There aren't a lot of theater stages that can claim to have hosted presidential speeches—and fewer yet for which that president was William Howard Taft. Opened in 1883, the Grand Opera House has seen performances by the likes of Mark Twain, Harry Houdini, and John Philip Sousa, among other culture-makers of distant generations. Across a century and a quarter, the magnificent auditorium has played the parts of a vaudeville venue and a movie theater, and it wasn't until the mid-'80s that the stage resumed its duties as an opera house. After a sweeping referendum, the city acquired and restored the building, and in 1986 it reopened with a new staging of The Bohemian Girl—the same work that had first lifted its curtains more than a 100 years earlier. Today, 660 can enjoy the opera house's historic magnificence: an enormous, staggered chandelier, cherubic murals across the ceiling and flanking the balcony, and an unmatched ambiance of crimson and gold grandeur.
Hosted by WBAY's chief meteorologist George Graphos and Frank Hermans of Let Me Be Frank Productions, Starstruck showcases talented local performers in “A Starry, Starry Night." Comprising horns, keyboards, and percussion, Bay City Swing accompanies performers, recalling that golden era of music before the Electric Slide squashed the jitterbug. Audiences can aim ears at St. Norbert College’s Knights on Broadway, an apple-cheeked band of student crooners that don fetching formalwear when oscillating between Broadway showstoppers and holiday ditties. The program features vocals from local talents such as Dino Biloti and Jennifer Stevens, a dulcet remedy for ears still ringing from that morning’s space-shuttle launch, as well as jazz clarinet from Kevin Van Ess of The Talk of the Town.
Keggers creates a lively atmosphere for casual parties and get-togethers. Its outdoor beer garden hosts live music events where patrons can sit at a wooden bar or lounge on the patio and sip a variety of beers including Miller Light, Spotted Cow, and Leinenkugel. For more intimate gatherings, the Lyric Room is available for rental as an event space with a 100-person capacity and entertainment capabilities for bands, DJs, or your fledgling mime act.
The Equinox Jazz Orchestra delivers soul to the stage, paying tribute to influential songwriter Johnny Mercer. At the Mostly Mercer Show, the band aurally embraces the audience with classic American songs, including “Fools Rush In,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” and “Blues in the Night.” Ears perk up at the sound of fondly remembered tunes such as “Moon River,” a greater success than either “Star Stream” or “Orbiting Celestial Body Waterfall.” Enjoy the high-octane trumpet wails and southern groove of band leader Jeremy Davis’s professional ensemble as it performs an original arrangement of Mercer’s music, specially commissioned by the Friends of Johnny Mercer to mark the songsmith’s centennial.
Since 1960, the nonprofit Sunset Playhouse has grown and flourished alongside the community who helped build it, paying them dividends in lively musicals and family-friendly classics. In Craig Lucas’s Prelude to a Kiss, Rita and Peter’s seemingly perfect wedding takes a turn as unexpected as the end of Titanic, when a mysterious old man interrupts the celebration to request a kiss from the bride. The gesture causes their souls to trade places, leaving Peter to unknowingly take a total stranger on a honeymoon. As the groom realizes his error, he seeks out his beloved, who is now trapped in an aged body, forcing the couple to navigate through unexpected challenges involving commitment, physical appearance, and arguments over how much to tip at Denny's.
Lizz Wright is a gospel-trained contralto, born in Georgia and now based in New York. As Stephen Holden of the New York Times articulates, "Her voice, luminous and smoky and perfectly pitched, is one of the most wondrous rhythm-and-blues instruments of our time." Lizz wrote the majority of her latest album, Orchard and, like her other releases, it's as smooth and mysterious as butter melting over butter. Equally as impressive are her interpretations of classics including Patsy Cline's "Strange," Ike and Tina Turner's "I Idolize You," and Led Zeppelin's Korean Conflict protest ballad, "Thank You." Mitchell Park, which allows Lizz Wright's sultry vocalizations to float to lawn-lounging ears unimpeded, also features sustenance options from Haute Taco, North Star American Bistro, Loaf & Jug, and Bella Caffe.