‘Big Nate,’ ‘Come Back’ and the MSO

Plus more in the Friday Five for Feb. 27.

#5: First Stage’s Big Nate: The Musical at the Marcus Center.

Why? Because Nate’s sixth-grade rock group might just have the best band name in rock music history—Enslave the Mollusk! But there’s more to this charming musical than musical non-sequiturs. Based on the much-loved comics of Lincoln Pierce, this family show features some stellar performers—like Molly Rhode, Rana Roman and Rick Pendzich. And a host of tuneful songs about how to make it through those challenging grade school years.

#4: Kurt Ollmann and Jack Forbes Wilson at the Wilson Center.

Kurt Ollmann

Why? Because the city lost one of its local treasures last year, when Kurt Ollmann relocated to Savannah, Georgia. But he’s back for a few weeks, with two, very different concerts on the docket. This weekend, he teams up with frequent collaborator, pianist Wilson, for a cabaret-style show of love songs and standards from the Great American Songbook. Next week, he performs Schubert’s great song cycle, Die Winterreise, with pianist Jeffry Peterson.

#3: The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra plays Richard Strauss at the Marcus Center.

Katherine Young Steele
Katherine Young Steele

Why? Because sometimes you get a second chance. Edo de Waart helped the Chicago Symphony Orchestra celebrate the 150th anniversary of Strauss’s birth last May, filling in at the last minute for a conductor who cancelled due to illness. It was an uneven evening, and the critics weren’t too kind. But here, he’s on his home turf, and we’re expecting some dazzling turns from the orchestra, along with stellar soloists from the MSO ranks. Cellist Susan Babini and violist Robert Levine team up for the great tone poem, Don Quixote. And oboist Katie Young Steele plays the formidable—but beautiful—Oboe Concerto. The Metamorphosen for 23 strings rounds out the program.

#2: Come Back at In Tandem Theatre.

Come Back Photo 2 of 3
Tiffany Vance and Sara Zientek

Why? Because there is more to playwright Neil Haven than Christmas puppets. Best known for his Who Killed Santa? holiday whodunit, Haven has penned some dazzling comedies, over the years, making his name as the area’s most dependable comic playwright. And his latest—about a woman named Sky’s wild, cross-country journey with her friend Erin’s ashes–is being given a world premiere production that any playwright would envy. The cast includes such comedy talent as Carrie Hitchcock, Karen Estrada, T. Stacy Hicks and Tiffany Vance. Chris Flieller directs.

#1: Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s The Train Driver at the Broadway Theatre Center.

Why? Because Athol Fugard is one of the great living playwrights, and Milwaukee audiences have fortunate to see many of his plays produced on local stages. Many of these are due to the dedication of the Chamber Theatre’s C. Michael Wright, who worked with Fugard when he performed in the Broadway production of Master Harold…and the Boys. Wright’s affinity and admiration for Fugard should be on prominent display for this 2010 play, in which a train driver tries to discover the circumstances that lead to a tragic accident from his past. Wright has two excellent actors to work with: American Players Theater’s David Daniel, and Michael A. Torrey, last seen at MCT in Driving Miss Daisy.



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.