2019 Milwaukee Spring Arts Preview

Where to go and what to see this spring.


Dancing to Win

Feb. 14-17
Pabst Theater

Blind casting is a linchpin of Milwaukee Ballet’s “Genesis” project, and makes it more interesting than many of the other choreography competitions out there. Three emerging choreographers, who for this year were selected from a competitive pool of 46 applicants, draw their eight dancers out of a hat on the first day of rehearsal, creating a 20-minute world premiere in a mere 90 hours.

The 2019 showcase at the Pabst Theater includes works by Aussie Cass Mortimer Eipper, Aleix Mane of Spain and Scotland’s Kenneth Tindall. Previous participants have gone on to illustrious careers, including Italian Enrico Morelli, who won the Audience Choice Award last year and returns to set new work on the company this spring. – Lauren Warnecke

Spacing Out

Feb. 21-24
The Warehouse at the 1635 building

Debra Loewen and dancers rehearsing for Making/Unmaking”; photo by Tom Bamberger

Compared to previous locations – which include loading docks, swimming pools, gardens and, most recently, a deserted East Side building that was once a dairy distribution plant – the setting of Wild Space Dance Company’s next performance seems rather tame. Artistic director Debra Loewen chose a building devoted to art as the setting for “Making/Unmaking.”

To be sure, The Warehouse at the 1635 offers advantages many of her previous locales lacked – temperature control, bathrooms, electricity and parking – but it does have challenges and caveats. Because the performance space is a functioning gallery open to the public, the company can’t rehearse there until early February.

Owners Jan Serr and John Shannon bought the 74,000-square-foot warehouse in the Menomonee Valley in 2014 for Guardian Fine Art Services, with The Warehouse – a gallery and space for arts and cultural events – on the first floor. Space for climate-controlled storage and other services for art collectors takes up most the other four floors.

For Loewen, it’s this sort of context that informs the dances she makes, in hidden gems and forgotten places. “It’s the intrigue about Wild Space in Milwaukee that has helped keep us going,” she says. “I scout out places where dance hasn’t been.” – Lauren Warnecke

The Must-Hit List

“Torch & Glamour: An Exploration of Love and Illusion”
Feb. 9-10 and 14-16
Danceworks Studio Theatre

Torch & Glamour; photo by Christal Wagner

Dance and sketch comedy collide for a vintage-vibed cabaret in which anything can, and probably will, happen. Actress Andréa Moser rejoins Danceworks as emcee, guiding audiences on a hilarious journey about the highs, lows and comedy of love.

April 4-7
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

The company premiere of Val Caniparoli’s “Lambarena,” a 1995 work blending African and European music and dance traditions, is joined by brand-new dances from acclaimed choreographers George Williamson and Enrico Morelli for Milwaukee Ballet’s spring mixed-rep program.

April 26
South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center

Unboxed; photo by Jennifer Johnson Photography

Choreographer Cedric Gardner teams up with James Gavins for an original play inspired by the Milwaukee Rep’s 2017 work “In General.” “Unboxed” – which uses spoken word, dance and music to unearth the power of individuality – features the rock star young performers of the Davis Boys & Girls Club dance team.


Feb. 16-Mar. 21
Milwaukee Ballet

The Nancy Einhorn Milwaukee Ballet II (MBII) Program nurtures and develops young dancers’ technical skills. “Momentum” spotlights these talented young dancers.

Dancing with The Stars: Live!
Feb. 4
The Riverside Theatre

TV’s biggest dance show visits Milwaukee for a showcase of different dance styles, including ballroom and modern jazz.


Carving It Out

“Charles Radtke: Contained”
April 19-Aug. 25
Milwaukee Art Museum

Sarcophagus #6, 2018; photo by Larry Sanders

Making furniture is a different creative process than, say, painting. But although his creations have a practical purpose, Charles Radtke is like many artists in that he finds inspiration in a variety of places. “It could be a song I heard, or a great meal I just had or a conversation with friends,” explains the Cedarburg-based designer.

Case in point: An exhibition of sarcophagi (carved stone coffins) at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York spurred his Sarcophagus Series of cabinets, on display at Radtke’s upcoming retrospective at the Milwaukee Art Museum. The first piece in the series was done in 1998 and is in the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery’s permanent collection; the fact that he only recently finished the sixth piece indicates how long an idea can inspire him.

The show will include “Library Table,” a maple and Belize mahogany piece that is the largest Radtke’s ever made. “It’s a personal triumph due to the sheer scale of it,” he says. The interactive “Two Faced” will also be on display. “There are four doors behind two sliding doors. … Sliding a door left or right … changes the face of the cabinet.”

Because his designs are always evolving, Radtke doesn’t have a signature style. “Looking at it as a continuum of makers and designers who came before, that describes how I have come to the place that I am design-wise,” he says. – Kristine Hansen

Art for All

Saint Kate The Arts Hotel

Named for St. Catherine, patron saint of the arts, Saint Kate The Arts Hotel aims to be more than a gallery for paintings. This revamp of the former InterContinental Hotel, opening late spring, will be “a new hub for creativity in our city,” says Chad Bauman, executive director of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater (a hotel partner).

Performance and visual arts will mingle on the first two floors, while the 219 guest rooms will showcase Wisconsin artists. “We’ve got all this great talent, and [we’re] exposing it to the world,” says Linda Marcus, who helped curate the hotel’s collection with former MAM director Russell Bowman. – Kristine Hansen

The Must-Hit List

“The Great Lakes Cycle”
Feb. 8-May 19
Haggerty Museum of Art

Alexis Rockman attempts to break down fresh water’s complex ecology in five mural-sized paintings, plus field drawings and works crafted from organic materials (mud, sand and coal), all stemming from a 2013 research trip.

“Sara Cwynar: Image Model Muse”
March 8-July 21
Milwaukee Art Museum

photo courtesy of Milwaukee Art Museum

Brooklyn artist Sara Cwynar’s film and photography digs deeper into the definition of beauty – and how it shifts with politics and history – in her first solo museum exhibition.

“Out of the Woods”
April 26-June 1
Tory Folliard Gallery

You already know the Driftless Region and North Woods are natural gems. But have you seen them through painter Charles Munch’s eyes? His explosive, colorful renditions of the landscapes offer new insights to familiar subject matter.


“Ralph Steiner: The City”
Feb. 8-May 19
Haggerty Museum of Art
The Haggerty Museum of Art presents a collection of photographs alongside well-known documentary “The City” by American photographer and filmmaker Ralph Steiner.

The 2019 Scholastic Art Awards: Wisconsin Exhibition
Feb. 2-March 17
Milwaukee Art Museum

More than three hundred artworks by Wisconsin students in grades 7-12 will be featured in this annual exhibition that celebrates their creative endeavors.


Classic Update

Carmina Burana
March 15-31
Skylight’s Cabot Theatre

Rehearsal for Carmina Burana; photo by Chrystal Wagner Photography

In a collaborative extravaganza, Skylight Music Theatre is partnering with Milwaukee Opera Theatre, Danceworks Performance Company and Chant Claire Chamber Choir to breathe new life into Carmina Burana, a series of Medieval poems that was set to classical music in the 1930s.

“This piece is usually treated as something foreign and from another time and place,” stage director Jill Anna Ponasik says. “We want to find out what happens if we sing it as if it was written for us, now.”

The reconceived masterpiece, which takes an unflinching view of the pleasures and perils of the human condition, will feature an intergenerational cast of more than 60, including choral singers, dancers and instrumentalists and an off-stage choir of 25. “The logistical challenges are gigantic but exciting at the same time,” Ponasik says.

Ponasik, who is Milwaukee Opera Theatre’s producing artistic director and an artistic associate at Skylight Music Theatre, has experience with Carmina Burana, having performed in a children’s choir as part of a more traditional performance of the work by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

“Now we are looking at what it means to theatricalize it,” she says. “And the audience will be much closer to the artists than in a concert hall.” – Rich Rovito

160 Minutes of Fun

Matilda the Musical
through Feb. 24
Marcus Center

photo courtesy of Lindsey Abendschein

When it comes to directing a cast of young people, attention span is just one of the challenges.

But Jeff Frank, artistic director of First Stage, is not deterred. The local children’s theater company’s upcoming production of the Broadway smash and Tony Award-winning Matilda the Musical, featuring choreography by Milwaukee Ballet artistic director Michael Pink and Jayne Pink, has 160-minute run time, far beyond the standard 90-minute time frame for the group. Frank also is directing not one, but two casts and three children who alternate playing the title role, further complicating matters.

Matilda is based on the novel by Roald Dahl (author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) that centers on a precocious 5-year-old girl with the gift of telekinesis who uses her cleverness and the support of a kind-hearted teacher to overcome unloving parents and a child-hating headmistress.

“There are equal amounts of darkness and light, and there’s always the power of a young person shining through,” Frank says. – Rich Rovito

The Must-Hit List

In Tandem Theatre Company: The Velocity of Autumn
Feb. 21-March 17
Tenth Street Theatre

photo courtesy of In Tandem Theater Company

Alexandra is in a showdown with her family over where she’ll spend her remaining years in playwright Eric Coble’s work. She threatens to blow up her Brooklyn brownstone rather than being sent to a nursing home, in the humorous and touching discovery of the fragility and ferocity of life.

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre: Strange Snow
Feb. 22-March 17
Broadway Theatre Center

Megs and Davey survived the Vietnam War but struggle once back home. One morning, Megs bangs on his old buddy’s door to go fishing. Instead, his friend’s older sister, Martha, opens the door – to myriad and wondrous new possibilities – in Stephen Metcalfe’s work that portrays the emotional fallout that lingers long after the war
is over.

Broadway at the Marcus Center: The Phantom of the Opera
March 6-17
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

photo courtesy of Matthew Murphy

Director Bartlett Sher brings a fresh, authentic vision to this beloved theatrical masterpiece from Tony winner Joseph Stein and Pulitzer Prize winners Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick about the traditions that define faith and family.


The Chinese Lady
Feb. 13-March 24
Milwaukee Rep

The Chinese Lady, inspired by the true story of America’s first female Chinese immigrant, follows the story of Afong Moy who was brought from Beijing to America and labeled as the “Chinese Lady.”

Things I Know to Be True
March 5-31
Milwaukee Rep

Loving each other for thirty years, Bob and Fran Price raised four strong children and built a home. This new play provides a unique perspective on the struggles of the four adult Price siblings.


Up Close and Personal

photo courtesy of MSO
Enjoying art of any kind in the intimacy of a home is a very special experience indeed, and one that the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra offers the public through its Lynn Chappy Salon Series. Several times a year, MSO patrons host concerts, typically featuring a single musician, and the ticket-buying public is invited in.

“You get to know the musician as a person,” says Heidi Gempeler, who helps organize the Salon Series, now in its 16th year. The featured artist varies from concert to concert and is often an out-of-towner, here for a bigger performance with the MSO. “Then you can go to the concert that weekend and get to hear them with the orchestra in a completely different setting,” says Gempeler.

The events include cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, plus a Q&A session with the musician moderated by Mark Niehaus, MSO president and executive director.

Tickets are $75, or $45 for symphony lovers 45 or younger. Around 50-75 seats are available for each concert, depending on the house, Gempeler says.

The events have a lasting efect on hosts as well as the audience. “So many of our hosts say it’s completely changed their view of their [home],” she says. “They’ve never heard such beautiful music in their living room.” –  Kevin Mueller

Elton John
Feb. 19

Ariana Grande
April 15

Tyrese and Ginuwine
Feb. 21

Mariah Carey
March 15

DJ Pauly D
March 1

Laura Jane Grace & The Devouring Mothers
April 5

John Mellencamp
Feb. 8

Steve Martin & Martin Short
April 19

Black Violin
April 20

Punch Brothers
March 22

Valerie June
April 23

John Maus
Feb. 27

Jonathan Richman
March 1

Feb. 14


Diva to Diva
March 1-3
Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

Broadway star Ann Hampton Callaway comes to celebrate centuries of singing divas. Callaway’s performance will pay tribute to singers Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, Carole King and many more.  

Travis Scott
Feb. 22
Fiserv Forum

As part of his “ASTROWORLD: WISH YOU WERE HERE” tour, Travis Scott has rescheduled his performance at Fiserv Forum for Feb. 22.


Loooong Form

Long-form improv performer James Boland discusses his five-man “high-energy” ensemble Tall Boys the same way some couples discuss their marriages: “We’re really honest with each other. That can be difficult for people, but, for us, that has been a positive thing.”

The group celebrated its sixth anniversary in the fall – a long time for a comedy scene that sees high turnover from comedians either quitting or moving to bigger markets.

photo courtesy of Mojo Dojo Comedy

“When we first started, [the scene] was totally DIY,” mainly due to the fluctuation of talent, Boland says. “There were open mics for stand-ups, but for improv, what do you do?” The answer: “You start producing your own shows.”

And that’s what Tall Boys did. They hosted monthly shows at Comedy Sportz’s side stage but soon developed grander ambitions. About three years ago, some members opened a permanent home called Mojo Dojo Comedy, a 50-seat theater inside Urban Harvest Brewing in Walker’s Point that now holds different styles of improv. The group performs there about once a month.

Along with teaching improv classes to grow the city’s comedy scene, things are going better than ever for Tall Boys. “For all of us in the group, it’s the longest relationship we’ve ever had,” Boland says. – Kevin Mueller

Pods in Person

Over the past decade, the podcast medium has exploded as people turn to the audio content they want, when they want it, topped off with a healthy dollop of personality. Now, fans are pulling out their earbuds and turning out in big numbers to see their favorite hosts onstage.

Pabst Theater Group talent buyer Matt Beringer saw just how popular these live tapings have become in Milwaukee when, over a short span in November, tickets for three such shows went on sale. “That was a banner week for us,” he recalls. “It was the first week that I can remember where the ticket sales for digital content, be it a web series or podcast, exceeded either concerts or traditional stand-up comedy.”

The standout was “My Favorite Murder,” with its large, fanatical base of “Murderinos” who can’t get enough of its often-macabre true crime stories and the improvisational style of comedian hosts Karen Gilgariff and Georgia Hardstark. All 5,000 tickets sold in just three days, Beringer says.

He credits the rise of live podcast shows in large part to the fun and personality the hosts inject into their subject matter – and he doesn’t see any signs of the tours slowing down. “It’s going to continue to get bigger. We’ve seen a trend over the past five years of them becoming more and more reliable.” – Kevin Mueller

Get Your Pod On

“Last Podcast on the Left” at Turner Hall, 2017
D-list celebrity crushes:
“Who? Weekly”
March 1
Turner Hall Ballroom

Current events seen with a jaundiced eye:
“Lovett or Leave It”
March 3
Pabst Theater

Paranormal and true crime (with wine):
“And That’s Why We Drink”
March 29
Turner Hall Ballroom

Killers with a side of snark:
“My Favorite Murder”
May 16-17
Riverside Theater

The Must-Hit List

We asked fans what they love about three big upcoming events. Here’s what they had to say:

Anime Fest
Feb. 15
Wisconsin Center

photo courtesy of Anime Fest

“There are such a variety of people who come together – different ages, ethnicities, backgrounds. We all try our very best to cosplay with the resources we have available to us. Everyone is incredibly creative and talented.” – Sabrina Lombardo, 22

Opening Day: Milwaukee Brewers vs. St. Louis Cardinals
March 28
Miller Park

photo via Getty Images

“Seeing that first pitch hints that summer is just around the corner – even if it’s snowing outside, which sometimes is the case.” – Corey Baumann, 39

Milwaukee Zine Fest
April 6
Milwaukee Public Library Central Branch

image courtesy of Zine Fest

“I’ve always loved how zines can be about absolutely anything – fandoms, music, art, food, talking about what it means to be queer or a person of color, bikes, mental health – and I love getting to see the awesome work that people in our city create themselves.” – Nayeli Portillo, 27


Lightwire: The Show
Feb. 15
South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center

Lightwire, semi-finalists on both NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” and winners of Tru TV’s “Fake Off,” visits Milwaukee to bring stories to life in complete darkness that the entire family will enjoy.

Disney On Ice: 100 Years of Magic  
Feb. 14-17
Milwaukee Theatre

Celebrate 100 years of Disney magic with over 50 of your favorite characters on ice.

Editor’s note: The “Spacing Out” section of this story has been updated to clarify the nature of the building hosting “Making/Unmaking” and to correct its square footage.