Press Releases

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Award-winning Broadway veteran JOHNNY RODGERS celebrates the 100th birthday of “the best friend a song ever had” in UNFORGETTABLE: The Music of Nat King Cole, December 4-8, 2019 in the SideNotes Cabaret. The cabaret is located in the Marla Eichmann Studio Theater of Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove, Wisconsin.

A celebrated singer, songwriter, pianist, and recording artist, Rodgers has been described as a versatile entertainer “who has show business in his bones.” From his tours for the State Department to places such as North Africa, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and the Pacific Islands to his performances with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, Rodgers has impressed audiences with his vocal and musical expertise. He served as Music Director and accompanist for Liza Minnelli’s performances/tours, and was featured in Liza’s Tony Award®-winning Liza’s At The Palace, which was filmed and released by PBS television. He has earned awards for his performances at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. Sunset audiences know Rodgers from his previous appearances in SideNotes Cabarets ELLA MEETS MEL and SEASON’S GREETINGS FROM ROSIE & BING.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of NAT KING COLE’s birth. From his beginnings as a jazz pianist in small nightclubs, Cole went on to become one of the top vocalists in American pop music, recording more than 100 albums and reaching the Billboard charts with many top ten hits. In UNFORGETTABLE, Rodgers will focus on some of Nat King Cole’s most popular songs including MONA LISA, STRAIGHTEN UP AND FLY RIGHT, RAMBLIN’ ROSE, and one of the best-selling records of all time, THE CHRISTMAS SONG. Rodgers will be accompanied by HAL MILLER on bass and JIM RYAN on drums. Miller has performed with many jazz notables and is Associate Music Professor at MATC. Ryan has been playing regionally for decades and also maintains a private drum instruction studio. PEGGY PETERSON RYAN will serve as Producer for the show.

Performances of UNFORGETTABLE: The Music of Nat King Cole are Wednesday, December 4th through Saturday December 7th at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, December 8th at 2:30 p.m. Technician sponsors for the cabaret are Kathy and Tom Schmit.

Sunset Playhouse, located at 700 Wall Street in Elm Grove, Wisconsin, is celebrating its 60th season. In addition to the six SideNotes Cabarets, the Playhouse offers eight productions in the Furlan Auditorium, six Musical MainStage concerts, three shows in the 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 SideNotes Cabaret Series celebrates the 60TH Season of Sunset Playhouse with a tribute to the dazzling divas who reigned supreme in America’s original art form. CROWN JEWELS OF JAZZ runs from September 26-29, 2019 and features award-winning vocalists MARCYA DANEILLE and ELLEN WINTERS. The duo will present jazz standards by Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O’Day, Billie Holiday, June Christy, Nina Simone, Diana Krall, and others.


Classically trained vocalist MARCYA DANEILLE was a featured member of Lincoln Opera Chicago and is equally comfortable with jazz, gospel, and soul genres. Born in Germany, Marcya was raised in a musical environment where she began studying piano at age seven. At 15, she started singing professionally and continued to work as a vocalist while completing a BA in Philosophy/Voice Performance at Roosevelt University. After teaching and studying in Italy and England, Marcya relocated to New York where she continued to teach and develop her career.


ELLEN WINTERS is an award-winning singer devoted to honoring the great jazz artists of the past. She has studied with some of the best vocal educators/arrangers in the country and has sung in celebrated vocal jazz groups. She performed at the North Seas Jazz Festival in Europe and the Monterey Jazz Festival Sea Cruise. Ellen is in demand throughout Milwaukee and the U.S. as a clinician, adjudicator, and arranger, and is on the faculty of Columbia College Chicago where she teaches Music Theory, Aural Skills, and Private Voice.


Marcya and Ellen will be backed by an exceptional three-piece band, The SideMen. Music Director SAM STEFFKE is a three-time WAMI award-winning pianist, plays with several local bands, and maintains a teaching practice. Bassist HAL MILLER has performed with many jazz notables and is Associate Music Professor at MATC. Drummer JIM RYAN has been playing regionally for decades and also maintains a private drum instruction studio. Writer/director PEGGY PETERSON RYAN is familiar to Sunset audiences, having appeared in several Musical MainStage concerts, SideNotes Cabarets, and Furlan Auditorium productions. She has served as Producer of the SideNotes Cabaret Series since 2010.


Performances of CROWN JEWELS OF JAZZ are Thursday, September 26th through Saturday September 28th at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, September 29th at 2:30 p.m. Technician sponsors for the cabaret are Kathy and Tom Schmit.

 To reserve tickets, call 262-782-4430 or visit For group sales, contact Stephanie at 262-782-4431, ex. 291.

DOUBT: A PARABLE to Open “After Sunset Series” at Sunset Playhouse



The critically acclaimed drama, DOUBT: A PARABLE, by John Patrick Shanley will open the After Sunset Series, in the Marla Eichmann Studio Theater, at Sunset Playhouse, 700 Wall St, Elm Grove, WI. Performances of DOUBT will take place Thursday through Saturday, September 12-14, at 7:30 pm, and Sunday, September 15, at 2:00 pm. General admission tickets are $16. To reserve tickets, call 262-782-4430 or visit For group sales, contact Stephanie at 262-782-4431, ex. 291.

(After Sunset is recommended for mature audiences only.)

DOUBT won both the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play. It was also turned into an Academy Award-nominated film. The brilliant and powerful drama is set against the backdrop of a Catholic elementary school in the Bronx, as both the Catholic Church and the nation face the major social changes of the 1960s. A progressive young priest’s conduct comes under question when Sister Aloysius, the strict and conservative school principal, suspects the priest of improper relations with a male student. The actions and motivations of each character are scrutinized, and a battle of wills threatens irrevocable consequences for everyone involved.

Directed by Becky Spice, the production features Robin Christiansen as Father Flynn; Karen Maio as Sister Aloysius; Brittany Roux as the young teacher, Sister James; and LaKysha Burns as the mother of Donald Muller, the school’s first African American student.

Other plays in the After Sunset series include: FRANKIE AND JOHNNY AT THE CLARE DE LUNE, February 6-9, 2020, and VAGINA MONOLOGUES, April 2-5, 2020.

Sunset Playhouse, 700 Wall Street, Elm Grove, WI  53122  262-782-4430

by Becky Spice

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

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 brings a bundle of talent ‘Into the Woods’

Read Marilyn Jozwik’s review of : INTO THE WOODS.  This wonderful musical by Stephen Sondheim will be performed by our very talented cast from March 1 – 18, 2018. 


The music and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim are not meant for the faint of heart, or faint of voice. His tunes take drastic plunges, have non-intuitive transitions and mood swings, while his lyrics come at you rapid-fire.

Nate Adams, director of Sunset Playhouse’s “Into the Woods,” admitted, “Sondheim scared me,” adding, “I got over my fear when I did ‘Assassins’ (Adams played the role of an assassin in the Sondheim musical.)

“Into the Woods” presents even greater challenges in staging and performing than “Assassins,” with its fairy tale settings and costumes, multi-layered tunes and larger than life (or, at least, stranger than life) characters. The book is by James Lapine. Lucky for Adams, he was able to assemble a cast of some of the finest talent around in local theater, many of whom I have enjoyed seeing onstage on a number of occasions. 

Adams may have ventured “Into the Woods” with a bit of trepidation, but returned unscathed, able to slay all the demons that the Sondheim music can throw at a cast and crew. In other words, it is a resounding success.

Be careful what you wish for

Sondheim’s quirky story is a mash-up of fairy tale characters – Cinderella (Hannah Esch), Little Red Riding Hood (Ella Rose Kleefisch), Rapunzel (Lydia Rose Eiche), Jack (Simon Earle) and The Beanstalk. Of course, there’s a Wicked Witch (Laura Monagle). They are all brought together by the Baker (Nathan Marinan) and the Baker’s Wife (Carrie A. Gray), who have not been able to conceive a child due to the Witch’s curse. The Witch will reverse the curse, but not without strings: The couple must present a milky white cow, a red cape, a golden slipper and a lock of silky golden hair to the Witch. And so, the couple journey into the woods where they are able to procure these items – with great difficulty – from characters in the aforementioned fairy tales.

At the end of Act I, all the characters seem to have gotten exactly what they wished for: Cinderella and Rapunzel got their men, Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother got freed from the Wolf, Jack got rich – and his beloved pet back — after climbing the beanstalk and slaying the Giant. And the Baker and his wife? They got their baby.

But all that unravels when the widow of the Giant, a Giantess, starts to wreak havoc on the fairy tale town … and not before many of the relationships begin to fray. There are decisions to be made at every turn, each character displaying a unique sense of morality in the choices. Some of the paths they choose lead to death, infidelity and greed, while other choices lead to friendships and changes of heart.

Fairy tales collide

There is so much going on here, it’s almost dizzying. Fairy tales get turned inside out, unlikely characters meet up and spout lines like, “Witches can be right, Giants can be good, You decide what’s right, You decide what’s good.” Fairy tale characters find that happiness is fleeting, such as Cinderella’s prince, who turns snarky, saying, “I was raised to be charming, not sincere.”

There’s more than a little humor, which this cast carries out so well, such as the Wolf’s (Kevin Gadzalinski) sardonic intoning during a conversation with Little Red Riding Hood: “There’s no way to describe how you feel, when you’re talking to your meal.” Or Cinderella’s flippant remark: “There are times I actually enjoy cleaning.”

Sondheim gives the audience little time to digest what they’ve seen and heard as familiar storybook scenes and characters speak and intersect in unexpected and surprising ways. This cast moves the story along with breakneck speed.

The show’s theme is wrapped in the tender, thought-provoking “Children Will Listen” in which the Company sings: “Careful what you say, Children will listen, Careful you do it too, Children will see.”

Singing Sondheim

This is an exceptionally strong cast throughout with no weak links, especially vocally. Music director Mark Mrozek gets a nice, full sound from five musicians who complement the lyrics without overpowering them. The show is cast wonderfully, each performer having the right look and bearing for his or her character.

Setting the bar very high is Esch, whose Cinderella opens the show with a lovely soprano voice befitting a fairy tale princess. The other fairy tale(ONE?) characters are also introduced in the “Into the Woods” prologue, each displaying an equally strong characterization. I especially enjoyed Kleefisch’s feisty characterization of Little Red Riding Hood.  Marinan has such a sincere quality as the Baker and is nicely paired with Gray. Marinan is especially effective as the Baker sings “No More,” in which he wishes to run away and put an end to all the witches and giants in his life – a metaphor for his troubles.

Monagle’s Witch is also delightfully wicked, as are Cinderella’s Wicked Stepsisters, played by Ashley Patin and Sarah Briana Monahan, who’ve camped up their characters. Earle has a breezy tenor voice and easy-going manner that adds irony to lines such as, “I buried her in a footprint,” referring to a dead character’s grave, i.e., a giant’s footprint.

Chaotic setting

While other stagings of the show might be more literal, using mostly a woods backdrop, this production chooses more of a metaphor – at least that’s the way I see it. The stage is surrounded by large panels on which are hung – in a helter-skelter manner – chairs, small tables, shutters and other wood items. Perhaps it is symbolic of the chaos that surrounds the characters and the swirling array of decisions they have to make that define them and teach their children. It sort of reminded me of a still life of Dorothy and the swirling objects that surrounded her in the tornado scene in “The Wizard of Oz.” Cleverly, the chairs toward the bottoms of the panels are often used as set pieces and then hung back up.

While it is an intriguing visual, the muddle of stuff tended to muddle the view of the characters as well. A less distracting setting would have spotlighted the characters better and focused on their performances.

Story-high ladders wheeled in to represent Rapunzel’s castle and Jack’s beanstalk, among other settings, work well.

The voice of Jana Rinelli as The Giantess resonating through the theater, as well as the booming sounds of the Giantess’ footsteps, are most effective, giving those scenes a boost of adrenaline.

If you go

Who: Sunset Playhouse

What: “Into the Woods”

When: Through March 18

Where: 800 Elm Grove Road, Elm Grove

Tickets/Info: 262-782-4430;

Sunset Playhouse named Theatre of the Year – Broadway World Regional Awards

Winners Announced For The 2017 BroadwayWorld Milwaukee Awards; Sunset Playhouse Wins Theatre of the Year!

Winners have been announced for the 2017 BroadwayWorld Milwaukee Awards, honoring productions which opened between October 2016 and September 2017.

This year the BroadwayWorld Regional Awards took place in a record number of markets, with a record number of votes – including 56 cities across the United States; with our awards taking place globally in a record-breaking 11 countries, including multiple Canadian cities!

Nominations were reader-submitted and after the nomination period ended, BroadwayWorld’s local editors proofed the list for eligibility and errors.

The votes have been counted… Check out the full list of winners below!

Best Actor in a Musical
Michael Haubner – Jesus Christ Superstar – West Allis Players

Best Actor in a Play
Nicholas Callan Haubner – Of Mice and Men – Seventh Row Center

Best Actress in a Musical
Kat Geertsen – If/Then – Greendale Community Theatre

Best Actress in a Play
Beth Perry – 33 Variations – Waukesha Civic Theatre

Best Costume Design
Heather Patterson & Rebecca Schilling – 1776 – Lake Country Playhouse

Best Director of a Musical
Tim Backes – Next to Normal – All In Productions

Best Director of a Play
Dustin J. Martin – 33 Variations – Waukesha Civic Theater 

Best Musical

Next to Normal – All In Productions

Best Play
33 Variations – Waukesha Civic Theatre

Best Scenic Design
Christopher Kurtz – Romeo & Juliet – SummerStage of Delafield

Best Youth Actor (under 18)
Jake Koch – 1776 – Lake Country Playhouse

Best Youth Actress (under 18)
Harper Navin – The Best Christmas Pageant Ever – Sunset Playhouse

Theatre of the Year
Sunset Playhouse





Broadway veterans SUSAN AND ANDREW VARELA will be featured in a cabaret titled PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE: THE ROMANCE OF RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN, February 15-18, 2018 at the Sunset Playhouse SideNotes Cabaret in Elm Grove, Wisconsin.  Timeless classics from OKLAHOMA!, CAROUSEL,  SOUTH PACIFIC, and other works by Rodgers & Hammerstein will be presented by these charismatic and gifted performers.  The Varelas relocated to Wisconsin after two decades of successful appearances on Broadway and in touring companies.


Most recently, ANDREW VARELA was seen as Daddy Warbucks in ANNIE at Skylight Music Theatre. Other Skylight performances include the title character in SWEENEY TODD and Inspector Javert in LES MISÉRABLES.  He also has been featured with Milwaukee Repertory Theatre and First Stage Children’s Theatre.  In April he will appear with In Tandem Theatre as El Gallo in THE FANTASTICKS.  SUSAN VARELA, a Milwaukee native, made her debut on Broadway as Fantine in LES MISÉRABLES and has performed locally with Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, First Stage Children’s Theatre, and Skylight Music Theatre (SWEENEY TODD, THE WIZARD OF OZ, INTO THE WOODS).


The talented duo will be backed by an exceptional three-piece combo led by Music Director RYAN CAPPLEMAN. Ryan performs and choreographs locally and is a frequent collaborator with Skylight Music Theatre, First Stage Children’s Theatre, and Danceworks. Bassist STEVE RINDT works with Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra as a conductor and coach and performs regularly with the Wisconsin Philharmonic and Festival City Symphony. Drummer JIM RYAN has been playing regionally for decades, appears with several local groups, and also maintains a private drum instruction studio.


Performances of PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE are Thursday, February 15 through Saturday February 17 at 8:00 p.m., and Sunday, February 18 at 3:00 p.m.


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