The Wisconsin Cycle, First Stage’s new play development initiative honoring the local history and heritage of Wisconsin, concludes with WELCOME TO BRONZEVILLE by Milwaukee playwright Sheri Williams Pannell, January 13 – February 5, 2017. Performances take place at the Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater, located at 929 N. Water Street, downtown Milwaukee. Tickets can be purchased in person at the Marcus Center box office at 929 N. Water Street, by phone at (414) 273-7206 or online at www.firststage.org.
1957. The heart of Milwaukee’s Bronzeville neighborhood pulses to the beat of Jazz and doo-wop. Everyone expects Michael Jr. to follow in his father’s footsteps, but is this who he is truly meant to be? The local talent show, a visit by iconic jazz singer Billie Holiday (played by Malkia Stampley), and the wisdom and guidance of a community seeking to lift up their young people help Mike find the path to the man he will become.
“In the play, a young African American man is struggling to find his place in his home, his community, and what it means to truly be ‘a man.’ His parents, siblings, the local police sergeant, and friends all have expectations for him, but ultimately he must decide which path he will take,” said playwright and director Sheri Williams Pannell. “By sharing his journey and the choices he makes, I hope to inspire young people and families of all races to forge their own journey of self-discovery, re-examine the choices they make and their influences, and find ways to connect with and celebrate their unique cultural heritages.”
Though not a musical, the play features songs of the period and original music by Sheri Williams Pannell and local composer John Tanner, bringing the songs (including Billie Holiday’s “God Bless The Child”), voices, and unique artistry of this African American community to life onstage. Many other elements contribute to creating the world of WELCOME TO BRONZEVILLE. Milwaukee artist Mutope J. Johnson’s artistic renderings add to the scenic design (by Sarah Hunt Frank) with depictions of real people who were an integral part of Bronzeville. In addition, Sheri Williams Pannell developed the play with input from elders in the Bronzville community, their voices lending to the authenticity of this rich, multi-layered piece.
Sheri Williams Pannell (Director and Playwright) made her debut at First Stage as Sojourner Truth in A WOMAN CALLED TRUTH. Since then, she has appeared in A MIDNIGHT CRY, SMOLDERING FIRES, THE WIZ, HOLES, PERSEUS BAYOU, THE HUNDRED DRESSES and CLICK, CLACK, MOO and directed the productions TO THE PROMISED LAND, MUFARO’S BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTERS and THE WATSON’S GO TO BIRMINGHAM – 1963. Her additional directing credits include productions at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Skylight Music Theatre, Old Lyric, United Nations/UW Madison, University Theater, Madison Rep, University Opera, Children’s Theatre of Madison, Bronzeville Arts Ensemble, and Uprooted Theatre. Pannell has performed with Florentine Opera, Milwaukee Rep, In Tandem, Skylight Music Theater and Old Lyric Rep. She is First Stage’s Dramaturge and Education Department lead teacher. Sheri is a founding member of the Bronzeville Arts Ensemble and belongs to Calvary Baptist Church, co-directing In the Beginning Was the Word Drama Ministry. A graduate of Spelman College, Sheri also holds a master of fine arts degree in theater and drama – directing from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.
The professional actor cast of WELCOME TO BRONZEVILLE includes Dominique Worsley* as Sgt. Chaney; Gavin Lawrence* as Michael Sr.; Malkia Stampley* as Billie Holiday; Samantha Montgomery* as Irene; James Carrington as Mr. Jones/Male Understudy, and First Stage Fellow Lachrisa Grandberry as Cleopatra/Female Understudy. *Member of Actor’s Equity Association.
Young performer roles are double cast. Young performers in the Flame Cast include Collin Woldt (Mike) from Muskego; Joshua Allen-McConnell (Reuben), Derrick Sanders (Harry), Aziz Draper (Freddy), Kellzhei Hurn-Williams (Johnny), Anthony Wells (Alvaro), and Kaysha Gail (Debbie) from Milwaukee; Ashley Nord (Patty) from Glendale; Miles Coppage (Obie) from Wauwatosa; and Lukas Czerwinski (Jake) from Greenfield.
Young performers in the Regal Cast are Kamani Graham (Mike), Nahjee Robinson (Reuben), Isaiah Martin (Harry), Braylen Stevens (Freddy), Noel Rubalcava (Alvaro) and Makayla Davis (Debbie) from Milwaukee; Michael Loomans (Obie) from Slinger; Deyki Miller (Johnny) from Waukesha; Lonnae Hickman (Patty) from Thiensville; and Mason Sammarco (Jake) from Bayside.
The Artistic Staff for WELCOME TO BRONZEVILLE includes: Laura Lynn MacDonald (Assistant Director/Dramaturg); Daryl Harris (Costume Designer); Sarah Hunt-Frank (Scenic Designer); Mutope J. Johnson (Scenic Art Collaborator); Greg Hoffman (Lighting Designer); John Tanner (Sound Designer); First Stage Fellow Giana Blazquez (Choreographer); Anne Jude (Stage Manager); and Julia Xiong (Assistant Stage Manager).
Special events and extended talkbacks are held in conjunction with most performances. For a complete schedule, please visit FirstStage.org/Bronzeville. Highlights include:
OPENING NIGHT RECEPTION
Friday, January 13, 2017
Following the opening night performance, First Stage invites all patrons to attend the Opening Night Reception at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, located one mile from the Marcus Center at 325 W. Walnut Street. Patrons can mix and mingle with the cast and crew of WELCOME TO BRONZEVILLE while enjoying refreshments, courtesy of First Stage.
BRONZEVILLE – A CELEBRATION OF COMMUNITY
On view January 13 – February 5, 2017
Friday, January 20: Extended hours (5 – 9 pm) and artist’s market for Gallery Night
This visual art exhibition features artworks by Milwaukee African American artists Willie Weaver-Bey, Blance Brown, Bennie Higgins, Mutope J. Johnson and others. Curated by Della Wells.
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. DAY
Monday, January 16, 2017
Pay What You Choose Performance at 3:30 p.m.
MKE JAZZ: THEN AND NOW
Saturday, January 21, 2017, 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center
In collaboration with First Stage, the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra and, the Milwaukee Historical Society, join us for a lively presentation and panel discussion to explore the importance of jazz in building community. Moderated by Ben Barbera, Milwaukee County Historical Society curator, with music by Sheri Williams Pannell and MYSO’s Bronzeville Jazz Quartet (BJQ).
Saturday, January 21 immediately following the 7:00 p.m. performance
The Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation and leaders in the African American community will host a facilitated conversation on the Jewish and African American common history in Bronzeville and how these two communities can work together to help solve Milwaukee’s segregation and divisiveness.