Your Best of Milwaukee 2022 Arts & Entertainment Winners List

From theater productions to TV shows, here are 28 reasons to explore Milwaukee’s cultural scene.


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Readers’ Choice


BEST WISCONSIN CELEBRITY

Giannis Antetokounmpo

He’s the hero we all need, truly representative of the best of us: sincere, hard-working and still filled with wonder despite having seen unimaginable heights of fame. Oh, and all the triple-doubles don’t hurt either. And we’ll never forget he chose us.

Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. Photo by Sara Stathas

BEST MURAL

Black Cat Alley

Why choose one mural, when you can see dozens all at one location on Milwaukee’s East Side? This colorful space is a wealth of paintings from talented local artists. A few of our faves include Life’s Pollinators by Mi Salgado, Heart on a Platter by Bigshot Robot and In Full Bloom by Emma Daisy Gertel. East Ivanhoe Place; blackcatmke.com

“Such a great place for all local artists to showcase their talents. The rotation of art is fun as well, it helps it stay fresh.” – Christine Peters

Black Cat Alley; Photo by Visit Milwaukee

BEST MOVIE THEATER

The Oriental Theatre

This historic theater just underwent a meticulous, multi-million-dollar restoration, and the effort shows. The venue’s iconic 1920s architecture delivers an old-fashioned movie experience. Go for a Milwaukee Film event, to see an old favorite or catch the latest blockbuster. 2230 N. Farwell Ave.; mkefilm.org/oriental-theatre

Oriental Theatre; Photo via Doors Open Milwaukee

BEST LOCAL MUSICIAN

Grace Weber

The Wauwatosa native has gone on to make music with big names like Chance the Rapper, but she never forgot her roots. On April 14 (414 Day), Weber released her latest single “414,” also featuring local rapper Mudy. Spoiler alert: It’s good. graceweber.com


 

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BEST LOCAL BAND

The WhiskeyBelles

This trio of women brings together country, folk and Americana music to create their own unique sound. With their curated lineup of fan-favorite covers and crowd-pleasing originals their concerts are a dependable good time at local festivals, clubs and dives alike. whiskeybelles.com

“I just became a fan – these ladies are talented, fun and will get you moving.” – Ann Frank

BEST MUSIC CLUB

Cactus Club

This Bay View club is run by artists – and it shows, with stacked lineups. Sure, it lands some big acts, but that’s not what makes Cactus Club so special. It’s the electric performances from local performers experimenting with their sounds that make it a top-notch spot to catch a concert and a cultural hub for Milwaukee musicians. 2496 S. Wentworth Ave; cactusclubmilwaukee.com

“Best venue with the friendliest, most caring people, no question.” – Ellee Ingle

Rapper Juiceboxxx at The Cactus Club; Photo by Joe Kirschling

BEST LOCAL MUSIC ORGANIZATION

Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

This remarkable orchestra does it all. In the last year, MSO has performed with Andrea Bocelli, brought Ludwig van Beethoven’s music to life and even did a movie night performing the score of Jaws. Bonus: Most concerts get you in the historic Warner Grand Theater with its excellent acoustics and ornate architecture. mso.org

“Proud to have such an excellent symphony.” – Gretchen Farrar-Folehy

Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra; Photo by Jonathan Kirn, courtesy of UPAF

BEST LAKEFRONT FESTIVAL (NON-SUMMERFEST)

Irish Fest

You would think the world’s largest celebration of Irish culture would be held in, well, Ireland, but it’s actually here in Milwaukee. From the shepherd’s pies to the Irish dancing to the red hair contests, the lineup is stacked with Celtic fun. And the incredible network of volunteers is what brings it together. It’s a blast to attend, whether you’re Irish or Irish-ish. irishfest.com

“It’s like Ireland on a little plot of lakefront. But usually without the rain.” – Jeanne Ludwig 

Photo by Visit Milwaukee

BEST HOTEL (A TIE!)

The Pfister Hotel

This is the place to get pampered. Booking a room in this historic landmark is a treat, from top (23rd-floor cocktail bar with skyline view) to bottom (lobby piano lounge). An all-inclusive luxury stay gets you chilled champagne upon arrival, two hourlong visits to the spa and late-night dessert delivered to your room. 424 E. Wisconsin Ave.; thepfisterhotel.com

“The service is outstanding. They make you feel like you’re really at home!” – Sandra Kashou

The Pfister Hotel; Photo courtesy of Marcus Hotels

Saint Kate – The Arts Hotel

More than just a hotel, this is an experience. The entire building is thoughtfully curated, from the custom-designed art rooms to the five frequently updated exhibition spaces. And don’t miss the restaurants, including a secret steakhouse. 139 E. Kilbourn; saintkatearts.com 

“The most stylish stay in Milwaukee.”  – Andrew Flack

Saint Kate – The Art Hotel; Photo courtesy of Historic Milwaukee
 

Editor Picks


BEST ARTISTIC RECOGNITION

Raven Chacon’s Pulitzer for “Voiceless Mass”

Ordinarily, Raven Chacon – an Indigenous artist from Fort Defiance, Navajo Nation – wouldn’t perform on Thanksgiving on principle, but for this Present Music concert he made an exception. Present Music’s artistic directors sold him on the spectacular organ at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, and it inspired him to give “voice to the voiceless.” He composed a contemporary work for the instrument along with a wind and string ensemble, and Chacon’s 16-minute composition won him a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize in Music, one of the greatest honors in the field. “Voiceless Mass” was the first of more than 80 commissions in Present Music’s 40-year history to win the prize.

‘Voiceless Mass’ performance; Photo by Samer Ghani, courtesy of Present Music

BEST NEW RADIO STATION

HYFIN

Since Juneteenth, this urban alternative station has been making (radio) waves. Like a hyphen bridges words, HYFIN, a mostly online offshoot of 88Nine Radio Milwaukee, aims to “connect the culture” using Black music. Tuning in takes you on a tour of soul, reggae, hip-hop, blues, funk and a lot more goodness. The hosts are standouts, with Element Everest-Blanks, Tarik Moody and Kenny Perez behind the mic, just to name a few. Plus, there are frequent spotlights on locally produced music. hyfin.org

HYFIN Staff; Photo by Erin Bagatta

BEST HOMETOWN SKIPPER

Craig Counsell 

Win No. 564, a 10-2 victory over the New York Mets on June 15, officially made the skinny kid from Whitefish Bay the most successful manager in Brewers history. Is his eight-season tenure the Brew Crew’s golden age? Don’t scoff at the notion! Counsell has presided over a record four straight postseason berths, and this month his Brewers are out to lock down a fifth – and, bats willing, a World Series run. 

Photo by Scott Paulus/Milwaukee Brewers

BEST NEW BOOK STORE

Rooted MKE 

This colorful children’s book shop is Milwaukee’s newest literary haven. Find its mission, “share BIPOC stories,” printed on darling T-shirts and totes, then peruse the selection of books. All of the reads are written by, illustrated by or depicting people of color. And it’s more than just a place to shop. Owner Ashley Valentine is offering academic tutoring for kids in the community, too. 5312 W. Vliet St.; rootedmke.com

Ashley Valentine at Rooted MKE; Photo courtesy of Ashley Valentine

BEST MAYORAL DECLARATION

T-Pain Day

In 2008, rapper and Auto-Tune pioneer T-Pain released the song “Can’t Believe It,” with the immortal rhyme, “Put you in the mansion / Somewhere in Wiscansin.” Fourteen years later, in 2022, after his career had taken some hard dips, T-Pain mounted a comeback tour culminating in a final show at The Rave called “Wiscansin Fest.” T-Pain sold out the nine-hour, guest-riddled musical extravaganza. At its conclusion, a representative from the city rolled up to present Mr. Pain with a plaque and an official declaration by Mayor Cavalier Johnson commemorating June 11, 2022, as “T-Pain Day” in Milwaukee. It was glorious, and our city should be proud to be the site of T-Pain’s great triumph. 


Happy Returns


America’s Black Holocaust Museum

After more than a decade in cyberspace and years of relentless efforts by die-hard supporters, ABHM opened a brand-new location in Bronzeville last fall, once again welcoming visitors to a physical space exploring the difficult history of Jim Crow’s legacy. 401 W. North Ave; abhmuseum.org 

America’s Black Holocaust Museum; Photo by Jarvis Lawson

Milwaukee Film Festival – in Theaters

In June, Milwaukee Film sold out The Oriental Theatre for the world premiere of Small Town Wisconsin – the first full house since the COVID virtual era began in 2020. That event followed an in-person Milwaukee Film Festival that brought over 18,000 attendees to the Oriental. mkefilm.org/mff

Oriental Theatre; Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Film Festival

Mitten Fest

After last year’s cancellation due to COVID, Burnhearts’ midwinter block party/music fest/craft beer bacchanalia was back in action this year on Potter Avenue. Temperatures were in the teens, making Mitten Fest’s namesake handwear necessary while holding your plastic-cup old fashioned. burnheartsbar.com

Mitten Fest 2020; Photo by Visit Milwaukee

John McGivern 

John McGivern is arguably the most beloved local media personality in Wisconsin (although Bob Uecker does give him a run for his money), so it hurt when PBS canceled his show, “Around the Corner with John McGivern” in 2021. But then, lo and behold, the man made a welcome return to airwaves this year, with Fox 6 picking up his new show, “John McGivern’s Main Streets,” in which he tours towns across the nation. Now this, we love to see. mainstreets.tv

John McGivern won a Best of MKE editor’s pick, read about him in the September issue of Milwaukee Magazine; Photo by Kat Schleicher

Best Shows


Legends Live Drag Show

MUSEUM OF WISCONSIN ART

Cheers to the MOWA for throwing the most fun party of the year! The evening featured the top local drag queen talent and was emceed by the hilarious Sugarbaker Twins, who kept things moving despite a power outage caused by too many blow dryers running all at once. It was a raucous and memorable night for all. 

The Amazing Lemonade Girl

FIRST STAGE

Meet bright, fun Alexandra Flynn Scott, who was diagnosed with cancer before she turned 1. With a simple lemonade stand she was able to raise millions of dollars (and counting) for pediatric cancer research, saving hundreds of lives. First Stage hosted the world premiere of the play telling her story, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. 

Pietja Dusek (front of frame) and ensemble (back of frame, from left to right, Rick Pendzich, Andrew Kindler, James Carrington, Nala Patel and Karen Estrada) in ‘The Amazing Lemonade Girl’; Photo by Paul Ruffolo

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

SKYLIGHT MUSIC THEATRE

Penned by rock legend Dennis DeYoung (from Styx!), this show was a musical marvel. Catchy songs paired with tremendous talent – we’re talking about you, Ben Gulley – made this a must-see. Plus, the set was breathtaking, making use of stained glass and gigantic bells to bring Notre Dame to life.

Alanis Sophia (Esmerelda), Ben Gulley (Quasimodo) and Kevin Anderson (Frollo); Photo by Mark Frohna

 

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s September issue.

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