Scene and Heard

Your guide to Milwaukee’s performing arts scene, which is finer than ever.

Each September ushers in a fresh slew of artistic performances. See the best picks below.


Sept. 5; UWM’s Helene Zelazo Center for the Performing Arts.
That’s right, Mozart. The Midwest’s finest new-music ensemble, Present Music, goes old-school, offering contrasts between Wolfgang Amadeus and two admiring contemporary composers: John Adams and Luciano Berio.

Cosi Fan Tutte
Sept. 18-20; Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.
Do we detect a trend here? The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra opens this season just like its last, with a semi-staged performance of one of Mozart and Da Ponte’s operatic triumvirate. As with last season’s Don Giovanni, the concert features a superb international cast.

Global Union
Sept. 19; Humboldt Park.
It’s the 10th anniversary of Alverno Presents’ world mini music festival, and there’s no skimping on the diversity of the bands that are on tap. Quebecois hip-hop, a Polish singer-songwriter, springy guitar pop from Niger, and even Latin “carnival punk” from Colombia. Fun in any language.

Sept. 22-Nov. 1; Milwaukee Repertory Theater.
The Milwaukee Repertory Theater goes for Broadway gold once again, reviving this 1981 show loosely based on the early days of Motown. Dreamgirls is known today as the musical that launched the career of Jennifer Holliday, and the 2006 film version netted Jennifer Hudson an Oscar. Here, the voice behind “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” will be Nova Y. Payton.

Alonzo King Lines Ballet. Photo by Quinn B. Wharton.
Alonzo King Lines Ballet. Photo by Quinn B. Wharton.


Sept. 25-Oct. 11; Broadway Theatre Center.
The Skylight Music Theatre opens its season in Grand Opera style, with Puccini’s tale of treachery and love. Cassandra Black (The Snow Dragon) returns to play the doomed Tosca, and the inventive Jill Anna Ponasik makes her Skylight debut as director.

The Lion
Sept. 30-Nov. 8; Milwaukee Repertory Theater.
The Milwaukee Rep usually produces its own work, but here it offers a long stop on singer-songwriter Benjamin Scheuer’s national tour of his celebrated off-Broadway show, a one-man musical autobiography about Scheuer’s relationship with his father. It doesn’t hurt that Scheuer is a superb finger-style guitarist.

Madama Butterfly
Oct. 16, 18; Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.
The Florentine Opera has recently made a name for itself performing and recording contemporary American work, but it can still dig into the Italian classics. Puccini’s tragic story of a Japanese geisha and her marriage to a U.S. Army officer features Alyson Cambridge, a memorable Mimi in the Florentine’s recent La Boheme, and Eric Barry making his Milwaukee debut.

The Ballad of Emmett Till director Marti Gobel.
The Ballad of Emmett Till director Marti Gobel.

Oct. 22-24; Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory Annex*.
The Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory Annex may not be the “wildest” space in town, but it will certainly be a place of mischief, whimsy and flashes of beauty when Debra Loewen turns her Wild Space Dance Company loose.

Oct. 22-25; Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.
Heeeee’s Baaaaccckk! Michael Pink’s chilling and atmospheric ballet based on Bram Stoker’s novel returns. There will be blood, oozy eroticism and some pretty dazzling stage effects. And, of course, technically impressive and dramatically evocative choreography.

The Ballad of Emmett Till
Oct. 23-Nov. 15; Broadway Theatre Center.
Renaissance Theaterworks features Ifa Bayeza’s dramatic meditation on the 1955 kidnapping and murder of 14-year-old Till, a story that has grown even more essential and timely since its 2008 premiere. The talented Marti Gobel – who is used to playing multiple roles in a single play – directs a cast of dozens of characters surrounding the event and its aftermath.

Alonzo King Lines Ballet
Oct. 24; Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts.
Dramatic, technically assured, gorgeous. Easy adjectives to describe the work of Alonzo King and his rigorously trained company. But look deeper – as dance critic Jennifer Homans did in a 2012 The New Republic story – and you’ll see that King is reshaping the art form by drawing on traditions outside ballet’s Parisian and Russian roots. Here, he features two relatively new works, “Biophony” and “Concerto for Two Violins.”

Hadelich plays Beethoven
Oct. 30-31; Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.
The young German violinist Augustin Hadelich returns to Milwaukee to play Beethoven’s beloved concerto in D major. If you aren’t quite sure if this is the soloist to see, consider what the not-too-easily impressed Alex Ross of The New Yorker recently wrote of the 31-year-old phenomenon: “Here is a young artist with no evident limitations.”

Kristian Bezuidenhout
Kristian Bezuidenhout


Fine Arts Quartet
Nov. 8; UWM’s Helene Zelazo Center for the Performing Arts.
They often feature prominent guest artists, but here, the members of the superb UW-Milwaukee quartet-in-residence go it alone, featuring a pair of masterpieces: Maurice Ravel’s “String Quartet” and Beethoven’s “Quartet, Opus 131.”

French Connection
Nov. 9; St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
Since moving to a larger East Side venue in 2014, Frankly Music has been expanded to feature larger chamber ensembles. This concert stays small, but not in talent or impact. For a program of French duos and trios, Almond is joined by cellist Julian Schwarz and pianist Brian Zeger, who has accompanied some of the best singers in the world.

Unsilent Night
Nov. 12-Dec. 6; Next Act Theatre.
John Kishline is no stranger to theater fans, having appeared in dozens of plays going back to the early days of Theatre X. He’s also a playwright, and his latest is a holiday fantasy about a stranger who pays a visit to an alternative radio station.

My Fair Lady
Nov. 20-Dec. 27; Broadway Theatre Center.
Get ye to the theater on time for Skylight Theatre’s staging of the classic Lerner and Loewe musical, part of Skylight’s female-centered season. Eliza Doolittle, of course, ascends the ladder of the British class system with the help of Henry Higgins. And don’t forget director Dorothy Danner, who has been behind many of Skylight’s most memorable productions.

Kristian Bezuidenhout
Nov. 21; Wisconsin Lutheran College’s Schwan Concert Hall.
Not a household name, but this South African-born musician is widely regarded as the finest player of the fortepiano in the world. A rare solo-
centric event for Early Music Now, Bezuidenhout will play a near all-Mozart recital, with a few Bach pieces for variety.

Love Stories
Nov. 25-Dec. 20; Broadway Theatre Center.
Although the title suggests a Lifetime movie, there’s substance here: three short plays by Bertolt Brecht, Dorothy Parker and George Bernard Shaw. To do justice to this heady roster of playwrights, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre has tapped an A-list artistic team: Actors James Pickering and Tami Workentin are directed by Paula Suozzi.

The Invisible Hand's Ayad Akhtar.
The Invisible Hand’s Ayad Akhtar.

Spring Ahead

The Invisible Hand
Feb. 24-April 3; Milwaukee Repertory Theater.
The Rep starts its collaboration with former Milwaukeean Ayad Akhtar, who won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2013. The Rep will perform one of Akhtar’s plays each season for the next four years. This one is about a banker who’s kidnapped in Pakistan and forced to manipulate financial markets to benefit his captors.

March 4-12; UWM’s Kenilworth Theatre 508.
Never ones to shy away from a challenge, Isabelle Kralj and Mark Anderson of Theatre Gigante tackle George Büchner’s masterpiece about a soldier driven to murder. Frequent Gigante collaborator James Butchart adapts the story, and adds music from Tom Waits for good measure.

Mozart Festival
March 31-April 10; Pabst Theater.
In the past few years, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra took Beethoven to the Pabst Theater in a series of concerts that matched one of the master’s symphonies with contrasting 21st-century pieces. This year, it turns to Mozart, performing a pair of symphonies on two successive weekends. For those keeping score at home, that’s a total of four (including the monumental “Jupiter”) – more Mozart than you typically get in an entire symphony season.

Ernest in Love
April 22-May 15; In Tandem Theatre.
In Tandem teams up with Milwaukee Opera Theatre for its annual chamber musical. Lee Pockriss and Anne Croswell crafted this melodic version of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Angela Iannone gets many of the best lines as the indefatigable Lady Bracknell.

Correction: This story originally state that Wild Space Dance Company’s performance of “Luminous” would take place in the Mitchell Park Domes. The performance will take place at the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory Annex. We’ve updated the story to reflect this. 

‘Scene and Heard’ is part of the 2015 Fall Arts Guide, and appears in the September 2015 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.
The September 2015 issue is on newsstands August 31.

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Paul Kosidowski is a freelance writer and critic who contributes regularly to Milwaukee Magazine, WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio and national arts magazines. He writes weekly reviews and previews for the Culture Club column. He was literary director of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater from 1999-2006. In 2007, he was a fellow with the NEA Theater and Musical Theater Criticism Institute at the University of Southern California. His writing has also appeared in American Theatre magazine, Backstage, The Boston Globe, Theatre Topics, and Isthmus (Madison, Wis.). He has taught theater history, arts criticism and magazine writing at Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.