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Getting in the Holiday Spirit in Milwaukee Step 1: See “A Christmas Carol”

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By Carrie Woods
Public Relations Specialist
VISIT Milwaukee

Holiday shopping, putting up the Christmas tree, baking cookies and singing yuletide carols are all great ways to get in to the holiday spirit. But all of these things often don’t remind you of the true spirit of the holidays – of giving and charity and spending time reflecting on blessings with loved ones.

A trip to see the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s A Christmas Carol does just that. It has done so for the past 38 years. I would wager to say that it will continue to for another 38, especially since this year, the show has a few new pleasant twists and giggles that weren’t there before.

As you settle into your red velvet seat at the grandiose Pabst Theater and hear the first few lines from the cast, you are transported to nineteenth century London. The sing-song story lines are told by small groups, scattered across the stage, keeping you on your toes to follow the narrative. The colorful costumes all include overcoats and the sound effects of wind whipping through the dark streets send shivers up your spine (quite literally, I shivered!).

Christopher Donahue reprises his role of Scrooge and nails it with his own twist on the cantankerous “bah, humbug-er” we all love. He brings several poignant comedic moments to the story, some displayed by his body language and movements alone.

Veteran Rep actor Jim Pickering has played Scrooge many times over the years and is still part of the show this year. He is part of much of the show, in fact, playing four different roles – one of which is the female role of Mrs. Fezziwig. And let me just say, he does an amazing job and the costume designers have done wonders, as I never thought it would be possible to give the legendary Pickering cleavage in some sort of a tasteful way. I stand corrected!

Other highlights of the show range from the set to actors and songs. The impressively seamless scene changes are done by the cast, transporting you from Christmas past to present to future without a curtain drawn or lights lowered. The Cratchit family is adorable as ever, and Tiny Tim’s famous line makes you want to jump out of your seat and run down to hug him. Scrooge’s nephew Fred, played by Luigi Sottile, is downright dreamy, and as he and Catherine sang a few lines of “The Holly and the Ivy,” I caught myself picturing him spinning ME around the tree after playing a few rounds of charades.

Besides the warm and fuzzy parts of the show, you’ll find yourself in moments of longing and awe as you watch Scrooge come to see the reality of his lonely life. From the emptiness of missing family and loved ones to hardening of the heart in pursuit of ideals which prove to be not so great, Scrooge shows the audience a life lived without warmth, charity or kindness. It’s a good thing that his old pal Jacob Marley sends him a message loudly and clearly (and sometimes loudly and funny or intensely spooky) to try to make him see his ways.

Without giving away any more of the show, I’ll just say that after enjoying A Christmas Carol this year, I left thinking more about what is truly important during the season. Spending time with loved ones, spreading holiday cheer to those who might need a little more this time of year and making lasting memories are now at the top of the holiday to-do list.

Happy holidays, everyone!

A Christmas Carol
Through Dec. 24
Presented by the Milwaukee Repertory Theater
Performed at the Pabst Theater

Photography credits:

Top Row

  • Left: Renata Friedman (standing) and Christopher Donahue in Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s 2013/14 production of A Christmas Carol. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
  • Middle: Craig Wallace and Christopher Donahue in Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s 2013/14 production of A Christmas Carol. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
  • Right: A scene from Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s 2013/14 production of A Christmas Carol. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Bottom Row:

  • Left: A scene from Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s 2013/14 production of A Christmas Carol. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
  • Middle: (L – R) Melody Betts, Jack Trettin (seated), Marti Gobel, Eliza Hake (front row), Freedom Gobel (second row), Claire Zempel, Riley Halpern and Elliott Brotherhood (back row). 
  • Right: The cast from Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s 2013/14 production of A Christmas Carol. Photo by Michael Brosilow. 

Holiday Events in Milwaukee

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By Carrie Woods
Public Relations Specialist
VISIT Milwaukee

There is something about traditions during the holiday season that makes me feel warm inside. Warm like the kind of warm you feel while you sip hot cocoa (maybe spiked, maybe not…) huddled between your friends watching the fireworks at the Holiday Lights Extravaganza kickoff at Pere Marquette Park. If you’ve never seen a fireworks show synchronized to your favorite holiday hits, you simply haven’t lived.

Here’s just a few ways you can get that warm, tingly, Santa-is-coming-and-I’m-on-the-nice-list-this-year feeling with Milwaukee’s holiday events coming this week:

110th Annual City/County Christmas Tree Lighting
Wednesday, Nov. 20 at 4:30 p.m.
Red Arrow Park

Few holiday traditions stand the test of time as well as the City/County Christmas Tree Lighting – this year becoming a century-old tradition. Local choirs, musicians and theater groups commence the yuletide carols at 4:30 p.m., followed by a countdown to the illumination of the Christmas tree dressed in big, red bows that stands near Red Arrow Park’s picturesque skating rink. Mayor Tom Barrett, County Executive Chris Abele, John McGivern and Santa (I KNOW HIM!) will all be there to spread some holiday cheer and flip the switch.

Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival Kick-Off Extravaganza
Thursday, Nov. 21 at 6:00 p.m.
Pere Marquette Park

Ok, I’m biased on this one. It is my favorite holiday event, not only in Milwaukee, but EVER. My countdown started months ago in anticipation of the festivities including live music (think big band, bluesy sounds), dance performances (with little ones and teens donning costumes of red and green and OH THE GLITTER), holiday skits, ice sculptures and a visit from the Big Guy in the red suit. All of this culminates with the flip of the switch, illuminating Milwaukee’s downtown parks with holiday lights displays from Santa’s Elves to a merry band of giant bears, a steam locomotive and trees decorated by more than 2,000 students from the Milwaukee area. Simultaneously, the aforementioned fireworks synced to the sounds of “Jingle Bells” get bigger and higher as “Joy to the World” hits your ears, propelling your holiday cheer to uncharted territories. This experience results in a season filled with mountains of Christmas cookies, the purchase of reindeer antlers for your household pet and a tree covered in WAY too much tinsel.

To see all of the parks in their twinkling glory while staying toasty warm, hop on the Jingle Bus! Thursdays through Sundays from 6 – 9 p.m., the bus picks up at Center Court of the Shops of Grand Avenue. A friendly and knowledgeable Milwaukee Downtown Public Service Ambassador narrates a 40-minute tour of the parks and landmarks for just $1 per person. Free cookies and hot cocoa are served, and kids get a free holiday coloring book.

Milwaukee’s 87th Annual Holiday Parade
Saturday, Nov. 23 at 9:30 a.m.
Downtown Milwaukee – Click here to see the parade route map

I’m not quite sure how Santa is going to get all of the toys made and check his list twice with all of his obligations in Milwaukee this week. He’ll be making another appearance along with giant balloons of Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph, marching bands, bouncing dancers, that Elf-looking guy who rides the huge hamster wheel around, smiling dignitaries, TV and radio hosts and more at the Holiday Parade on Saturday morning.

Insider tip: If you park towards the end of the parade route (get there early for a street spot within a few blocks, or park in the structures nearby if you don’t mind paying a little bit), spend some time in the Shops of Grand Avenue sipping coffee or cocoa and nibbling on sweet treats while you watch the furry, animatronic bears of the Leonard Bearnstein Symphony Orchestra perform.

A highlight of the parade is watching the volunteers for Hunger Task Force cruise through the streets with shopping carts to collect non-perishable food items during the parade. Kids run from the sidewalks with bags they brought along, excited to get in on the parade action, reminding us all to be grateful for what we have during the holidays, and spread some of those blessings on to those in need. After seeing this happen, you’ll feel like donating your whole pantry, so pack a bag before you head out for the parade and help the Hunger Task Force make someone’s holiday a little brighter!


“Forever Plaid” is a Splendored Thing

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By Carrie Woods
Public Relations Specialist
VISIT Milwaukee

After reading a review of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Forever Plaid, I was feeling simultaneously excited and curious. The author described the show as, “very, very funny,” and mentioned several times how great the music was.

But, he also said this…“The only question about this play is whether people under, say 40 or 50, will respond to it.”

I pushed any reservations to the back of my head and headed out to see the show on a crisp fall evening with a girlfriend. The show is on stage at the Rep’s Stackner Cabaret Theater, which is my favorite place to see a show in Milwaukee. A glass or two of wine shared with a table of new friends at a place where you can get seats less than five feet from the action? Yes, please. We also ordered a hefty slice of carrot cake with cream cheese frosting about halfway through the show. My sweet tooth gave a standing ovation. 

From the first note sung, the show had me smiling. “Forever Plaid” is based on four eager young singers from the 1960s known as “The Plaids.” The story goes the group was killed tragically on their way to a gig. They greet the audience as they realize they’ve been brought back from the afterlife to finally put on their big show.

The Plaids weave their story as they croon bop-shoo-boppers and ballads like “Three Coins in the Fountain” and “Sixteen Tons” from the nifty fifties, times that many in the audience know and remember fondly. While I didn’t recognize all of them, the harmonies are so tight and impressive that each time they were building up toward the end of a song, I wished they would do one more verse!

The cast had the banter between the characters nailed, to a point where you believed the smooth heartthrob was most certainly a dreamboat in real life, and the worrisome, taller bass was glad he got to chug his Maalox on stage so he didn’t have to wait until he was behind the curtain to sooth his nerves.

So the verdict is in. Those who find themselves belonging to a generation with a title falling somewhere closer to the end of the alphabet instead of up towards “Baby Boomer” will enjoy this show. So much so they might catch themselves humming tunes from the show. I might even add a new “50s Rock ‘n Roll” station to my Pandora line-up.


Forever Plaid at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater
Through Dec. 29