Thursday, June 28, 2018

Broadways "An American in Paris" comes to Milwaukee

'S wonderful, 's marvelous — 's that simple!

Set in the City of Light in post-World War Two with plucky soldiers in a new town, a love triangle (er, square?), and an easy-breezy Gershwin score, An American in Paris has all the hallmarks of a golden age musical. The 2015 Tony winner was even inspired by the 1951 movie starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. 

It's the story of American GI Jerry Mulligan, who decides to say in Paris after the war in hopes of becoming a professional painter. Jerry makes two new friends, an American would-be composer named Adam and a French would-be crooner named Henri, and falls for the sweetly mysterious Lise, a French shopgirl and aspiring prima ballerina. Unbeknownst to Jerry, Lise just happens to be Henri's betrothed. Who, I wonder, will get the girl? 

The marvelous thing about An American in Paris is that, though classic in its song and story, the minds behind this new version have created a wholly refreshing interpretation that transforms the way one thinks about and experiences decades-old musicals. That freshness you're feeling? Dance. From curtain rise to fall, An American in Paris hinges on dance. Even the set changes are every bit as beautifully and seamlessly choreographed as the company's every move. 

Those moves, designed by Choreographer and Director Christopher Wheeldon, lend an exquisitely intimate beauty and grace to the show. An American in Paris is a work of art from start to finish, as every danced moment, from the nuance of falling in love to show-stopping kick lines, is crafted to artistic perfection. At times it's wonderfully surreal and, at other times, downright sexy.

Of course any choreography is only as good as the talent executing it, and the talent in this touring cast is off the charts. The lead actors nail every note, dance step, and line of dialogue. Finding a troupe of serious triple threats on a national tour is no guarantee, so a visit to Milwaukee from this caliber of artistry is a sheer delight.

First up, there's McGee Maddox as Jerry. He trained with the Houston Ballet and joined the National Ballet of Canada in 2009. Through highly-athletic choreography, Maddox's movements appear effortless and lighter than air. I kept wondering when he would mess up or miss his mark — but, to my eyes, he never did. Echoes of Gene Kelly. 

Dancing opposite Maddox is leading lady Allison Walsh. She was part of An American in Paris from its first Broadway workshop, dancing in the Broadway ensemble for the show and even playing Lise as an alternate. When our trio of lovestruck fellows swoon over Lise in "'S Wonderful, 'S Marvelous," there's no question as to why. From the way her movements mesmerize to the loveliness in her singing voice, Walsh earns every bit of starry-eyed praise heaped upon her. 

The triple-threat talent doesn't stop there. Matthew Scott as American composer Adam, Ben Michael as French singer Henri, and Kirsten Scott as American society sweetheart Milo — they each do their share to round out the lead roles with star power. Matthew Scott brings the clever laughs, then turns around and belts a beautiful solo. Michael's Henri is sweetly lovable and more than a little unsure, then turns around and leads a chorus of marabou-feathered, dream-sequence showgirls like a downright dandy.

Even Kirsten Scott's role of "the other woman," at risk of being a throwaway part, is made special with Kirsten behind it. She's funny, quick as a whip, and appears utterly at home on stage. What a treat to not only see this fantastic quintet in action, but to also experience the talents of the entire ensemble in all their exuberance.

That feeling of joy and jubilation is what An American in Paris is all about. Though still reeling from the war (which lends the perfect dash of drama to this otherwise soaring musical), our cast of characters grows to realize that though life is dark, it's up to us to choose love and light. It's also up to those with a knack for the arts to go out and create works that bring some brightness into the world. An American in Paris does just that.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

A long weekend in Nashville, TN

Barbecue & bikes & brides — oh my! 

“Nashvegas,” they said. Also “hot chicken” and “hope you like country.” While I’m not that into country music or places readily compared to Vegas, Nashville has been high on my list of stateside cities to see someday. 

I’m happy to report that the experience, through fraught with more bachelorettes than I could count (well, almost), didn’t disappoint. Here’s how we spent a long weekend in Nashville — what we loved, liked, and wished we’d done differently. 

Things to do & spots to explore
Our first couple nights in Nashville were spent in the heart of downtown, a short walk from Broadway. Broadway is the main drag, full of tourists, bars (some overpriced, some offering kick-ass deals), food, live music, stores hawking three-for-one pairs of cowboy boots, and a barrage of bachelorettes. 

At one point we even made a drinking game of it: From our perch at Rippy’s, we counted 25 parties in an hour and a half, indentifying each either by their matching shirts/boots, the bride’s dollar store veil/tiara, and/or the steady stream of “Woo!” emanating from neighboring bars and passing pedal taverns. 

But back to Broadway itself. It’s fun to check out at least once, ideally at night to get the full neoned effect. Beyond that and a stop at the tasty Jack’s Bar-B-Que (yum!), I’d recommend moving off Broadway sooner rather than later. 

Where to? Art lovers can bop into the Frist, a small art museum that welcomes traveling exhibits. We caught the Nick Cave exhibit (below) and had a memorable chat with Mancil, the older & wiser keeper of the Information Desk. He greeted us in his lavender vest, rainbow checked shirt, and pink bow tie patterned with tiny beach umbrellas. This gent was an absolute delight, reminding museum-goers repeatedly that the on-site café fries their own potato chips. He also gave us directions to some of his favorite Nashville hidden gems on a hand-drawn map. 

Anywho, the Frist also has an amazing children’s center, the Martin ArtQuest Gallery. Here you can really let your inner child come out to play, creating stop-motion videos where dinosaurs eat babies, busting out the scissors and glue to flex those crafting muscles, and pushing buttons to make sound wave sand art. 

Need to get a little active after all that art? There are bikes for rent and kayaks for a three-mile jaunt down the Cumberland River. Check any and all kayaking hesitations at the door — if I can do it solo, so can you! I'd definitely recommend it for the spectacular views of the city and the fun of relatively-easy paddling. Plus, in the heat of the day, it was actually cooler on the water.

By bike, we ventured from downtown Nashville and Printer’s Alley to the Gulch. The Gulch is a really cute area, with a totally different vibe from the Vegas-ness of Broadway. The last few days of our trip, we stayed in East Nashville — again, a different vibe from downtown with plenty to eat, drink, and do. 

Germantown is also worth a peek. This corner of the city is close to the home of the Nashville Sounds minor league baseball team — so fun! Instead of racing sausages, they have racing country music stars. Yes, I rooted for Dolly. Sadly, she didn’t win.

We also zipped around Nashville on Bird electric scooters. After my life flashed before my eyes as I full-throttled, then full-stopped the damn thing during my first ride, the scooter experience became increasingly more fun and less tensing-every-muscle-in-my-body. But it turns out these scooters are a safety hazard and are in the process of being banned by the city. If they’ve worked out the kinks and the Birds are back in town, give ‘em a whirl! If not, RIP Bird scooters. I’m glad I didn’t die while riding you.

Eating & drinking 
Now for everyone’s favorite topic: Food! The number of delicious spots to dine in Nashville are too numerous, but I can tell you the spots we hit in our one long weekend. On our first night, we asked our Uber driver where might be good to eat near Broadway, and she said Panera. Needless to say we didn’t trust her judgment. 

So we googled nearby eats and landed on Martin’s Bar-B-Que, walkable from Broadway. The atmosphere at Martin’s is killer: An open-air greenhouse vibe on the roof, sort of rustic-retro-industrial with pops of greenery and neon lights. But despite the ambiance and live music, our food was really just okay. Pro tip: Go to Martin’s for a drink, and make sure you sit on the patio.

Our second night, we ate at Silo in Germantown. It’s a slightly more upscale spot with scrumptious small plates, perfect for sharing. Our favorites were the pan-friend ricotta dumplings with browned butter and mini garlic and herb drop biscuits with pimento cheese spread. 

On Saturday morning, our group had made a reservation at the Listening Room Café — a place that serves brunch over live music. Little did we know that said live music would be singer-songwriters, and that talking during brunch is highly frowned upon. The experience was cool, but maybe not conducive to a large group of friends itching to catch up. The fried chicken and biscuits, however, were lick-the-plate tasty, full stop. That's one way to keep your audience quiet: feed them Southern deliciousness. 

When all you want is a patio and a burger, Pharmacy Burger Parlor & Beer Garden is a must. The place looks small from the outside, but there’s a sprawling tiered backyard with picnic table-style seating. You may have to wait quite a while for a table, but it was worth it for us in the end. The burgers are awesome, and you can get a milkshake, if your little heart desires. Yummo. 

Speaking of waiting for food, two words: Hattie B’s. We’d heard Prince’s chicken is the best, according to several Lyft drivers and locals, but the location wasn’t convenient. So we ventured to everyone’s second favorite, Hattie B’s. There are a few locations, and unfortunately we picked the most-packed one. We waited in line outside in the drizzle for over an hour. Worth it? You bet. I went for medium spice and it was perfect, though next time, I’d probably go for a straight-up hot chicken sandwich. Mmm. 

Feeling all barbecued and chickened out, our last dinner took us to Butcher & Bee for “New American” shared plates. We mostly opted for any plate with a surplus of veggies. Our favorites? The whipped feta with honey, avocado crispy rice with greens and chiles, and Israeli salad with mango, pineapple, cucumber, and herbs. So fresh and so divine after a weekend filled with fried food. No food regrets! 

For next time
If I ever make it back to Nashville, here’s what’s on my hit list: First, Centennial Park and the Parthenon. Yes, there’s a replica of Greece’s parthenon in Nashville! Second, I’d scope out Opryland Hotel — an insane hotel with an entire indoor river, complete with boat cruises. I’d also like to spend some more time bopping around to various neighborhoods. If renting a car, I’d do a stop at Cheekwood gardens & estate and perhaps a day trip to Mammoth Cave. Oh that there were more hours in a day! Luckily, with the hours we had to work with, Nashville didn’t disappoint. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Nomad Nacional

The World Pub invites Milwaukee to “Taste la fun!” 

I don’t consider myself a Nomad girl. Soccer’s not my thing, and the famous Brady Street Prix Fix doesn’t set my world on fire. But when the World Pub announced its pop-up bar, taking over the former La Fuente space on the south side, my ears perked up. 

Nomad Nacional exists thanks to the World Cup, which starts on June 14th. But it's shaping up to be so much more than a bunch of bros chugging PBR and shouting about futbol. For starters, there’s food. I made the delicious mistake of trying the Pork Nalu Bowl upon my first visit, and now I can't go back. Seared pineapple, charred corn, pickled cilantro, avocado, jalapeños, and cilantro-lime rice — outrageously cravable. FYI: Happy Hour is Monday–Friday with $5 margs, Good City’s Nomad Summer Ale, and all-you-can-eat taquitos. 

The space itself is sprawling. There’s a massive interior with high ceilings, an upstairs, and two spacious patios. While there hasn’t been an extensive remodel of the old La Fuente (the interior mural remains, as do the vaguely grimy tables), the folks at Nomad have freshened the place with bright coats of paint and festive décor, inside and out. Want massive murals by local artists? They’ve got that too — about 10 murals total to ogle. It’s an insanely fun vibe, and one that’s begging to be Milwaukee’s new summer go-to. 

Plus, during the month-long World Cup celebration, there’s daily live music and DJs, local vendors, and special events on tap at Nacional. On Friday June 15th, Milwaukee favorite De la Buena will be in the house. For Father’s Day, there’s a pig roast, rock climbing wall, and reps form the Milwaukee Wave to kick around with the kiddos. Yes, everything at Nacional is family-friendly! They’re even countering Father’s Day with a Soccer Mom Sunday on June 24th, with free manicures for moms and specials on mimosas and white wine.

Last but not least, the alley behind Nomad Nacional will host a Vendor Village on select dates throughout the World Cup. Newaukee is hosting a three-day Night Market the weekend of June 28th, too. Could there be any more reason to pop by this pop-up? There’s something for everyone! Oh, and soccer. There will also be soccer. Lots of soccer (in the Fanzone, as they're calling it). With all there is at Nacional to get excited about, they might even eke a cheer or two out of me.

For music lineup, vendor info, and match schedules, follow Nomad Nacional on Facebook or visit

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Milwaukee Ballet presents "Swan Lake"

Michael Pink's updated classic, as sublime as ever

Tchaikovsky's glorious score, the innocent white swan, the evil black swan, the prince, the curse, the ill-fated lovers. Even casual fans of ballet know Swan Lake, as it's arguably the most prevailing piece next to, perhaps, The Nutcracker. Typically performed in four acts, Milwaukee Ballet Artistic Director, Michael Pink, has trimmed the classic into two acts, maintaining Swan Lake's integrity and grandeur while making it a more comfortable experience for modern audiences.

In Pink's version, we see the villainous Count von Rothbart (Timothy O'Donnell*) cast his swan spell on Odette (Luz San Miguel*) and her friends as they play along the lakeshore. His aim: To destroy Prince Siegfried's (Davit Hovhannisyan*) true love, thereby destroying the prince himself and usurping the throne. Von Rothbart also conjures a dark foil for Odette — Odile (Marize Fumero*), the black swan, to further lure Siegfried to his doom. 

Setting the scenes are Lighting Designer David Grill and Set & Costume Designer José Varona. Lighting moves from golden sunshine to rosy sunset, and from the purple hues of twilight to moonlight dancing on enchanted waters. The shifts are subtle, yet so very critical to a story where women are cursed to be birds by day and human by night. Sets fit for a fairytale round out the scenery, transporting the audience to a land of ancient forests and opulent royal courts. 

Varona's costumes mirror the richness and storybook charm of the of Swan Lake's lighting and sets. Eye-popping fabrics are jewel-toned and saturated, lending a sense of the regal and fantastical. Then there are the swan maidens, who are, traditionally, sheathed in white tutus with their queen, Odette, in a similar tutu that's a few notches up on the luxury scale, complete with feathered headdress. 

You'll find none of that tradition in this Milwaukee Ballet version, as its creators have fully embraced modernity in outfitting their swans. The troupe of swans dance in simple white dress, more suited to a contemporary dance than a classical ballet. Given that the nemesis Odile dons a very traditional black tutu, the sleekness of our heroine and her friends is, at first, a little surprising — especially for anyone eagerly anticipating those classic costumes. 

But as soon as the women of the Milwaukee Ballet start moving, all costuming concerns vanish. In skirts that skim their dancers bodies, hair pulled half-back, the female company of sixteen move with such utter grace and precision, it's indeed a wise choice to let their skill shine through more simple attire. Though the principal dancers often stop the show with rounds of applause, the beauty of Swan Lake is how it allows the female company an opportunity to amaze. 

These ladies are mesmerizing, and seeing all sixteen on stage — seventeen including Odette — moving in unison is a marvel of choreography and artistry. Many of the favorite Swan Lake moments can be found: the swan maidens huddled together, the pitter-patter of bourrées, backs arched as a flock of anxious birds. What's missing? The famous Dance of the Little Swans. My one regret.

But whatever traditions are eschewed, they are answered with innovations that strengthen the narrative. In the Pas de Deux, wherein Siegfried meets the swan maiden Odette and tries to win her trust, the dance can sometimes seem all too comfortable right from the start. Traditionally, the white swan and the prince begin this dance closely intertwined and moving together as a pair. In Pink's version, Odette's fear is palpable and her eventual trust in Siegfried feels earned.

It's this passionate and tender relationship that makes Swan Lake a fairytale romance for the ages. Perhaps that's why it never goes out of style, and why the principal roles of Odette, Odile, and Siegfried are an honor for any classical ballet dancer. The Milwaukee Ballet principals do their parts ample justice, with Thursday night's Odette and Odile, Luz San Miguel and Marize Fumero, tipping the scales to give us something transcendent. 

The final moments of the ballet pull your heart into your throat, as the sixteen swan maidens turn their backs to the audience and gaze upon their beloved fallen queen. The movements are simple, the effect breathtaking. That about sums up Michael Pink's Swan Lake on the whole — streamlined and sublime. 

*Indicates dancers for Thursday's performance

Photos of Luz San Miguel, Marize Fumero, and Davit Hovhannisyan by Mark Frohna