the illusionists

I’ve always been fascinated by magic. In elementary school, I decided to teach myself a magic trick for a class assignment (a disappearing penny, for the record), and even today I’ll suffer through often painful episodes of competition variety shows in hopes of seeing a great magic act. But I’d never seen a large scale Vegas-style magic show in person…until now!


The Illusionists is filled with amazing tricks. There were definitely times I gasped aloud (and also times that I covered my eyes). As impressive magic is on TV, there’s always that layer of separation…even though you know it was performed live, you can’t reallyyyy be sure. Seeing it live was definitely a thrill, and I’d love to see another big magic show.

The show is made up of seven performers, each with their own specialty. I was curious to see how all these distinct acts would work together in a single show, and the answer is……a little bit oddly? There really wasn’t an act that I disliked, but there were definitely intense tonal shifts between the gothy gross-out tricks of Dan Sperry (The Anti-Conjuror) and the wacky Liberace-esque gladhanding from Jeff Hobson (The Trickster). Add in some cute kid-related illusions made to make you go “awww,” pretty assistants in strappy leather gear, mind-reading, breakdancers, and a guy dramatically descending into a water-filled cage of death, and there’s definitely a lot going on. I know that set-up and timing probably limits how the show can be put together, but I would have liked to rearrange some of the acts for a different flow.

My favorite performance of the night would have to be the first act by Yuho Jin (The Manipulator). His performance was so much quieter than the rest of the show, but no less enrapturing. I was also appropriately mystified by the discoveries of Colin Cloud (The Deductionist). That kind of “mind-reading” magic is one of my very favorites…I know that there are tons of different devices and stage tricks that go into other magic, but when it’s something as simple as knowing~ someone’s thoughts, I’m always desperate to figure out how they’re doing it!

Seeing The Illusionists was a ton of fun, and it would be a great night out for a family (although the humor does get a little raunchy at times).

The Illusionists runs now through February 19 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.


the book of mormon at the marcus center

Seeing The Book of Mormon last year was one of my all-time theater highlights, so of course the only way to top it was by seeing it AGAIN!

Book of Mormon
Ryan Bondy, David Aron Damane – The Book of Mormon (c) Joan Marcus 2016

I’ll start this off with a warning: this is a limited engagement and will be leaving town on Sunday! But catching this hilarious production is a great plan for your Halloween weekend – after all, what’s scarier than the Spooky Mormon Hell Dream (by far my favorite number of the whole show)?

The Book of Mormon is tasteless in the best way possible; you’ll cringe while you’re laughing, but you’ll laugh all the same. If you caught the show on the last go around (or in another city), I highly recommend going back for seconds. The show was even funnier seeing it again; instead of paying strict attention to the plot and lyrics, I could enjoy the constant mugging of side characters.

One of my favorite things about The Book of Mormon is that it doesn’t use its satirical tone as an excuse to shrink away from the traditional elements of a Broadway show. To the contrary, it throws itself whole heartedly (and often riduclously) into big production numbers, including tap-dancing, canes and top hats, glitz…the whole shebang. It’s immensely satisfying to me as a fan of “straight” musical theater and a fan of subversive, snarky comedy.

Definitely do your best to get to The Book of Mormon before it’s run is done this Sunday – if you’re feeling lucky, the Marcus Center has also brought back the $25 ticket lottery for this run!

lost valley cider co


True confession: though I am a Milwaukee local and a tireless lover & promoter of Milwaukee…I am not a beer drinker. I know, I know! I just lost about a million points of legitimacy, but there’s now a place in Milwaukee just for me: the city’s very first cider bar!

Lost Valley Cider Co opened…yesterday, and I waited a whole day before going to scope it out. It’s located just next to the Iron Horse Hotel and has a very similar funky industrial vibe. This cider bar offers up 20 ciders on tap, nicely organized into categories like “Apple-Centric,” “Fruit Forward,” and “Herbal & Spices,” plus bottled and canned ciders, a few beers and wines, cider cocktails and an on-site cider shop. You can even take home a “howler” of any tap cider, a concept that I am deeply enamored with.

My favorite thing about Lost Valley is that they really encourage you to build your own cider flight by providing a 3 oz pour of all of their taps. Especially with so many new and interesting ciders to try, it’s a huge benefit to be able to sample like that before committing to a full pour. I never knew that cider came in so many different varieties, and there are still a bunch I want to try! I think my favorites of this visit were the Cranberry Rosehips cider (second from right) and the unfiltered cider with wildflower honey (far right), but they were all very tasty. I’d happily drink a full glass of either of them, but I have a feeling that I’ll be sampling my way through the rest of their draught list on my next visits…of which there will doubtlessly be many. Definitely two big thumbs up for me – the staff here was really friendly as well and all seemed excited for the place to be open. I hope that they do really well here!

kinky boots at marcus center

Kinky Boots national touring company. Photo: Matthew Murphy.

Words to describe Kinky Boots: colorful, bold, inspiring, exciting, and, of course, SEXY.

Those who know me know I absolutely adore drag queens (I’ve been watching RuPaul’s Drag Race since the very first season!), so combining queens with musical theater for a message of self love and self expression is sure to thrill. I’m a fan of the film the show is based on, but the musical is new to me.

J. Harrison Ghee is an absolute treasure in the role of Lola. He’s a real powerhouse, bringing the pipes and dance skills plus real humanity to both the flashy, kick-ass Lola and the somewhat quieter (but no less kick-ass) Simon. In fact, Ghee’s Lola is so strong that I have to say Charlie faded in comparison. He’s a character with a lot less room for embellishment, but I still would have liked to see more energy from him. As it is, his escalating stress in the second act feels a little bit unfocused.

I loved the flashy dance numbers featuring Lola’s “Angels.” The number pictured above that made great use of the shoe factory’s production line was a major standout, as was the way that the Angels created the boxing ring during the scene at Fisticuffs.

Mostly, the show made me crave a pair of absolutely ridiculous boots. After seeing all the fun those ladies were having rocking their kinky boots on stage, I want some of my own!

Don’t miss the opportunity to get kinky (and celebrate being yourself!) with Kinky Boots.

The Facts

Kinky Boots playing at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts now through Sunday, June 5.

wanderings: california


I can’t lie, I might have been humming Phantom Planet’s “California” on the ride out. I finally made it out to the west coast!

One of my college roomies returned to her home state for grad school, so there was no reason not to go…the fact that I was also able to include a stop at Dapper Day at Disneyland was the ultimate icing on the cake!

I flew into LAX (and had a magical travel experience – both of my flights out, no one was sitting in the middle seat! Score!) and was picked up by the lovely Miss Elise. We grabbed In-N-Out, as you do, and hit the ground running with a stop at Santa Monica Pier.


I hadn’t had a chance to apply sunscreen yet, so we just wandered around a little before taking my vampiric self back to the car and heading to Elise’s parents’ house in Altadena. The next day was dedicated to exploring the L.A. area – my wishlist was to see the Hollywood sign and visit the brick & mortar location of one of my favorite online shops.

We headed to Griffith Observatory, then cruised up to Burbank for the shopping. We even drove past some movie studios, which made me feel like I was getting the proper Hollywood experience! After a quick stop by Caltech to see a very unique science-themed play, we were off to Anaheim.


Dapper Day is an unofficial Disney event where fashion enthusiasts of all types wear their finest duds in the park. It was so much fun to dress up and see all the beautiful outfits. We had a pretty magical day at Disneyland; everything worked out pretty much perfectly, and we basically didn’t have to wait in line for anything. A great first experience at the park! But no rest for the wicked – once we’d had our fill of Disney, it was off to Santa Barbara!

Elise is a grad student, so I had some time to explore on my own while she was in class the first day. I visited the Santa Barbara courthouse and got some great shots from the observation tower, then explored downtown (with crepes for lunch, yum!). That night, Elise’s mom treated us to a lovely oceanside seafood dinner. Scallops with crab and lobster risotto, oh yes.

My last day in Santa Barbara, we explored tidepools, visited the historic Mission and rose garden, and had some delicious Chinese food for dinner. I saw sea slugs, an anemone and even a wee little crab! I had such a lovely time on my trip, thanks in huge part to Elise & Zach. You guys were such amazing hosts – thank you again for having me!

Since I’ve gotten back, a lot of people have asked me if I “got the bug” for California. And…honestly, I think I have to say no? I had a lot of fun and definitely want to go back there again, but at least in this brief glimpse, it’s not a place I can really picture myself living. It doesn’t help that we got caught in a big L.A. traffic jam on the night I landed, curing me of any romantic notions about the city. At least at this point in my life, I don’t think I’m a big city kind of person. Milwaukee is definitely still the right size for me.

But part of the fun of having a home is that it’s always there waiting for you when you want to go exploring. And this was a great week of exploration!

milwaukee day: 18 milwaukee faves


Happy Milwaukee Day! Every 4/14 we celebrate the other 414 – Milwaukee! There are lots of great deals from local businesses, a park clean-up, and even a concert to celebrate (learn more about all that here), but it’s also just a great day to spend some time thinking about all the things you love about Milwaukee.


Now, if you hadn’t heard, I wrote a book with 100 great things to do in Milwaukee, but in honor of Milwaukee Day, I wanted to share 18 of my personal favorite things about the city I call home (4+14, get it?). In no particular order, comprising of places, things, feelings and all of the above, things about Milwaukee that make me happy:

  1. German Fest
  2. Cheese curds
  3. Other kinds of cheese
  4. Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge
  5. The “Smallwaukee” community feel
  6. Beer gardens
  7. Indie craft fairs
  8. The “Choose a positive thought” mural
  9. The Streets of Old Milwaukee
  10. Frozen custard
  11. The majestic wings of the Milwaukee Art Museum
  12. Local coffee roasters & cafes
  13. Duck poutine at Vanguard
  14. The RiverWalk
  15. Ultra local food
  16. Milwaukee Public Market
  17. Revitalized historic architecture
  18. The lights of downtown at night

I could go on and on…I think that there are great things on the horizon for Milwaukee. I hope that we embrace change and strive to be a better, more welcoming city every day, and I hope that we continue to support and encourage the things that make our city worth celebrating.

once at the marcus center

(L to R) Sam Cieri, Mackenzie Lesser-­Roy and Marlene Ginader from the ONCE tour company. Photo by Joan Marcus.

So I thought Cabaret had one of the coolest pre-show set-ups yet…Once definitely blew that away! The set is a Dublin pub…and before the show and during intermission, it is an actual working bar! Cash only, so unfortunately I wasn’t able to actually buy a drink on stage, but how cool is that? But wait, it gets cooler: you can also hang out on stage as the cast starts to warm up and jam, stomping and clapping and pulling you totally into the world of the show. Definitely take the chance and hop up on stage if you get the chance – if only just for the experience of looking out into the house! Not many of us average Joes get to experience that.

The world of Once is very intimate. Much like the film it was based on, the show eschews any traditional “Broadway show” spectacle in favor of halting, half-mumbled conversations, sweetly mournful songs and even soft lighting. There’s no razzle dazzle here; the entire production is entirely self-contained, with the full cast of characters on stage throughout, serving as orchestra, stage-hands and more. It felt incredibly small and intricate in the best way, very different from what you might expect from a national Broadway tour.

This is a simple story about a colorful cast of characters, each of them yearning for something, all of them connecting and expressing themselves somehow through music. As it has to be when you’re required to sing, dance, and play instruments, the whole cast was phenomenally talented. I enjoyed Sam Cieri’s performance as Guy so much that I immediately came home to look for more performances of his on Youtube; he has a beautifully rough, soulful voice that I’d be happy to listen to an entire album of. Like anyone else, I’d heard Falling Slowly repeatedly on the radio after Once (the film) made it big, but it felt so different, hearing it in this context, with these characters.

Once is another short engagement; just like the show itself, its time in Milwaukee will be sweet but fleeting. If you love the movie or just love music, go see it.

The Facts

Once is playing at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts now through Sunday, April 10.



If you’re a huge nerd like myself, you might already know that Milwaukee has quite a history with dioramas. If you’re not, allow me to illuminate you.

Famed taxidermist Carl Akeley actually created the very first habitat diorama at the Milwaukee Public Museum – and it’s still on display there today!

It’s these cool muskrats. Source.

The museum went on to create many more dioramas, both taxidermy and non. The Streets of Old Milwaukee is considered one of the world’s first walk-through dioramas, and as a kid I was always especially into the tiny intricate recreations of Egyptian cities or faraway places. I could stare into those windows into another world forever. (I also really liked the T-Rex chomping down on a triceratops. I’ve always been a woman of simple pleasures.)

All of this is to tell you that both Milwaukee and I have some diorama bonafides, which is why I’m excited to invite you to Diorama-rama! This celebration in honor of National Diorama Month will take place on March 29 at Blackbird Bar in Bay View and feature a Milwaukee-themed diorama contest. Your donations supporting Milwaukee Pets Alive will get you votes, but there will also be an esteemed panel of celebrity judges…and one of them is me! I can’t wait to see what our creative local diorama enthusiasts come up with, and yes, there will be fabulous prizes. This event is sure to be fun, creative, wacky, crafty…everything that I love! I hope that if you’re free you’ll come on down to support a fun new event and a great cause (or just to say hi!).

dining out: c. 1880

It’s been a loooong time since I went to a fancy restaurant, folks. But there’s a birthday coming up, which means it was time to go out and celebrate! And we picked a nice one.

I’ve been intrigued by c. 1880 for a long time, but it’s definitely not the kind of place I would go as part of my everyday life, so it always lingered on my restaurant wish list. But with the aforementioned birthday (and, selfishly, some good news for me at work), it was finally time to take the plunge. Chef Thomas Hauck is nominated for the James Beard award for Best Chef Midwest this year, so what better time to try it out? If he wins, I’ll get to nod knowingly!

First off, the space is very cool. A lot of rustic, industrial touches executed in a super classy way. I especially loved the statement light fixtures, with black wires draped across the ceiling. We sat in the back, where there’s a set of four intimate banquette tables – it seemed like this was “celebration” space, since three of the four tables had birthday cards from the staff set up on them (such a nice touch, by the way!).

The service was excellent; the host was very friendly and checked out us several times throughout the night, and our server was great and so knowledgeable about the menu. She let us know that the appetizers are individually portioned, so we decided to just skip ahead to entrees. Plus a bottle of prosecco…it was a celebration, after all!

I considered a lot of options on the menu (our server let us know that it changes up quite regularly with seasonal ingredients from the local producers they work with), but in the end, I had to go with my one true love: scallops.

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Wowza. The pan-seared scallops were served with a trio of sunchoke (pickled, pureed, and sunchoke chips), paddlefish roe and a dill oil. The dish comes with pickled ginger, but I’m not a ginger fan…I always feel a little weird about asking for changes/substitutions in a fancy restaurant (I feel bad for not experiencing the dish as the chef intended), but our server checked in and the kitchen was happy to leave it off for me. And god…this dish was seriously mind-blowing. Scallops are a special favorite of mine, so I know: when they’re good, they’re so good, and when they’re bad they’re tremendously disappointing. And these were so so good. (I also snagged a bite of the shortrib [which is cooked for 48 hours! What!], and it was also amazing.)

For dessert, we split a cheese plate (who knew cheese was a dessert? I approve!) and the house dessert, the Whatchamacallit. The cheese was amazing (cheese is always amazing), but the Whatchamacallit? People. I can’t even remember everything that made up this dessert…chocolate mousse, ice cream, caramel rice krispies, peanut brittle, it is 100% not to be missed. The perfect ending to a lovely meal.

I don’t know when I’ll return to c. 1880, but the next time I have a special occasion that’s really worth celebrating, it will be at the top of my list.

diy tissue paper art

It’s crafting time! I always want to do more crafting, and somehow other things (time, inspiration, materials cost) always seem to get in the way. But I’ve been wanting to start filling in some blank spaces on my walls with some large scale art, and large scale art ain’t cheap. I knew I that the only way to get some big decorations fast was to DIY it.

After searching around for cheap (I mean…inexpensive) DIY art projects, I settled on this beautiful tissue paper flower backdrop. All you need is tissue paper, double-sided tape, some sort of base to attach it too, scissors, and patience.

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I did most of my crafting during procedural marathons on the weekends. Nothing livens up crumpling up hundreds of pieces of tissue paper quite like sex crimes (ION airs Law & Order: SVU all day on Saturdays!). Maybe it was all the staring at the TV that did it, but I eventually decided that above the TV would be the perfect spot for this piece. It’s always looked a little empty up there, since I have a very petite TV, but I didn’t want to hang up an actual piece of art that would compete visually with whatever was on the screen. This lovely, textural piece was the perfect compromise.

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Ain’t she a beaut? I’m really happy with how this came out. It required literally zero skill apart from not accidentally handling the tissue paper too roughly (I did have a few ripped casualties…). I feel that a treatment like this would be super fun on a base that’s a fun shape (a heart?) or even letters. It is a little bit tedious, but it was nicely mindless. You definitely don’t have to pay close attention to it, so it’s perfect for zoning out while you watch some TV. I mounted this with some Command Velcro strips, which is my preferred method of hanging for pretty much everything. So far it’s holding up pretty securely.

I’m excited to start doing some more projects and making more changes…it’s coming up on a year since I moved in, and there’s still a lot I’d like to do to make the place my own.