Between the current trends of true crime and relitigating infamous tabloid tales of the '80s and '90s, it's no surprise the story of Lawrencia Bembenek would pop back up in pop culture.
What is a surprise, however, is where and how it's popping back up: at the Milwaukee Rep, which announced its upcoming 2023-24 season highlighted by the world premiere of a stage interpretation of the notorious "Bambi" saga. And also it's a musical.
Scored by the Violent Femmes' Gordon Gano, "Run Bambi Run" will chronicle the wild tale of the local cop turned Playboy bunny turned wrongly convicted of murder turned nationally infamous fugitive and folk hero. For those potentially skeptical of the show, worried about capitalizing on a lurid local tale while the true crime/reassessment bubble has yet to burst, the musical comes with a pretty sterling resume, with Rep artistic director Mark Clements directing the show and the book coming from Milwaukee-born playwright Eric Simonson, who also wrote "Lombardi" and won an Oscar in 2006 for his short film "A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin."
While "Run Bambi Run" has gotten most of the headlines, the rest of the Rep's 2023-24 slate is equally noteworthy and impressive – featuring literary giants ("Little Women"), musical icons with profiles of Nina Simone and some of country's most beloved singers, fan favorites like "Guys on Ice" and "A Christmas Carol," a restaging of the murder mystery staple "Dial M for Murder" and a Pulitzer Prize finalist with "What the Constitution Means to Me."
"Seven decades ago, Milwaukee was one of the first cities in the country to build a professional theater,” said Clements, in a release. "Seventy years after our humble beginnings, Milwaukee Rep has become the largest performing arts organization in Wisconsin, providing world-class theater to 300,000 patrons annually. To celebrate this extraordinary milestone, we have hand-picked a season of exceptional plays including our first world premiere musical on the mainstage, beloved literary adaptions, the return of Milwaukee Rep favorites and exciting new works by the country’s leading playwrights."
Here's the full schedule for the 2023-24 Milwaukee Rep theater season:
- Sept. 8 through Oct. 29 – "Country Sunshine: The Legendary Ladies of Nashville with Katie Deal" in the Stackner Cabaret: Performer Katie Deal pays heartfelt homage to some of country's most iconic voices, including Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire and many more.
- Sept. 13 through Oct. 22 – "Run Bambi Run" in the Quadracci Powerhouse: A world premiere, the infamous story of Lawrencia "Bambi" Bembenek comes to new life on the stage in this true crime musical penned by Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes.
- Sept. 26 through Oct. 29 – "Parental Advisory: a breakbeat play" in the Stiemke Studio: In another world premiere, Idris Goodwin of HBO's "Def Poetry Jam" discusses culture and censorship in popular art using hip-hop and humor.
- Nov. 3 through Jan. 7 – "Nuncrackers" in the Stackner Cabaret: From the universe of crowd-favorite "Nunsense" comes another comedic carol, this time decking the halls with laughs as a gaggle of sisters in a convent basement make the season bright and silly.
- Nov. 14 through Dec. 17 – "Dial M for Murder" in the Quadracci Powerhouse: A classic murder mystery – whether seen on stage or on the big screen courtesy of Alfred Hitchcock – gets fresh life in this new stage adaptation from Jeffrey Hatcher.
- Nov. 28 through Dec. 24 – "A Christmas Carol" at The Pabst Theater: The Milwaukee holiday season icon returns once more to tell the time-honored tale of Scrooge's heart growing three sizes thanks to three ghosts – this time featuring the return of actor Matt Daniels as the infamous grump.
- Jan. 12 through March 17 – "Guys on Ice" in the Stackner Cabaret: A beloved warm-hearted musical in icy climes makes its return to the Rep with "Guys on Ice," a Sconnie-based small and silly saga following two friends ice fishing up nort'.
- Jan. 16 through Feb. 18 – "Little Women" in the Quadracci Powerhouse: The classic novel, telling the story of four sisters growing up and learning to take their place in the world, hits the Rep stage.
- Feb. 6 through March 10 – "What the Constitution Means to Me" in the Stiemke Studio: A recent Pulitzer Prize finalist, this production takes an intimate yet universal glance through the past, the present and the future of the nation, and how one of its most important documents shapes now and then.
- March 5-31 – "The Chosen" in the Quadracci Powerhouse: This adaptation of Chaim Potok's acclaimed novel follows two Jewish boys growing up in the shadow of their families' legacies, World War II and an ever-changing world around them.
- March 22 through May 19 – "Piano Men 2" in the Stackner Cabaret: A new show every night, this key-slamming sequel brings back dueling pianists to the Rep playing some of the greatest tunes in the history of hearing things.
- April 16 through May 12 – "Nina Simone: Four Women" in the Quadracci Powerhouse: One of the most powerful voices in modern music gets the stage biopic treatment, following the "Sinnerman" and "Four Women" singer as she finds her calling.
For more information on the new shows coming audiences' way in 2023-24, and to order a subscription for the upcoming season, visit the Milwaukee Rep's website. There, theater fans can also read about the Rep's ongoing Powering Milwaukee campaign, which aims to raise $75 million toward the building of a new theater complex for the company.
And for more theater updates, stay tuned to OnMilwaukee.
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.