By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Oct 13, 2023 at 6:01 PM

Screens, whether big or small, aren't the only places to find screams this Halloween season. Several Milwaukee theater groups and organizations will also raise the curtain on some quality creepouts this month – and I'm not talking about the ghost light put on stage when the theater goes dark. 

From new spooky stories taking the spotlight, to classic tales of terror returning to paint Brew City blood red, and even a zombie puppet show, here are several chill-happy live shows that you'd feel cursed to miss this spooky season.

1. "Dracula," by the Milwaukee Ballet

Milwaukee Ballet is practically Brew City's on-stage home for the holidays this time of year. After all, would it even be a proper Milwaukee Christmas without the company's classic take on "The Nutcracker," enchanting Milwaukeeans for generations? And would it really be a Brew City Halloween without the Ballet's influential, globally acclaimed rendition of "Dracula," piroutting back onto the Marcus Center stage on Oct. 26-29? The bloodsucker rarely looked this beautifully macabre thanks to Michael Pink's hypnotic, horrific and yet heavenly dressed and danced take on the famed monster. If you're a fan of dance, you owe it to yourself to see this icon – and if you're not a ballet fan, you will after falling under the almost cinematic spooky spell of "Dracula."

2. "Witch," by Renaissance Theaterworks

Renaissance Theaterworks has something particularly special boiling and bubbling in its theatrical cauldron for spooky season this year: "Witch," beginning its run on Oct. 22. A seemingly straightforward title – but belying a devious darkly comedic tale to tell, presenting the saga of a smooth-talking devil who trecherously tricks most of a small town, except for village pariah cast out as an alleged witch. Wit and witchcraft will fly in this fascinating fable – and in case the show itself was somehow not enough of a show, there's a bonus treat to go with this tricky tale, as after the performance on Friday, Oct. 27, two local women who identify as witches will take the stage to perform a variation on a Wiccan ritual as well as take part in a Q&A about the reclamation of the word "witch" and its true legacy. 

3. "Haunted Objects Live" at the Marcus Center

I've seen enough horror movies to know being in the same room with a haunted object isn't always the wisest choice – but in the case of this special presentation coming to the Marcus Center on Friday, Oct. 20, it's worth the potential supernatural risks. Presented by Greg and Dana Newkirk of the Newkirk Museum of the Paranormal (and of Travel Channel's "Kindred Spirits and Amazon Prime's "Hellier," respectively), "Haunted Objects Live" takes audiences through historic tales of horror on stage, each with their own eerie artifacts. The production is pretty much guaranteed to be the spookiest show-and-tell session you've ever seen.

4. "Night of the Living Opera" by Milwaukee Opera Theatre

You know at the end of "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" when Jason Segel's character performs an operatic Dracula musical with puppets? That wasn't just a very funny joke for the extremely creative folks at Milwaukee Opera Theatre, who doing a kind of twist on that concept – except instead of vampires, they're doing a zombie opera. With puppets. Yes, after performing a concert reading of horror hybrid last year, MOT is pulling out all the stops – and pulling on all the strings – for a full-on production of "Night of the Living Opera," an opera take on George A. Romero's cinematic zombie groundbreaker. Running Oct. 27 through Nov. 5, come see what has to be one of the only operas with "zombie puppeteer" roles in its playbill. 

5. "The Forgotten Girl" by First Stage

All this talk of witchcraft, undead bloodsuckers and true stories or terror is enough to inspire nightmares in the adults in the audience, much less any kids in the crowd. So, when it comes to a spooky show for all ages, don't forget about "The Forgotten Girl" courtesy of the kid-friendly imaginations at First Stage. Recommended for all ages 10 and older, this specially commissioned show tells the atmospheric story about two kids who discover a forgotten gravestone and seek to find out more about the actual person behind the engraving. Blending a dash of history with a smidge of gothic horror vibes – hold the nightmares – "The Forgotten Girl" is worthy option if you looking for eerie entertainment for everyone.

6. "Blithe Spirit" by Sunset Playhouse

Hey, just because you're dead doesn't mean your sense of humor has to die too – or at leat's at least my takeaway from "Blithe Spirit," the classic Noel Coward farce receiving fresh life this fall courtesy of Sunset Playhouse. Running Oct. 19 through Nov. 5, Coward's famed lark finds the silly in the supernatural by following a writer who's first wife won't leave his new marriage alone ... which would be a problem enough in its own right, but also his first wife is a literal ghost, brought to meddling afterlife by a casual seance. Find out why this iconic comedy has, like its characters, refused to die for more than 80 years of ghostly goofiness. 

If you're not craving Coward, though, Sunset Playhouse will also host a weekend of magic and illusion starring David Seebach from Oct. 20-22. So that's a little bonus otherworldiness for your spooky season – and speaking of bonuses ... 

BONUS: "Dial M for Murder" by the Milwaukee Rep

Spooky season typically ends as soon as the calendar flips from October to November. But – TWIST! – what if it pulled a Michael Myers and wasn't dead after all!? In that spirit, The Rep will keep the curtain up on creepiness and intense intrigue through November with a presentation of the time-honored murder mystery "Dial M for Murder," running Nov. 14 through Dec. 17. Whether you're a fan of the Alfred Hitchock cinematic classic or the original play, The Rep's restaging is sure to have audiences dialing up R for raves with the crime story's many twists and turns – twists even bigger than catching a (literally) killer show outside of spooky season, when some have moved on from carving jack-o'-lanterns to carving turkeys.

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.