Milwaukee performers and artistic directors have become all too familiar with an old sports cliché: The most important ability is availability.
In this COVID-19 era, theater, music and dance companies are devoting serious rigor and energy to protecting performers and audience members from the virus so shows can go on.
“Navigating the pandemic and labor shortages” are the most challenging factors right now in putting shows on, said Jill Anna Ponasik, director of Skylight Music Theatre’s forthcoming “Ernest Shackleton Loves Me.”
“The difficulties have everything to do with, can you get qualified people to do the thing that needs doing at that time? … Can we stay healthy?” she said.
In spite of the viral uncertainties, Milwaukee groups have planned a rich variety of offerings to begin the new calendar year.
In general, you should assume that each show requires audience members to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test, and to wear a mask. (Shows at Next Act require vaccination — no testing option there.)
These are listed in chronological order by date of first performance.
“Toni Stone”: Milwaukee Repertory Theater performs Lydia R. Diamond’s play about the first woman in big-league professional baseball: Stone played for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues in 1953. This production has a lot of movement in it; in a past interview, artistic director Mark Clements likened it to “Royale,” the stylized boxing play the Rep performed in 2016. With Major League Baseball owners having locked out their players as a negotiating tactic, “Toni Stone” might be the only baseball you can count on for a while. Jan. 4-30, Quadracci Powerhouse Theater, 108 E. Wells St. Visit milwaukeerep.com or call (414) 224-9490.
“Ernest Shackleton Loves Me”: Ponasik directs Skylight Music Theatre’s production of this unusual musical, which truly earns the label quirky: Contemporary single mom composer falls in love across time and space with the great Arctic explorer. Matt Daniels portrays the intrepid Shackleton; Janice Martin sings and plays violin as the composer Kat. The show also incorporates film footage of the real Shackleton’s expedition. Jan. 14-30, Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N. Broadway. Visit skylightmusictheatre.org or call (414) 291-7800.
“Mala”: Melinda Lopez’s one-actor play reflects the time when the playwright was caring for her dying parents while also trying to continue living her own life. Rána Roman performs in Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s production (which replaces the previously announced “Where Did We Sit on the Bus?”, shelved due to a performer’s injury). Jan. 21-Feb. 13, Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N. Broadway. Visit milwaukeechambertheatre.org or call (414) 291-7800.
“The Watsons Go to Birmingham — 1963”: First Stage performs Cheryl L. West’s adaptation of Christopher Paul Curtis’ award-winning novel, about a Black family from Flint, Michigan, who drive to Alabama for the summer to visit Grandma. Personal family and coming-of-age adventures intersect with a dramatic event in the civil rights movement. First Stage recommends this show for people 8 and older. Jan. 21-Feb. 13. Marcus Performing Arts Center’s Todd Wehr Theater, 929 N. Water St. Visit firststage.org or call (414) 267-2961.
“Mean Girls”: The touring Broadway musical, adapted from the signature movie comedy written by Tina Fey, settles into the Marcus Performing Arts Center for a week of teen social anxiety and fashion rules. Jan. 25-30, MPAC, 929 N. Water St. Visit marcuscenter.org or call (414) 273-7206.
“Sonder”: Danceworks Performance MKE performs new choreography by Gina Laurenzi to live music by Chicago band Twin Talk; DPMKE describes it as “a contemporary movement experience with a jazz influence.” Jan. 27-30. Next Act Theatre, 255 S. Water St. Visit danceworksmke.org/dpmke-presents-sonder-coming-jan-22/ or call (414) 277-8480.
“Antonio’s Song” / “I Was Dreaming of a Son”: Antonio Edwards Suarez teamed with playwright Dael Orlandersmith to script this one-actor show, based on Suarez’s life, about a performer trying to reconcile his ethnic, human and artistic identities. This show has been one of director Mark Clements’ passion projects for several years now. Jan. 26-March 6. Stiemke Studio, 108 E. Wells St. Visit milwaukeerep.com or call (414) 224-9490.
“Genesis”: It’s a distinctive Milwaukee Ballet tradition: Every other year, three choreographers are invited to create new work with MB dancers; the winner gets a contract to return in a following season. But this time, there’s a twist: These performances will take place in the cozy Baumgartner Center for Dance, 128 N. Jackson St. Nadine Barton, DaYoung Jung and Price Suddarth are the choreographers. Feb. 3-13, Visit milwaukeeballet.org or call (414) 902-2103.
“Zarzuela: Luisa Fernanda”: Florentine Opera cheekily describes a zarzuela as operetta meets telenovela. Singing in Spanish, the Baumgartner Studio Artists will perform a condensed version of Federico Moreno Torroba’s musical romance. Feb. 11 and 13, Marcus Performing Arts Center’s Wilson Theater at Vogel Hall, 929 N. Water St. Visit florentineopera.org or call (414) 291-5700 ext. 224.
Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra: Pianist Aaron Diehl returns as soloist on two works: Gershwin’s Second Rhapsody, also known as the “Rhapsody in Rivets”; and Black American composer Florence Price’s Piano Concerto. Both works premiered in the 1930s. This bill, conducted by music director Ken-David Masur, also includes Charles Ives’ “Three Places in New England,” Barber’s Symphony No. 1 in One Movement and Black American composer William Grant Still’s “Out of the Silence” (a segment from his “Seven Traceries”). Feb. 4-6, Bradley Symphony Center, 212 W. Wisconsin Ave. Visit mso.org or call (414) 291-7605.
Prometheus Trio: Pianist Stefanie Jacob, cellist Scott Tisdel and violinist Margot Schwartz plan a program featuring two horse-inspired works by American composer Joan Tower, “And …They’re Off” and “Big Sky,” as well as music by Dvorak and Mozart. Feb. 7-8, Wisconsin Conservatory of Music Helen Bader Recital Hall, 1584 N. Prospect Ave. Visit wcmusic.org/concerts-events/prometheus-trio.
“Pipeline”: Next Act Theatre performs Dominique Morisseau’s drama about a Black teacher in an overburdened public school who tries to keep her own son out of the school-to-prison pipeline — but worries she won’t be able to. Feb. 10-March 6, 255 S. Water St. Visit nextact.org or call (414) 278-0765.