Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Blockbuster musical thrills audience at North


So mesmerizing was the performance of "We Are the Drum" by Capita Productions over the weekend, I had to keep reminding myself I was in Milwaukee's North Division High School, not on New York City's Broadway.  Everything about this high-energy, community-based musical, featuring mostly non-professionals, was superb: the choreography, the singing, the costumes, the story line, the staging.

This blockbuster traces through music and dance the African-American experience - from Africa to present-day America, with some emphasis on Milwaukee. A live band performs in a pit, and vocalists demonstrate impressive talent on stage.

Does the cast number about 100? It seemed that way. A good share was kids, and the tiniest were among the most vigorous dancers

Capita Productions was founded in 1990 by the late Brother Booker Ashe, a Capuchin monk famous for serving Milwaukee's poor. Its president is Arlene Skwierawksi, the fabled music teacher who did wonders with the North Division choir.

The show drew hundreds of people last Friday. Still too many seats  were empty in the voluminous North Division theater. The artistry and craftsmanship, the sweat and tears that went into this community production deserve a full house. At the same time, Milwaukeeans owe to themselves the honest-to-goodness high the musical induces.

There is good news, though. The show repeats this weekend, at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 2 and 3. Tickets range from $10 to $20. Click here for details. It's worth your while to attend.

Photographs are courtesy of Capita Productions.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Hoping for a glimpse of the prez

The Master Lock company, which President Obama visited Wednesday, sits right smack in the middle of Milwaukee's black community. Onlookers gathered at N. 33rd and W. Clarke Streets, across from the plant's parking lot. A festive atmosphere prevailed.

Kathy Vincent of Brookfield displayed a sign about union-busting Gov. Scott Walker. The sign proved to be popular.

Here's a fuller look at the boarded-up house in front of which she stands. Board-ups, often the result of foreclosures, are not uncommon in the neighborhood.

This couple wear their support for Obama. Ernest Boyd says his niece gave him the jacket as a Christmas present after Obama was elected president. Not to be outdone, his wife Carolyn sports an Obama sweat shirt and a Michelle and Barack watch and pin. Ernest has a Barack pin, and they both wear Obama caps.

 As the president talks inside the plant about how businesses should follow Master Lock's example and bring jobs back from overseas, the crowd waits, hoping to get a glimpse of Obama as he leaves.

The first dignitary to exit from the plant is state Sen. Lena Taylor of Milwaukee. She gets a hero's welcome from the crowd. She says Obama gave an excellent speech.

Dogs seek to sniff out trouble outside the parking lot.

The calvary arrives. Members of the Occupy Milwaukee movement join the gathering. With their chants and signs, they add a hard edge to the assembly.  While supportive of Obama, they demand that he do more. "Make the banks pay!" they chant.  

James Causey, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial writer and columnist, exits and checks a photo he shot.

The need for jobs is a major theme. More examples of chants: 
Jobs, not jail
Money for school and education,
not for banks and corporations

Suddenly, local, county, state and federal law officers speed north on 33rd, toward Center Street in their cars. They came from the south, not from the lot across the street, as many in the crowd had expected. Black limousines follow. "He's in the second one," someone says. But the cars are but a blur. Nobody catches a glimpse of the prez. The action was so quick I couldn't take a decent shot with my camera. Still, echoing the crowd's general sentiment, a gentleman says aloud, "It was still worth coming." There is something awe-striking about being in the presence of the nation's live symbol, moreso when that symbol gives you hope.