Hoerz

Alan Furlan Legacy Award recipients Jan Pritzl, Danny and Kay

Play of the Season OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS

Musical of the Season THE PRODUCERS

A TRIBUTE TO COUNTRY MUSIC ROYALTY at the SideNotes Cabaret

The classic songs of country music icons will be center stage as vocalists KELLI CRAMER and SARALYNN EVENSON star in a cabaret titled THE QUEENS OF COUNTRY, June 14-17, 2018 in the SideNotes Cabaret at Sunset Playhouse. The show will trace the careers of several popular female singers who have risen from their humble beginnings to the heights of international stardom.  Written and directed by Becky Spice, THE QUEENS OF COUNTRY will feature some of the greatest hits by Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Kitty Wells.

 

 

Audiences throughout the Midwest are familiar with KELLI CRAMER from her portrayals of Patsy Cline at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Waukesha Civic Theatre, and the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center.  For her performance of the title role in ANNIE GET YOUR GUN at the Oakbrook Drury Lane Theatre, Cramer received the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Actress.  SARALYNN EVENSON recently appeared with Skylight Music Theatre in ZOMBIES FROM THE BEYOND! and is known to Sunset audiences from her appearances in the Musical MainStage concerts and its recent production of SHE LOVES ME. Evenson spent many years appearing in New York jazz clubs and regional theatres.

 

Music direction and accompaniment will be provided by LINDA NOEL HALVERSON, who served in that capacity for Sunset’s recent production of ANYTHING GOES. Other Playhouse credits include GODSPELL and THE FANTASTICKS. Halverson will be joined by Sunset favorites CASEY OLSON on guitar and JIM RYAN on drums.  Both Olson and Ryan have been featured in SideNotes Cabarets and Musical MainStage concerts, and often appear with other groups in clubs and venues throughout the greater Milwaukee area.

 

Performances of THE QUEENS OF COUNTRY are Thursday, June 14th through Saturday, June 16th at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, June 17th at 3:00 p.m.  Call 262-782-4430 or click HERE for tickets

 

 

Sunset puts on a delicious comedic romp in ‘Don’t Dress for Dinner’

Sunset puts on a delicious comedic romp in ‘Don’t Dress for Dinner’

By MARILYN JOZWIK

 

Everyone loves the Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First” skit with its cascading array of misinterpretations.

Imagine a similar bit going on for a little over 100 minutes, adding lies, purposeful confusions, hidden infidelities, as well as a host of misinterpretations, and you have the heart of “Don’t Dress for Dinner.”

The show, Sunset Playhouse’s current offering, is a dizzying series of farcical conversations meant to cover up a couple of affairs. Sunset’s cast, under the direction of Michael Pocaro, has successfully met this monumental challenge thanks to an ensemble of six who can handle the quickly developing situations and snappy dialogue expertly.

I realized early on that the show is remindful of “Boeing, Boeing,” which Sunset also successfully staged in recent years. The similarities are due to the fact that Marc Camoletti wrote both shows. Robin Hawdon adapted “Don’t Dress for Dinner.”

While “Boeing, Boeing” relies a lot on the classic farce device of people hiding behind and popping out of doors, “Don’t Dress for Dinner” is almost strictly a linguistical romp. Time and again the characters must utter a whole series of misunderstandings to cover up for themselves or someone else.

The story is set in 1960 in a country home – actually quite a tastefully renovated farmhouse – outside of Paris. Married couple Bernard (Keith R. Smith) and Jacqueline (Lori Nappe) are preparing for Jacqueline to spend the weekend away with her mother. Meanwhile, Bernard has invited his mistress Suzanne (Allison Chicorel), while his wife is gone, and arranged for Suzette (Ella Folkerts) from an agency to cook a romantic meal. Bernard’s friend Robert (Tyler Peters) has also been invited, as an alibi.

The plan looks like a good one for Bernard, until Jacqueline learns that Robert – who ironically happens to be her secret lover — is spending the weekend with Bernard. So, Jacqueline cancels her weekend with her mother in order to reunite with Robert.

Bernard finds out too late that his wife will not be gone for the weekend, but his friend as well as his cook and his lover are all on their way to his home with no chance of anyone’s stopping their arrival (these are the days before cell phones!). 

Bernard convinces the unattached Robert to pretend that Suzanne is actually his – Robert’s– girlfriend, which sends Robert into a tizzy as he had hoped to share a secret liaison with Bernard’s wife that weekend. Complicating the complicated matters, Robert mistakes the cook Suzette for Bernard’s mistress Suzanne. And so on and so on.

While there’s lots of movement, most of this show’s comedy comes from the witty dialogue and fast-paced repartee. When Bernard asks Robert, “Is the coast clear?” he responds, “I don’t know about the coast, but it’s darn foggy around here.”

 

Director Pocaro has the players in a near constant state of motion, taking on all sorts of poses all over the couch and all over the room. Their movements are purposeful as they strut and run around the ample living room, ramble up and down the stairs, saunter into the kitchen or off to bedrooms that were once a cow stall and a piggery, stop frequently at the bar for libations and cower at accusations. There is not a dull moment as the attempts to mask the infidelities create a mountain of lies and some of the most preposterous conversations and situations, which end up with the men getting pummeled and even – in Bernard’s case – battered with a variety of liquids, prompting him to deadpan that he’ll “put on (his) wet suit.”

This is an amazing ensemble cast, with my favorites being Peters’ Robert and Folkerts’ Suzette. The two are perfectly cast and easily handle all the tricky dialogue and physical comedy. Their loopy tango – at which point Suzette is believed to be Robert’s niece — during the dinner party to open Act II is great fun. In that scene, Suzette is told to pretend she is Robert’s niece, which moves her to deliciously deliver the line: “You’re quite a dishy hunk, unc.”

Peters is perfect as Robert – expressive, but not so much as to look cartoonish. At one point his adept retelling of a laundry list of lies elicited applause from the audience.

Folkerts’ cook character is asked to play several characters – for which she insists on money up front from Robert and Bernard in a funny running bit – in order to conceal the affairs. Folkerts whisks among her dinner party incarnations with great comedic flair, at one point telling her employers: “I should get an Oscar for this.” Indeed.

Smith and Nappe as Bernard and Jacqueline are also quite adept. I loved their characters’ straight-faced confessions looking out at the audience, stock-still, in Act II, a perfectly timed pause — albeit short one — in all the madcap madness that only added to its effectiveness.

I’ve seen Chicorel, who played Bernard’s model-girlfriend, play this sort of role a number of times and she is always spot-on with her timing and audience engagement, just as she is here, jockeying between moments of bemusement and lividity. Nick Zuiker as Suzette’s husband George makes a brief, but pivotal appearance toward the end of the show that really wraps things up nicely.

Nick Korneski and Matthew Carr designed a good-looking, wide open stage, adding stone accents for the farmhouse feel and allowing performers lots of room to roam and romp. And they needed every inch of it.

If you go:

Who: Sunset Playhouse

What: “Don’t Dress for Dinner”

When: Through May 6

Where: 800 Elm Grove Road, Elm Grove

Info/Tickets: 262-782-4430; www.sunsetplayhouse.com

SIDENOTES CABARET PRESENTS A LIVELY TRIBUTE TO COLE PORTER

Milwaukee favorites BECKY SPICE and JACK FORBES WILSON star in a tribute to Cole Porter titled IT’S TOO DARN HOT, May 17-20, 2018 in the SideNotes Cabaret at Sunset Playhouse. The duo was such a hit in their previous SideNotes show, RED HOT MAMA, that they have reunited to create a show with a festive party atmosphere where they and their special guests will present an evening of Porter’s witty and clever songs.

 

 

 

BECKY SPICE has performed in many of Sunset’s Musical MainStage concerts, most recently in a tribute to Elton John titled ROCKET MAN. She also is familiar to SideNotes audiences from her appearance in last season’s HOLIDAY BELLES. This past summer, Ms. Spice was featured as the Old Lady in CANDIDE at Third Avenue Playhouse in Sturgeon Bay.  For more than 30 years she has been a regular at Skylight Music Theatre where favorite roles include Reno (ANYTHING GOES), and Eliza (MY FAIR LADY). Ms. Spice has performed many solo cabaret shows at venues such as The Sharon Lynne Wilson Center, Skylight, and other civic and corporate events.

 

 

Local audiences know JACK FORBES WILSON from his many appearances in the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Stackner Cabaret including his widely acclaimed performance in LIBERACE.  Born and raised in Lincoln, Nebraska, Mr. Wilson came to Wisconsin to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he received a Master’s Degree in music.  A talented music director, singer, actor, pianist, and teacher, Mr. Wilson has worked with American Players Theatre, Next Act Theatre, Third Avenue Playhouse, Madison Rep, and Skylight Music Theatre. Mr. Wilson also contributes his many talents to the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, where he serves as Resident Artist.

 

Performances of IT’S TOO DARN HOT: THE SIZZLING SONGS OF COLE PORTER are Thursday through Saturday, May 17-19 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, May 20 at 3:00 p.m.

Sunset Playhouse is celebrating its 58th season and, in addition to the six SideNotes Cabarets, offers eight productions in the Furlan Auditorium, six Musical MainStage concerts, four shows in the new After Sunset series, and three shows in the bug in a rug Children’s Theater series.  To reserve tickets, call 262-782-4430 or visit www.sunsetplayhouse.com.  For group sales, contact Stephanie at 262-782-4431, ex. 291.

JUDY GARLAND TRIBUTE AT SUNSET PLAYHOUSE

Singer and pianist KERRY HART BIENEMAN pays tribute to the work of musical giant Judy Garland in a concert titled C’MON GET HAPPY on May 12th and 13th at Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove. Often described as one of the world’s greatest performers, Garland was an international star who won multiple awards for her work in film, television, and recording. C’MON GET HAPPY will showcase many of the singer’s most famous and beloved musical triumphs.

 

 

A favorite of Sunset audiences, Kerry Hart Bieneman is an accomplished performer who currently serves as Music Director for the theater’s popular Musical MainStage Concert Series and has been featured in several of its SideNotes Cabarets. With a Master’s Degree in Vocal Performance from Northwestern University, she recently worked with Skylight Music Theatre as music director for its critically-acclaimed production of TALES OF HOFFMANN. 

 

 

Joining Bieneman on the Furlan Auditorium stage will be internationally-celebrated singer-songwriter and pianist JOHNNY RODGERS. Rodgers’ many credits include worldwide tours for the U.S. Department of State, as well as performance awards from numerous theaters and cabarets across the country. He also adds a personal element to the show, having spent 18 years as Music Director and singer for Garland’s daughter, Liza Minnelli.

Bieneman and Rodgers will pay homage to Garland and her exceptional career with a lineup of songs that includes “The Man That Got Away,” “You Made Me Love You,” and “The Trolley Song.”

Mother’s Day weekend performances of C’MON GET HAPPY: A JUDY GARLAND TRIBUTE are May 12th at 7:30 p.m. and May 13th at 2:00 p.m. Tickets may be purchased by visiting sunsetplayhouse.com or calling the box office at 262-782-4430.

SideNotes Cabaret Series Features “Milwaukee’s Manhattan Transfer”

Stylish arrangements and intricate harmonies will fill the air as BOYGIRLBOYGIRL presents an evening of musical entertainment March 22-25, 2018 in the SideNotes Cabaret. SideNotes is continuing its tenth season in the intimate Studio Theatre of Elm Grove’s Sunset Playhouse.

Featuring DON LOBACZ, TOMMY LUECK, LAURA MONAGLE, and MICHAELA RISTAINO, BGBG has been crowned “Milwaukee’s Manhattan Transfer.” LOBACZ and LUECK are well known to Midwest audiences thanks to their many appearances with Four Guyz in Dinner Jackets and other local theatre companies.  MONAGLE appears regularly with Boulevard Theatre, The Fireside Theatre, Off the Wall, and Children’s Theatre of Madison.  RISTAINO has appeared in Milwaukee with Skylight Music Theatre and currently performs with Choral Artists of Sarasota in her hometown on Florida’s Suncoast.

The talented quartet will be backed by two exceptional musicians, Mark Mrozek and Tim Karth.  Mrozek serves as resident music director for Sunset Playhouse and is Director of Music and Liturgy at St. Bruno’s. In addition to his work with Hal Leonard Music Publishing, Karth performs with several local vocal groups and theatre companies.

Performances of BOYGIRLBOYGIRL are Thursday through Saturday, March 22-24 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, March 25 at 3:00 p.m.

 

Sunset brings a bundle of talent ‘Into the Woods’

Read Marilyn Jozwik’s review of : INTO THE WOODS.  This wonderful musical by Stephen Sondheim will be performed by our very talented cast from March 1 – 18, 2018. 

By MARILYN JOZWIK

The music and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim are not meant for the faint of heart, or faint of voice. His tunes take drastic plunges, have non-intuitive transitions and mood swings, while his lyrics come at you rapid-fire.

Nate Adams, director of Sunset Playhouse’s “Into the Woods,” admitted, “Sondheim scared me,” adding, “I got over my fear when I did ‘Assassins’ (Adams played the role of an assassin in the Sondheim musical.)

“Into the Woods” presents even greater challenges in staging and performing than “Assassins,” with its fairy tale settings and costumes, multi-layered tunes and larger than life (or, at least, stranger than life) characters. The book is by James Lapine. Lucky for Adams, he was able to assemble a cast of some of the finest talent around in local theater, many of whom I have enjoyed seeing onstage on a number of occasions. 

Adams may have ventured “Into the Woods” with a bit of trepidation, but returned unscathed, able to slay all the demons that the Sondheim music can throw at a cast and crew. In other words, it is a resounding success.

Be careful what you wish for

Sondheim’s quirky story is a mash-up of fairy tale characters – Cinderella (Hannah Esch), Little Red Riding Hood (Ella Rose Kleefisch), Rapunzel (Lydia Rose Eiche), Jack (Simon Earle) and The Beanstalk. Of course, there’s a Wicked Witch (Laura Monagle). They are all brought together by the Baker (Nathan Marinan) and the Baker’s Wife (Carrie A. Gray), who have not been able to conceive a child due to the Witch’s curse. The Witch will reverse the curse, but not without strings: The couple must present a milky white cow, a red cape, a golden slipper and a lock of silky golden hair to the Witch. And so, the couple journey into the woods where they are able to procure these items – with great difficulty – from characters in the aforementioned fairy tales.

At the end of Act I, all the characters seem to have gotten exactly what they wished for: Cinderella and Rapunzel got their men, Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother got freed from the Wolf, Jack got rich – and his beloved pet back — after climbing the beanstalk and slaying the Giant. And the Baker and his wife? They got their baby.

But all that unravels when the widow of the Giant, a Giantess, starts to wreak havoc on the fairy tale town … and not before many of the relationships begin to fray. There are decisions to be made at every turn, each character displaying a unique sense of morality in the choices. Some of the paths they choose lead to death, infidelity and greed, while other choices lead to friendships and changes of heart.

Fairy tales collide

There is so much going on here, it’s almost dizzying. Fairy tales get turned inside out, unlikely characters meet up and spout lines like, “Witches can be right, Giants can be good, You decide what’s right, You decide what’s good.” Fairy tale characters find that happiness is fleeting, such as Cinderella’s prince, who turns snarky, saying, “I was raised to be charming, not sincere.”

There’s more than a little humor, which this cast carries out so well, such as the Wolf’s (Kevin Gadzalinski) sardonic intoning during a conversation with Little Red Riding Hood: “There’s no way to describe how you feel, when you’re talking to your meal.” Or Cinderella’s flippant remark: “There are times I actually enjoy cleaning.”

Sondheim gives the audience little time to digest what they’ve seen and heard as familiar storybook scenes and characters speak and intersect in unexpected and surprising ways. This cast moves the story along with breakneck speed.

The show’s theme is wrapped in the tender, thought-provoking “Children Will Listen” in which the Company sings: “Careful what you say, Children will listen, Careful you do it too, Children will see.”

Singing Sondheim

This is an exceptionally strong cast throughout with no weak links, especially vocally. Music director Mark Mrozek gets a nice, full sound from five musicians who complement the lyrics without overpowering them. The show is cast wonderfully, each performer having the right look and bearing for his or her character.

Setting the bar very high is Esch, whose Cinderella opens the show with a lovely soprano voice befitting a fairy tale princess. The other fairy tale(ONE?) characters are also introduced in the “Into the Woods” prologue, each displaying an equally strong characterization. I especially enjoyed Kleefisch’s feisty characterization of Little Red Riding Hood.  Marinan has such a sincere quality as the Baker and is nicely paired with Gray. Marinan is especially effective as the Baker sings “No More,” in which he wishes to run away and put an end to all the witches and giants in his life – a metaphor for his troubles.

Monagle’s Witch is also delightfully wicked, as are Cinderella’s Wicked Stepsisters, played by Ashley Patin and Sarah Briana Monahan, who’ve camped up their characters. Earle has a breezy tenor voice and easy-going manner that adds irony to lines such as, “I buried her in a footprint,” referring to a dead character’s grave, i.e., a giant’s footprint.

Chaotic setting

While other stagings of the show might be more literal, using mostly a woods backdrop, this production chooses more of a metaphor – at least that’s the way I see it. The stage is surrounded by large panels on which are hung – in a helter-skelter manner – chairs, small tables, shutters and other wood items. Perhaps it is symbolic of the chaos that surrounds the characters and the swirling array of decisions they have to make that define them and teach their children. It sort of reminded me of a still life of Dorothy and the swirling objects that surrounded her in the tornado scene in “The Wizard of Oz.” Cleverly, the chairs toward the bottoms of the panels are often used as set pieces and then hung back up.

While it is an intriguing visual, the muddle of stuff tended to muddle the view of the characters as well. A less distracting setting would have spotlighted the characters better and focused on their performances.

Story-high ladders wheeled in to represent Rapunzel’s castle and Jack’s beanstalk, among other settings, work well.

The voice of Jana Rinelli as The Giantess resonating through the theater, as well as the booming sounds of the Giantess’ footsteps, are most effective, giving those scenes a boost of adrenaline.

If you go

Who: Sunset Playhouse

What: “Into the Woods”

When: Through March 18

Where: 800 Elm Grove Road, Elm Grove

Tickets/Info: 262-782-4430; sunsetplayhouse.com

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