GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Early in 2022, most theatrical groups were still coming off the restraints of the COVID-19 pandemic. There was a hunger in performances, creating an aura of greatness in the region’s performing arts spirit.
Some performances were postponed or canceled due to outbreaks among cast and crew members.
I have no “best of” list as such, but reading some performer’s names in play programs before a performance starts have me thinking, “This ought to be good.” You will see some of those names in the performances highlighted below in mostly chronological order.
Overall, it was an amazing year because of a multitude of splendid performances.
+ At Lakeshore Big Band’s “Family Movie Night” in January at Capitol Civic Centre in Manitowoc, assistant conductor Chris Woller seizes the opportunity to play the romantic “At Last” to a clarinet player, his wife, Kristy, seated at the front of the stage. Lovely.
+ There are two visits to “Carrie: The Musical.” In the St. Norbert College Knight Theatre production in January, Emma Hutter as the cataclysmic Carrie and Marki Hietpas as her mother deliver the tremors that invaded Carrie’s life. In another “Carrie” in October at The Forst Inn Arts Collective in Tisch Mills, notches are turned up again by Ariel Ducat as Carrie and Erin LaFond as her mother. Erin LaFond is scary powerful.
+ In February, director Dave Zochert guides a marvelous Green Bay Community Theater cast in the wonderful time-travel play, “The Gentleman Clothier” by Norm Foster. Doug Landwehr is on point throughout as a fussy man with a heart and conscience, and Kathy Treankler, Ali Weaver and Tim Killian skillfully pour all sorts of detail into their characters.
+ In February, AVB Community Band’s big band players capture the spirit of the swing era in the band’s immediately proclaimed “first annual” “Big Band Bash” at Riverside Ballroom in Green Bay. Director Mike Ajango and singer April Strom-Johnson lead the way.
+ In February, Evergreen Theater of greater Green Bay revisits the time of the Greatest Generation in “Fly Babies,” about women war pilots. The solid, proud play and production show the greatness without hiding the ugliness of war and social norms as it tells a story with heart.
+ In February, Birder Players of De Pere captures a moment, grabbing the illusion of something magical in “The Drowsy Chaperone.” The musical features – among other splashy players – Ana Lissa Bakken as a major and super-vain star of the stage, Sarah Sjolie Parks as a big-note lofting and stylish performer and Parker Drew at the core as the charming, delightful and engaging Man in Chair. Not many weeks later, Parker Drew impresses again in his solo, masterful “Mark Twain Revisited” at Ashwaubenon Performing Arts Center.
+ In March, Michael J. Laskowski’s Vintage Theatre cast leaps into the sardonic “Marvin’s Room” with a kind of devotion. The solid production at a church in Oshkosh delves complex humanity with leukemia as a topic.
+ In March, The Masquers of the Manitowoc area captures the madcap energy of the comedy “Boeing, Boeing,” about a guy with three fiancées. Most remarkable, though, is troupe president Luan Leonardelli overcome with emotion – voice quaking, eyes teary – as she tells the opening night audience at Capitol Civic Centre how meaningful the community theater is in its 91st year. Folks in community theaters everywhere may have shared that feeling in this year of coming back after much struggle.
+ Yuliya Smead prominently appears in symphony orchestras in Northeastern Wisconsin. In March, she has a special moment. In a Fox Valley Symphony concert in Appleton’s PAC, conductor Kevin F.E. Sütterlin surprises her on stage in front of all with a bouquet of flowers following her sterling performance as part of the famous “Scheherazade.”
+ In March, The Dance Company of greater Green Bay comes up with an ambitious original production, “The Dance Company Does Broadway,” performing dances to seven popular musicals. Sincerity, joy and energy are part of what happened.
+ In April, Sheboygan Theatre Company Studio Players go rough-and-tumble in “She Kills Monsters” with strong “Dungeons & Dragons” tie-ins at a casual local coffee shop. Bizarre costuming, combat and a whole lot of differentness spark the production.
+ Local writer Jim Reilly authors a zippy spoof of intrigue movies for an April production by Cardboard Theatre at ComedyCity Theatre in De Pere. “Deadly Games at the Hotel Excelsior” is pure camp with, to boot, all the set pieces and props made of cardboard.
+ In Marinette, Theatre on the Bay campus and community troupe performs a vigorous version of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company.” Featured is Chase Grabowski, a versatile performer in UW-Green Bay productions in Green Bay and Marinette… and elsewhere. Jacqueline Nutter and David Stary are the oh-so-right couple during a night with pot.
+ Also taking on “She Kills Monsters” in April is The Forst Inn Arts Collective in Tisch Mills. Big sparks leap from Grace Sergott as Tilly, the deceased sister whose diary is the impetus for all the wild action. Grace Sergott will be back on the same stage in November in a completely different role in the romantic “Barefoot in the Park.”
+ In April, Alan Kopischke, directing for University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Theatre, connects his nimble cast to “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.” The Steve Martin play is filled with brainy, kidding, clever, earthy, comical, flashy, imaginative action.
+ Also taking on “She Kills Monsters” in April, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Theatre employs large maps as it travels off the beaten path in the “Dungeons and Dragons”-like fantasy.
+ Elizabeth Szyman in May teams with another top-notch actor, Dan Sallinen, in a powerful performance of “Proof” and The Forst Inn Arts Collective in Tisch Mills. She is the head-strong daughter of a brilliant professor who has gone crackers.
+ In May, Kent Paulsen leads his St. Norbert College Knights on Broadway in a tribute to Broadway great Stephen Sondheim in 22 songs that prove his depth, scope and sophistication.
+ The location is makeshift but the acting crackles by Bill Sergott, Vance Toivonen and Eric D. Westphal in Footlights Theatre Company’s production of the heady “Art” in a downtown Green Bay loft space.
+ A few years ago, Stephanie Miller was terrific as a soothsayer in an Attic Chamber Theatre production of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.” In June, she takes on the same role with same result in a lively production by The Forst Inn Arts Collective in Tisch Mills. Ever-busy Dan Sallinen joins the fun.
+ Husband and wife Pamela Johnson and Kent Moraga team in a kind of verbal ballet behind the direction of Richard C. Carlson in a June production of the minimalist “Constellations” by Isadoora Theatre Company in Sturgeon Bay. The performance is all nuance about how a man and woman become a couple.
+ In June, Neenah’s Riverside Players summertime troupe offers comedy therapy – life lessons with laughs – in Jones Hope Wooten’s “The Savannah Sipping Society.” An excellently timed sample: A woman giving advice to her husband (now former) on his ideal weight: “Four pounds, including the urn.”
+ Comedic whiz Mike Eserkaln (writer/actor/director) helps light up Green Bay’s Play-by-Play Theatre production of William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” directed in July by Carolyn Silverberg.
+ The versatile Carolyn Silverberg (scholar/actor/director) helps light up Abrams Spotlight Productions’ version of the stinging comedy “The Foreigner,” directed by Mike Eserkaln.
+ St. Norbert College Summer Music Theatre also is in the honoring mode with “Sondheim on Sondheim” performing in Dudley Birder Hall in June. Eleven highly trained singers and masterful pianist/co-director Kent Paulsen ably tackle the challenges of 40 Stephen Sondheim songs.
+ Choreographer Sophie Hough infuses flair to inspire the ensemble of Kaukauna Community Players for “Cinderella” in June.
+ Fond du Lac Community Theatre goes after the super-popular “Mamma Mia!” in a big way in June.
+ “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a complex, weaving story, but the July production by The Forst Inn Arts Collective in Tisch Mills fits it well onto its cabaret stage. Much interest revolves around Kevin James Sievert as Bottom and Elizabeth Szyman as Puck, with Ross Dippel as a forceful Theseus.
+ In July, Darrick Bruns turns in an outstanding performance of Hamlet in the Seven Ages Theatrical’s production of “Hamlet” in Sheboygan’s City Green. Seagulls are noisemaking all around, but Darrick Bruns delivers the tortured heat of the nutty, dangerous Dane.
+ In July, “Shrek The Musical” creates bolts of excitement and cheers in the Birder Players production in the Broadway Theatre in De Pere. The fairytale creatures are a delight.
+ At Marinette’s Theatre on the Bay in July, the can-do aura of Dolly Parton is present in the musical “9 to 5.” It’s a rough-and-tumble production with the bad boss played by Sam Wargula getting thumped regularly.
+ A can-do spirit also fills Box in the Wood Theatre Guild’s performance of “Legally Blonde the Musical” in July at Mielke Arts Center in Shawano. High school senior Grace Stuewer plays the fiery Elle Woods. Director Maddi Stuewer has an inspirational line in her director’s notes: “Look how far I’ve come without anyone holding my hand.”
+ Riverside Players in Neenah achieves what director John Zhang set out to do in July: “(T)heater that is meant to be easy to enjoy.” A group spirit fills “The Addams Family The Musical.” John Zhang later in the year shows up having a gas in a comedic role in “Unnecessary Farce” for UWO Fox Theatre in Menasha.
+ Waupaca Community Theatre goes big – costuming, orchestra, special effects – in its July production of “The Little Mermaid.” Underwater motion is cleverly represented by half-skates with rollers on heels. Smooth.
+ Jolly Jester Community Theater in Oshkosh enjoys a nice “problem” for its August production of “The Music Man” in Alberta Kimball Auditorium: Two sets of the leading roles of Harold Hill and Marian the librarian. The duo I see – Kristopher Ulrich and Bridget Duffy-Ulrich – is mighty impressive.
+ In-your-face salacious and dilemmas with haywire dreams. That’s “Cabaret” as presented by Attic Chamber Theatre in Menasha in August. Veteran actor Joel Goodness masters temptations as the Master of Ceremonies.
+ Absorbing storytelling flows in “Anatomy of Gray” in August at The Forst Inn Arts Collective in Tisch Mills. The author achieves a sense of pleasure in writing the folktale.
+ Realism drives “Stella and Lou” for a long run of Sundays in the pub at The Forst Inn Arts Collective in Tisch Mills.
+ Birder Players gets mystical in “Xanadu” in September in Broadway Theatre in De Pere. Erin Janssen sings not unlike Olivia Newton-John, the reason the show was created in the first place.
+ Green Bay Community Theater’s cast for “Rumors” grabs onto dizzying comedy of Neil Simon in “Rumors” in September. The pace is like a thoroughbred horse on a frenzied gallop to the finish line.
+ Oshkosh Community Players plays a kind of tennis match of verbal zaniness over lies in the farce “Psych” in September at The Grand Oshkosh.
+ Superior performances lead the way in a Sheboygan Theatre Company production of “Sister Act” in October in Leslie Johnson Theatre. Moe Green is strong in song (R&B) and character (cocky to sensitive) as a murder witness in hiding in a convent, and Christi Lueck-Sadiq finesses her singing voice and every expression in character-making.
+ In October, Lola DeVillers presents a stunning of Marilyn Monroe, reliving the legend’s life in “Marilyn/God” at Baileys Harbor Town Hall. The stage is spare, but the performance desire is huge.
+ In The Forst Inn Arts Collective production of “Carrie: The Musical” in October, Erin LaFond turns in an astounding turn at anger as Carrie’s mother, with Ariel Ducat as Carrie skillfully playing off the high drama.
+ A crew member adds entertainment with balletic scene changing in “Romantic Comedy” in October at Attic Chamber Theatre in Menasha. The players are entertaining, too, as writing partners – played by Lisa Witmer and Brian Zimmerman – struggle with longstanding mutual attraction.
+ A sign that audiences are willing to return after the throes of COVID-19 is University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Theatre’s rockin’ “Grease,” playing to full houses in the large Theatre Arts Center.
+ Plays of Bertolt Brecht seldom visit area theaters. St. Norbert College Theatre Studies’ keenly executed November production of “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” makes one wonder why. The production is singular visually, with 10 wooden platforms that rolled and stacked and unstacked over and over to become another place in scene after scene.
+ Inspired performances inspire admiration of audiences for “These Shining Lives” in November at Green Bay Community Theatre.
+ A mother and father and their son play leading roles in The Masquers’ delightful and well-mounted production of “A Christmas Story” at Manitowoc’s Capitol Civic Centre in November. The three who love performing the famous roles are of the Love family.
+ Behind veteran director Susan Rabideau, the cast of the wild and woolly “Unnecessary Farce” romps in a UWO Fox Theatre run in November.
+ Grace Sergott impresses with her spark as a newlywed in “Barefoot in the Park” in November at The Forst Inn Arts Collective in Tisch Mills. She was totally a different character earlier in “She Kills Monsters.”
+ Two “Nutcracker” ballets, same community, same days in November – which is better? The one you attend – “Nutcracker at The Weidner” by NEWDO with a live orchestra or The Dance Company’s with a speaking host and the development of a romance in the story.
+ “Holiday Pops” continues as a wondrous showcase at The Weidner with The Dudley Birder Chorale of St. Norbert College at the heart of the singing/orchestra playing/dancing and overall visual and aural splash.
+ A sellout run of “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” in December by Abrams Spotlight Productions is filled with special touches. Of note is careful consideration of military veterans, with Bob Maloney leading the way with is portrayal of beloved Gen. Waverly. Among the delights is the big rush of “I Love a Piano” delivered by the company.
+ The elite newVoices choir of Northeastern Wisconsin graces St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay in its first of two days of Christmas songs performed artfully by 75 lifetime singers. Ahhhhhh… beautiful.