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Comedy Follows Sunset’s LEADING LADIES by Marilyn Jozwik

Gender confusion has been in the playwright’s arsensal for decades. Probably the best-known and oldest example is Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” with its set of twins often appearing as the opposite sex.
Not surprisingly, Ken Ludwig (“Lend Me a Tenor”) uses The Bard’s play as a backdrop for his hilarious romp, “Leading Ladies,” Sunset Playhouse’s early summer offering.
Director Michael Pocaro said before the show, “I always get the wacky comedies.” That’s probably because he does such a good job with them. Ludwig’s “Ladies” contains opportunities for loads of laughs as its two main characters – down-on-their-luck British Shakespearean actors – try to pull off fraud that could net them a million each. The only catch: they must pretend to be women.
Those two actors, Mike Owens as Leo Clark and Brandon C. Haut as Jack Gable, must also present themselves – in drag—as Maxine (Owens) and Stephanie (Haut) to appear at the home of a wealthy, perpetually dying woman, Florence (Betty Petersen), as the long-lost nieces she has named as her heirs. It is a chance for the two struggling actors to get back on their feet, if they can pull it off. But it requires they play the most difficult roles of their lives!

There are so many complications along the way that only add to the hilarity as the pair stumble into Florence’s household in York, Pennsylvania, meeting her niece, Meg (Stephanie Pluta), who is getting ready to marry Duncan (Matt Carr), a greedy, uptight minister, as well as her doctor (Glenn Villa) and his son, Butch (Scott Korman). Butch is dating Audrey (Sarah Briana Monahan), Florence’s part-time helper. These relationships change faster than the pit crew at Indy as Leo and Jack often must appear as themselves to the household, as well as their Maxine and Stephanie characters. Perhaps the funniest scene occurs when Meg insists that Maxine and Leo see her together.
I’ve seen Mike Owens in the past couple years in a variety of shows and am so impressed with his ability to handle a wide range of comic roles – from his Noel Coward-like character in “The Man Who Came to Dinner” to his child-adult character in “Leaving Iowa.”
In “Leading Ladies,” Owens is at his comedic best. He and Haut are a wonderful pairing. Their verbal jousting on the train once Leo has cajoled Jack to take on the ruse is wonderfully done, the scene enhanced by the gentle rumbling of train wheels underneath the dialogue. Jan Pritzl handled the sound, which also included music of the era – the show is set in 1958 – that slowly faded into scenes, rather than abruptly being cut off, which I would’ve found annoying.
The two in drag are hilarious before they say or do anything, Owens being somewhat stout while Haut is tall and rail thin. I can’t imagine what costume designer Kate Dombrowski had to go through to find outfits for these two.

Pluta is perfect for her excitable, high energy character. As Meg, she demonstrates nicely her love for Shakespeare, cooing over Leo Clark when she gets to meet him. She, too, has good comic timing and can turn a phrase into laughs, like when she tells Leo she knew he was in love with her “when you (looked) at me, sort of cross-eyed, with your mouth dangling open.”
I just loved Monahan’s take on Audrey, who practices her roller skating for her new job. Monahan has no trouble with the extra demands, apparently having rolled during a stint at Disneyland. She keeps her ditzy, gum-chewing blonde character – who seems impressed with her own growing vocabulary – in an engaging state of bemusement. So much fun to watch!
Villa’s Doc is also appealing. I especially enjoyed his slightly inebriated character as the emcee of his men’s club entertainment – Leo and Jack performing bits from Shakespeare – with the Sunset audience doubling as the club’s audience. Villa engages well in the effectively staged scene.
Playwright Ludwig has provided lots of fodder for fun and frivolity for all the characters. Playing Florence, Betty Petersen gets to snap and snarl as Flo returns to life after Doc declares her dead. Peterson takes great joy getting back at her incompetent doctor, even ending up cha-chaing at her niece’s engagement party.
Director Pocaro has all performers up to speed with movement and dialogue in this fast-paced romp. Some costume malfunctions only added to the hilarity.
If you go
Who: Sunset Playhouse
What: “Leading Ladies”
When: Through June 23
Where: 800 Elm Grove Road
Info/Tickets: 262-782-4430,


Popular chanteuse CAROLYN WEHNER will lead audiences through a selection of unforgettable hits from classic and contemporary Broadway shows in a cabaret titled BROADWAY BLOCKBUSTER SINGALONG, June 13-16, 2019 in the SideNotes Cabaret. Performances are presented Thursday through Saturday, June 13-15 at 8:00 PM and Sunday, June 16 at 3:00 PM in the Marla Eichmann Studio Theater of Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove, Wisconsin.

A seasoned cabaret performer, Wehner has appeared throughout Wisconsin and the greater Chicagoland area in shows that highlight Broadway showstoppers and favorites from the Great American Songbook. She initially pursued a career as a classical vocalist, receiving her Bachelor of Music degree in Vocal Performance from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her piano studies began at age five, and along the way she was encouraged to blend the two abilities into the jazz-cabaret singer/pianist niche she now occupies. Wehner is an active member and performer with Chicago Cabaret Professionals and recently performed at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theatre and the Skokie Theatre. She also has appeared at Milwaukee’s Pfister Hotel and Wisconsin Club, and Lake Geneva’s Baker House.

Carolyn will be accompanied by Michael Britz on bass and Michael “Ding” Lorenz on drums. Britz performs locally with the Milwaukee Symphony, Florentine Opera, Skylight Opera, and many touring Broadway shows and revues. He recently retired from a 33-year career as Orchestra Director for the West Allis-West Milwaukee Schools and currently is the bass instructor at Carroll University. Lorenz serves as Staff Percussionist and Orchestra Contractor for Skylight Music Theatre where he has performed in over 135 productions including his popular percussion/comedy show titled “Things That Go Ding.” He also records shows for the Fireside Theatre, serves as Principal Percussionist of the Wisconsin Philharmonic Orchestra and plays drum set with the Minnesota Orchestra.

Sunset Playhouse is celebrating its 59th season and, in addition to the six SideNotes Cabarets, offers eight productions in the Furlan Auditorium, six Musical MainStage concerts, four shows in the new After Sunset series, and three shows in the bug in a rug Children’s Theater series. To reserve tickets, call 262-782-4430 or visit For group sales, contact Stephanie at 262-782-4431, ex. 291.

The Marla J. Eichmann Studio Theater

The Sunset Playhouse has been a community theater fixture in Southeast Wisconsin since its stage lights were illuminated in 1960. Throughout its history, it has experienced successes and challenges, and has risen to meet those challenges every time. Often, obstacles faced are overcome because of the volunteers, the lifeblood of any theater organization. One such Sunset Playhouse volunteer, Marla J. Eichmann, is an undeniable example of one who has impacted its success. Walking through the doors of the theater in 1999 to try her hand as a props mistress, Marla became so enamored with the Playhouse that she traveled from back stage crew to leading the charge as president of its board.

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Eichmann has always been a champion of the arts, and volunteering at Sunset allowed her to take that support further. “I enjoyed witnessing and learning the magic of theater.” However, it was her extensive business knowledge that aided Sunset Playhouse when it was most needed. When the theater had to navigate some financial obstacles, Marla used her savvy business acumen as Board President to steer Sunset in the right direction. “I stepped in to more directly supervise the day-to-day aspects of the theater, including implementing Management 101 discipline and searching for the right staff members.”

One area that required a re-focus was the Studio Theater. Built as an addition to the original structure, the intention was to utilize it for pre- and post-performance gatherings for the theater’s various patron groups. Additionally, there were dreams about using the space for small-scale productions that might not be a good fit for the Furlan Auditorium. The hope was to add another level of theatrical offerings, introducing and exploring lesser-known but important or edgier artistic pieces with a broader audience.

However, lacking a dedicated resource to manage the usage of the space, Sunset slowly saw the Studio Theater become more of a financial monkey on its back. Marla and company had to closely examine how to forge a corrective path. As Board President, Eichmann, the creative Sunset staff, and a group of very generous volunteers sprang into action. They hit the ground running, brainstorming ideas to turn the Studio Theater into a hot-bed of activity.

Today, that same Studio Theater space virtually never sees a quiet moment. It now hosts the popular SideNotes Cabaret Series and the newly-created After Sunset Series. Additionally, it serves as a rental space for private parties and events. Even more exciting, the Studio Theater has become a nurturing location for up-and-coming local artists and theater companies to stage special event performances.

Marla has continued her focused dedication to Sunset’s success story. Her devotion to the theater has served as an inspiration to her sister, Laura Hohing, who has also had a long-time affection for the arts.
Laura graciously and generously donated to the Playhouse in December, asking only that the Studio Theater be named in her beloved sister’s honor, a request enthusiastically endorsed by the Board. The Marla J. Eichmann Studio Theater is busier than ever, showcasing productions from Pulitzer Prize-winning pieces to the wonderfully endearing performances emanating from the very successful theater education programs.

The Sunset Playhouse’s Sparkling Sixtieth Season has been announced and the box office is open. Don’t just take our word; come see for yourself the incredible theater that is on display in both the Marla J. Eichmann Studio Theater and the Alan Furlan Auditorium. Remember….Entertainment begins at Sunset!

Nikki Lueck

Meet the cast: BEAT IT! Back to the ’80s – Musical MainStage

Our first tribute to that totally righteous decade—the ‘80s–was an absolute sell-out! So rinse and repeat
and this one’s getting close.  BEAT IT! Back to the ’80s – April 29 & 30, 2019.

With an all-star cast it’s no surprise—just look who we’ve got!

ALLIE BABICH was one of this series’ very first Rising Stars. That was ten years ago and oh, the places she’s gone! A graduate of the University of MN/Guthrie program, Allie has appeared across the country singing and speaking Shakespeare. Favorite roles include VIOLET at Skylight Music Theatre, Rosalind (AS YOU LIKE IT) at the American Shakespeare Center, and Ela (CHARLEY'S AUNT) at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. Allie looks forward to making her Door Shakespeare debut this summer.

TOMMY HAHN is on his some-teenth Musical MainStage appearance because well, he’s Tommy Hahn. Among his credits: MAN OF LA MANCHA (Milwaukee Rep); RENT, LES MISERABLES, and MUSIC MAN (Skylight); JC SUPERSTAR (Rochester Civic Theatre), PUMP BOYS & DINETTES at the Fireside; PHANTOM, EVITA, MISS SAIGON (Marriott Lincolnshire); and DEE SNIDER’S ROCK & ROLL CHRISTMAS TALE (Broadway Playhouse, Chicago).

JOSH KRAUSE’s credits include SOMEONE WHO'LL WATCH OVER ME (Two Crows Theater); A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Children’s Theater of Madison); THE RECRUITING OFFICER, BORN YESTERDAY, and OUR COUNTRY’S GOOD (American Players Theater, where he’ll spend the summer); EQUIVOCATION (Next Act); MIRACLE ON SOUTH DIVISION STREET and GREAT EXPECTATIONS (Milwaukee Chamber Theater); and VISITING MR. GREEN and JEEVES AT SEA with Artists’ Ensemble.

BETH MULKERRON appeared Off-Broadway in REDHOOK (H.C., Lambs Theatre). Regionally: Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (Linkup Series), MAN OF LA MANCHA and A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Milwaukee Rep), FALLEN ANGELS (Milwaukee Chamber), WINTER'S TALE (Optimist Theatre), BIG (First Stage), SIZZLIN' 60's (Fireside), CHURCH BASEMENT LADIES (Marcus Center), SUNDAY IN THE PARK… (Windfall Theatre), and A CHORUS LINE (MOT/TheaterRED).

ELLA ROSE KLEEFISCH returns for her second Rising Star turn. She’s been seen on the Sunset Playhouseboards as Baby June in GYPSY!, Little Red in INTO THE WOODS, and Jane in MARY POPPINS. Other credits include Young Violet in Skylight’s VIOLET, Amy in LITTLE WOMEN: THE BROADWAY MUSICAL at Lake Country Playhouse, Opal in Acacia Theatre's OPAL, and Nellie in ANNIE GET YOUR GUN for Waukesha Civic.

Plus KERRY HART BIENEMAN on keys, CASEY OLSON on guitar, TIM KARTH behind the drums, and the usual SUSAN LOVERIDGE-BOB HIRSCHI combo platter doing play-by-play. Missing this one will be grody to the max. Word.

Tickets available at the box office at 262-782-4430 or at

2019-20 SideNotes Cabaret Season Announced

Sunset Playhouse has announced six original productions to be offered as part of its 2019-2020 SideNotes Cabaret Series. SideNotes offers a unique assortment of musical entertainment presented by talented professionals in the comfortable atmosphere of the Marla Eichmann Studio Theater, a relaxed and intimate setting complete with a full-service bar.

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The SideNotes season begins in September with CROWN JEWELS OF JAZZ, an homage to the women who reigned supreme in America’s original art form. In December, UNFORGETTABLE celebrates the 100th birthday of Nat King Cole, an extraordinary pianist and singer.

BACKSTAGE BROADWAY, a cabaret offered in February, will feature veteran performers sharing music, memories, and anecdotes from their experiences on the Great White Way. In March, RHODE’S ROADHOUSE ROWDIES will offer an eclectic mix of music from folk to funk.

In May, music by chick singers of the ’70s will be featured in a cabaret titled NOBODY DOES IT BETTER. The SideNotes Series concludes in June with THE START OF SOMETHING BIG, an encore performance paying tribute to iconic duo Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé.

CROWN JEWELS OF JAZZ – September 26-29, 2019


BACKSTAGE BROADWAY – February 13-16, 2020




Season tickets for the 2019-2020 season at Sunset Playhouse are now on sale, both Full Package and Pick & Choose Flexible Package. Individual tickets will go on sale July 9, 2019.

Sunset Playhouse is proud to be celebrating its diamond anniversary 60 th season as one of the city’s premier community theaters, offering eight productions in its Furlan Auditorium. The Playhouse also is home to four professional series: the Musical MainStage Concert Series, the SideNotes Cabarets, the After Sunset Studio Series, and the bug in a rug Children’s Theater series.

To reserve tickets or for more information, call 262-782-4430 or visit For group sales, contact Stephanie at 262-782-4431, ext. 2



Legendary folk artists will be honored at Sunset Playhouse as the SIDENOTES CABARET SERIES presents DON’T THINK TWICE, IT’S ALL FOLK, March 20-24, 2019 in the Marla Eichmann Studio Theater. Singer/musicians SARA HUBERTZ, DON LOBACZ, HAL MILLER, and CASEY OLSON celebrate an American genre that had its roots in bluegrass, gospel, and the blues. This unique, powerful music was the foundation of country-western, jazz, and rock ‘n’ roll and made international stars of performers like Pete Seeger, The Kingston Trio, Bob Dylan, and Peter, Paul and Mary.








SARA HUBERTZ has been performing for many years and appears locally with ACOUSTICATS, a guitar/vocal duo. DON LOBACZ is a popular singer/actor, known for his appearances with area theater groups and BtW, a classic rock band.  HAL MILLER is a freelance bassist who has performed with national and international jazz artists.  CASEY OLSON is rapidly becoming Sunset’s in-house musician, playing and singing in both the SideNotes Cabarets and the Musical MainStage Concert Series.





Performances of DON’T THINK TWICE, IT’S ALL FOLK are Wednesday through Saturday, March 21-23 at 8:00 PM and Sunday, March 24 at 3:00 PM.  The Wednesday performance has been added to the line up due to sell outs of the original four performances.

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Technician Sponsorship for this cabaret is provided by TOM and KATHY SCHMIT.

Sunset Playhouse is celebrating its 59th season and, in addition to the six SideNotes Cabarets, offers eight productions in the Furlan Auditorium, six Musical MainStage concerts, four shows in the new After Sunset series, and three shows in the bug in a rug Children’s Theater series.  To reserve tickets, call 262-782-4430 or visit For group sales, contact Stephanie at 262-782-4431, ex. 291.


SideNotes Cabaret

March 20-24, 2019

Sunset Playhouse





In celebration of hearts, flowers, and romance, the SideNotes Cabaret presents FRANKLY SENTIMENTAL, February 14-17, 2019 in the Eichmann Studio Theater at Sunset Playhouse. Backed by the six-piece SWING EXPLOSION combo and featuring popular vocalist PETE SORCE, performances will be filled with memorable vocals and instrumentals from the Great American Songbook.

PETE SORCE has worked with a “Who’s Who” of legendary entertainers including Les Brown, Nelson Riddle, Mel Tormé, and Duke Ellington. He attended Lincoln High School where he sang with his friend, Al Jarreau, and also worked with popular rock groups Big Apple and Toll Free. THE SWING EXPLOSION SEXTET includes Jeff LaBarge (leader/arranger and saxophone), John Rose (trumpet), Dave Smith (trombone), Chris Klinkhardt (keyboard), Jeff Hoormann (bass), and Jim Ryan (drums). 

Sunset’s SideNotes Cabaret Series offers a unique assortment of musical entertainment presented by talented professionals in an intimate, relaxed setting. Performances of FRANKLY SENTIMENTAL are Thursday through Saturday, February 14-16 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, February 17 at 3:00 p.m. Technician Sponsorship for this cabaret is provided by TOM and KATHY SCHMIT.

Sunset Playhouse is celebrating its 59th season and, in addition to the six SideNotes Cabarets, offers eight productions in the Furlan Auditorium, six Musical MainStage concerts, four shows in the new After Sunset series, and three shows in the bug in a rug Children’s Theater series.  To reserve tickets, call 262-782-4430 or visit For group sales, contact Stephanie at 262-782-4431, ex. 291.

Meet the cast of BILLBOARD’S BEST – Musical MainStage

Five of the area’s busiest performers will kickstart the new year with Billboard’s Best–a salute to some of the music industry’s biggest, chart-topping hits:

ALISON MARY FORBES’ credits include work with Skylight Music Theatre, First Stage Children’s Theatre, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, In Tandem, Bunny Gumbo, Milwaukee Shakespeare, Optimist Theatre, and Off the Wall. A Musical MainStage regular, she’s also appeared in the SideNotes Cabaret productions SONGS OF THE SILVER SCREEN and THE HARMONETTES.


TOMMY LUECK was featured in our very first Musical MainStage concert and many more over the years. He’s probably best known as the front man vocalist for Swing Nouveau and as one quarter of the Four Guyz in Dinner Jackets, but he’s also a remarkable director of musicals, both at Sunset Playhouse and for his students at Brookfield Central High School.

CASEY OLSON, singer and guitarist extraordinaire, has quickly risen to cult status around the Playhouse, with credits that include YOU’VE GOT A FRIEND: A TRIBUTE TO CAROLE KING & JAMES TAYLOR; HOMEWARD BOUND: SIMON AND GARFUNKEL; and QUEENS OF COUNTRY. This season brings half a dozen more appearances for both the SideNotes Cabaret and Musical MainStage series. 

It’s always fun to introduce a new performer to our family. This time around we welcome HAYLEY SAN FILLIPPO. With a BFA in Theater Performance from UW-Whitewater, her area credits include work with First Stage Children’s Theatre, All in Productions, ComedySportz, Soulstice Theatre, Alchemist Theatre, Greendale Community Theatre, and Sunset Playhouse.

In her second Rising Star appearance, we welcome back KYLEE HENNES, who has wowed our audiences with her talent as both vocalist and bass guitar player. Recent credits include THE BAD SEED (Sunset), ANNIE and VIOLET (Skylight Music Theatre), and THE SOUND OF MUSIC (Lyric Opera of Chicago). KyLee also rocks out with her sisters in the BAND Hennes.

On keys will be superstar music director KERRY HART BIENEMAN. She’ll be joined by our resident drummer-man, TIM KARTH, along with Susan Loveridge and Bob Hirschi in the play-by-play chairs. You’ll be All Shook Up if you miss this one!

Theater RED Invites Milwaukee to “Be Italian!” with NINE the Musical

January 25-27, 2019

Directed by Theater RED’s New Artistic Associate, Eric Welch

Che bello! Theater RED proudly announces a new addition to the company! Eric Welch joins Theater RED as Artistic Associate following his collaboration with the company in June of 2018 for the Wisconsin premiere of I’LL EAT YOU LAST: A CHAT WITH SUE MENGERS. Eric Welch directed this one-woman comedic romp as a co-production with his theater company, Untitled Productions.

The great secret of NINE is that it took “81⁄2” and became an essay on the power of women by answering the question, ‘What are women to men?’ And NINE tells you: they are our mothers, our sisters, our teachers, our temptresses, our judges, our nurses, our wives, our mistresses, our muses.

– Maury Yeston

Be Italian! New Theater RED Artistic Associate Eric Welch will direct NINE the musical, with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston and book by Arthur Kopit, in January of 2019. Reimagined with a cast of nine (9) women and one (1) man, NINE brings Theater RED alumni and newcomers together for a courageous, no-frills production that brings the core of Guido’s crisis to audiences up-close in Sunset Playhouse’s intimate Studio Theater.

Based on Italian director Federico Fellini’s comic masterpiece of biographical filmmaking, “8 1⁄2”, Yeston’s sultry musical follows the life of world-famous film director Guido Contini as he prepares his latest picture. Contini is also, after recent box office failures, drifting towards a nervous breakdown. Contini has turned 40 and faces two crises: he has to shoot a film for which he can’t write the script, and his wife of 20 years, film star Luisa del Forno, may leave him if he can’t pay more attention to his marriage. As it turns out, it is the same crisis. Luisa’s efforts to talk to him seem to be drowned out by voices in his head: voices of women in his life, speaking through the walls of his memory: insistent, flirtatious, irresistible, potent. These are the women Guido loved, and from whom he derived the entire vitality of a creative life, now as stalled as his marriage. As his sanity disintegrates, he drifts into nostalgic reverie, eventually focusing on the formative sexual encounter of his life, which occurred at the age of 9.

Dates (three performances only): Friday, January 25 at 7:30 PM Saturday, January 26 at 7:30 PM

Sunday, January 27 at 2:00 PM

Tickets: $20 General Admission
Order online at or by calling 262-782-4430

Location: Sunset Playhouse Studio Theater, 700 Wall Street, Elm Grove, WI 53122

Stage Direction:

Music Direction:


Eric Welch

Lydia Rose Eiche

Ashley Patin


Timothy J. Barnes as Guido

Marcee Doherty-Elst as Serraghina

Jennifer Larson as Mama Maddelena

Rae Elizabeth Paré as Luisa

SaraLynn Evenson as Lilliane Le Fleur 

Hannah Esch as Our Lady of the Spa

Samantha Sostarich as Carla

Laura McDonald as Guido’s Mother

Carrie Gray as Lina Darling

Kara Ernst-Schalk as Claudia

Marcee Doherty-Elst as Stephanie


About NINE

NINE is a musical, initially created and written by Maury Yeston as a class-project in Lehman Engel’s BMI Music Theatre Workshop in 1973. It was later developed with a book by Mario Fratti, and then again with a book by Arthur Kopit, music and lyrics by Maury Yeston. The story is based also on Frederico Fellini’s semi- autobiographical film 81⁄2. It focuses on film director Guido Contini, who is dreading his imminent 40th birthday and facing a mid-life crisis, which is blocking his creative impulses and entangling him in a web of romantic difficulties in early 1960s Venice.

The original Broadway production opened in 1982 and ran for 729 performances, and starred Raul Julia. The musical won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical and has enjoyed a number of revivals. The 2003 Broadway revival featured a star-studded cast: Antonio Banderas, Mary Stuart Masterson, Chita Rivera, Jane Krakwoski and Laura Benanti, and won 2 Tony Awards itself, including Best Revival of a Musical and Best Supporting Actress in a Musical (Jane Krakowski).

The movie [81⁄2] has a phenomenal impact on me when I saw it as a teenager when it first came out. I was fascinated with Guido who was going through his second adolescence when I was going through my first! As I grew I began to realize that there was room to explore the reacting of the inner workings of the women in Guido’s wake…I think that’s what opened the gateways of creativity for NINE – to hear from these extraordinary women.

– Maury Yeston to the New York Times

About the Title

Fellini entitled his film 8 1⁄2 in recognition of his prior body of work, which included six full-length films, two short films, and one that he co-directed. Yeston’s title for the musical adaptation adds another half-credit to Fellini’s output and refers to Guido’s age during his first hallucination sequence. Yeston called the musical NINE, explaining that if you add music to 81⁄2, “it’s like half a number more.”

Getting There

The intimate 88-seat Studio Theater is located at Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove, WI and is the sister performance space to their larger 299-seat Furlan Auditorium. Sunset Playhouse is in the heart of the Elm Grove shopping district at 700 Wall Street with ample free parking available in their spacious parking lot. Sunset Playhouse is easily acceptable for patrons coming from all corners of the world (even Italy!). Visit https:// for detailed, localized directions from the West, North, South, and East of Southeastern WI.

About Theater RED: Theater RED produces theater in Southeastern Wisconsin. Each production addresses three founding tenets: Substantial roles for women, growth in craft for artists, and support for new playwrights.

For more information: and Be Italian with Theater RED in January 2019!

Sunset’s CHRISTMAS BELLES rings in the season with hilarity







If you thought the Christmas pageant depicted in “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” was over the top, wait until you see the one in Sunset Playhouse’s “Christmas Belles.” Think of “Christmas Belles” as the adult version of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” with a sackful of fun. If you’re looking for some laughs this holiday season, this show delivers in bunches.

From a tipsy version of the Christmas Story to an Elvis sighting, the pageant in Fayro, Texas, is one for the ages. But the lead-up to it is full of surprises and humor as the Futrelle sisters gather for one of the most unusual unplanned reunions you’ll ever see. In the hours before the pageant you’ll see them as far apart as the state of Texas and then finding just how much they need each other.

Honey Raye Futrelle, the town floozy, has taken over Tabernacle of the Lamb Church’s Christmas pageant from Miss Geneva, who directed the show for 27 years. Honey Raye has a Vegas production in mind for the show, complete with a guest appearance by a fourth wise man (a local celebrity who will be bringing her butternut squash lasagna for her gift), as well as a part for an Elvis impersonator. It’s sure to be the talk of the very small town for years, but, when things go very wrong and secrets are revealed before the show even starts, the play careens hilariously out of control.

The strength of the show, directed by Becky Spice, is its strong, well-defined characterizations by Sunset’s choices for the Futrelle sisters: Tamara Martinsek as Honey Raye; Heather Reynolds as Twink; and Diane Gard as Frankie. Twink has been incarcerated after setting a fire to avenge her husband’s cheating, but the sheriff is allowing her to see her sister’s pageant. Frankie, along with husband Dub, is expecting twins any minute, a late life second family as they have a grown daughter, Gina Jo (Nicole Gross), who is being romantically pursued by the church pastor, Justin (Keith R. Smith). Frankie and Gina Jo also come to support Honey Raye’s directorial efforts.



There are such fun folk in this show, and the comedy is almost non-stop. You meet Frankie’s husband (Paul Pfannenstiel), who is playing Santa at the town’s big department store for some extra cash, giving lots of opportunities for humor when he is dealing with a (ho-ho-ho) kidney stone – scenes which Pfannenstiel milks wonderfully. The pastor plays his reindeer helper. Then there’s the 10-gallon hat-wearing town sheriff (Parker Cristan), who has a soft spot for inmate Twink. Parker gives his bombastic sheriff a sort of Barney Fife likeability, while really letting it all out for his Elvis bit.

Nearly every scene ends with a zinger. And this cast knows how to deliver a zinger.



Martinsek as the dramatic Honey Raye, who wants to name her big-production Christmas pageant “Bethlehem Lalapalooza,” seems to be at the center of every scene with her big red hair, her thigh-high, leopard print boots and her big Southern personality. When she vents her anger by saying, “I am so furious I could spit nails,” it sounds like something she’s said time and time again. Martinsek is just a joy to watch.

Reynolds and Gard complete the sister act to perfection. The three are in sync with one another and the whole cast.  Gross’s Gina Jo is just so sweet, while Cheryl Roloff as Rhonda Lynn, who keeps everyone fed in the church kitchen during play rehearsals, fits in nicely. Beverly Sargeant gives Miss Geneva a no-nonsense attitude as she provides a steady hand through the pageant’s shenanigans.

There are several smaller roles that have big moments in the show that get big laughs, including Joyce Sponcia, playing Patsy, the nosy, intolerant church benefactor. Sponcia is hilarious as she delivers an unconventional Christmas story, while Susan Zuern as Ozella makes the most of her unique solo in the pageant while playing the ukulele. Jacob Cesar as Raynerd, who insists on playing his role in the Christmas pageant with a Batman backpack, is convincing with his oft-proclaimed, “I just love Christmas,” and then saves the pageant with his touching sincerity.



A concluding singalong at the church pageant – and in the auditorium — puts a cherry on this delicious holiday production.

Who: Sunset Playhouse

What: “Christmas Belles”

When: Through Dec. 23

Where: 800 Elm Grove Road, Elm Grove

Tickets/Info:; 262-782-4430









Award-winning vocalists ELLEN WINTERS and JOHNNY RODGERS welcome the holiday season with music and memories in SEASON’S GREETINGS FROM ROSIE & BING at the SideNotes Cabaret, December 12-16, 2018, in the Studio Theatre of Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove, Wisconsin.


WINTERS and RODGERS reunite after their smash hit cabaret ELLA MEETS MEL, this time in a tribute to Rosemary Clooney and Bing Crosby, written and directed by PEGGY PETERSON RYAN. Backed by a top-notch combo of Sam Steffke on piano, Steve Rindt on bass, and Jim Ryan on drums, audiences will be treated to timeless duets, seasonal favorites, and many of Rosie and Bing’s signature songs.


ELLEN WINTERS has appeared at Sunset Playhouse many times in the SideNotes Cabaret and also as part of the Musical MainStage Concert Series, most recently in FRANK & ELLA & FRIENDS.  She has won numerous awards including Jazz Musician of 2017 from the Shepherd Express “Best of Milwaukee.”  Winters is sought after as a vocalist and cabaret singer throughout southeastern Wisconsin and the U.S., and also works as a clinician, adjudicator, and arranger.  JOHNNY RODGERS is an internationally-celebrated singer, songwriter, pianist, Broadway star, and recording artist.  He has been described as an “Ambassador of American music” and has won songwriting awards from the Billboard and The Great American Song contests, as well as the ASCAP Foundation. Rodgers spent several years touring with Liza Minnelli as a featured singer, dancer, and pianist and continues to tour the world presenting concerts and cabarets.


Writer/Director PEGGY PETERSON RYAN is well-known to audiences from her many appearances with local theatre companies and from her work with the SideNotes Cabaret Series since its inception in 2008.  In addition to her work onstage and behind the scenes, she also has served as playwright and lyricist for the production of VICTORY FOR VICTORIA at Milwaukee Opera Theatre.


Music Director SAM STEFFKE is a three-time WAMI award-winning pianist and a graduate of Berklee College of Music.  He plays with several local bands and maintains a teaching practice. Double bassist STEVEN RINDT is a freelance bassist with the Wisconsin Philharmonic and Festival City Symphony and with several classical and jazz groups. Drummer JIM RYAN has been playing regionally for decades, appears regularly with big bands and smaller combos, and maintains a private drum instruction studio.


Performances of SEASON’S GREETINGS FROM ROSIE & BING are Wednesday, December 12 through Saturday December 15 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, December 16 at 3:00 p.m.


Sunset Playhouse is celebrating its 59th season and, in addition to the six SideNotes Cabarets, offers eight productions in the Furlan Auditorium, six Musical MainStage concerts, four shows in the new After Sunset series, and three shows in the bug in a rug Children’s Theater series.  To reserve tickets, call 262-782-4430 or visit For group sales, contact Stephanie at 262-782-4431, ex. 291.


Musical MainStage celebrates the holidays with that mellow fellow, singer-songwriter John Denver. Our talented singers and musicians will cover both his Christmas tunes and his classic hits. Meet the cast:

A big welcome back to LYDIA ROSE EICHE, whom we first met exactly ten years ago when she was a Rising Star! Her Sunset credits include Babette (BEAUTY AND THE BEAST) and Rapunzel/Cinderella’s Mother (INTO THE WOODS). Also: Yitzhak (HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH) with All In Productions, Milica (SVADBA—WEDDING) with Milwaukee Opera Theatre, and Ensemble for SWEENEY TODD at Skylight Music Theatre.

CARRIE GRAY is also back for her second Musical MainStage concert. Her many credits include work with Skylight Music Theatre, First Stage Children’s Theatre, Milwaukee Opera Theatre, and Greendale Community Theatre. Carrie’s favorite roles include The Baker’s Wife in INTO THE WOODS for Sunset and Diana in NEXT TO NORMAL with All In Productions.


TOMMY HAHN, one of your favorite performers, is back in his 14th or 15th or 16th appearance—we’ve lost track! Local credits include Milwaukee Rep (MAN OF LA MANCHA) and Skylight Music Theatre (RENT, LES MISERABLES, MUSIC MAN). Regional: Fireside Theatre (PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES, ROCKIN’ AT THE FIRESIDE), Marriott Theatre at Lincolnshire (PHANTOM, EVITA, MISS SAIGON), Northlight Theatre (SIDE SHOW), and DEE SNIDER’S ROCK & ROLL CHRISTMAS TALE (Broadway Playhouse, Chicago.)


CHAD LARGET, who made his Broadway debut in the ‘97 revival of CANDIDE, directed by Harold Prince, makes his Musical MainStage debut. Other credits include PIRATES OF PENZANCE (Frederic), DIE FLEDERMAUS (Dr. Blind), and MOST HAPPY FELLA (Pasquale), all for Skylight Music Theatre, featured soloist with the Milwaukee and Racine Symphony orchestras, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and Florentine Opera. At Sunset: MARY POPPINS (Bank Chairman) and SHE LOVES ME (Kodaly).

Our Rising Star is Divine Savior Holy Angels High School sophomore CLAIRE BECKER. Her credits include the school’s production of Les Miserables, along with performances for the Hartford Players, Lake Country Playhouse, and Falls Patio Players.

In addition, we have KERRY HART BIENEMAN on the keys, CASEY OLSON on guitar, and JASON LOVEALL on violin. As always, Susan Loveridge and Bob Hirschi will offer the play-by-play.

Start your holidays out right by letting those country roads take you home!


December 3, 2018, 7:30 pm

December 4, 2018, 2:00 and 7:30 pm

Note:  Performances are almost SOLD OUT.  We are considering adding a performance on Sunday, December 2nd at 7:30 or Monday, December 3 at 2:00.  If you are interested in attending one of these shows if added, please call our box office ASAP at 262-782-4430


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