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The Carnival Comes to Milwaukee, In-Tandem Style



The Carnival Comes to Milwaukee, In-Tandem Style
Photo Credit: In Tandem Theatre

The Tenth Street Theatre has housed a lot of shows over the past few years: In Tandem’s Chris and Jane Flieller and their intimate, 99-seat theatre have taken audiences to the North Pole, Tennessee Williams’ South, and London, England.

So it should come as no surprise when In Tandem transports audiences this spring to 1920s France, for a classic carnival and their biggest musical yet.

Michael Stewart's Carnival, which opens April 21 and runs through May 14, is a little-known, rarely performed musical from 1961 that follows a young woman named Lili (Susie Weidmeyer) as she navigates her new life at a carnival in post-WWI France. She becomes infatuated with a magician named Marco (Steven Koehler), and begins to work alongside and befriend Paul (Keegan Siebken), a former-dancer-turned-solider-turned-puppeteer who, despite anger and bitterness over a war injury, falls in love with Lili. 

Pictured: Steven Koehler as Marco (left) and Susie Weidmeyer as Lili (right). Used with permission.

“It’s a big, sweeping, romantic musical at its heart and it’s all wrapped around the energy and excitement of a carnival,” Managing Director Jane Flieller, who also directed the musical, said with a smile. Carnival (not to be confused with Carousel) has been in the back of her mind ever since her own portrayal of Lili in a community theatre production years ago.

Originally dismissed for the show’s size, In Tandem took the creative liberty of trimming down the ensemble to make it work within their space. While Carnival is usually done with an ensemble of 26, In Tandem pared it down to a cast of 15 (including ensemble and principle roles). Despite the cuts, it is still the largest show they have ever produced at the Tenth Street Theatre. 

And they are pulling out all the stops.

From the moment one walks through the door, patrons will be treated to a colorful and dazzling big-top experience. The lobby will be decorated from top to bottom as a 1920s midway, where even props from the show will be on display.

“We have no where else to store them, [so why not] feature them?” Jane Flieller explained, bubbling over with excitement at the lobby’s impending transformation.

Utilizing painted cut outs, created by scenic designer Chad Abramowski, the box office will transform into a turn-of-the-century ticketing window, and a prize-wheel (complete with a prize barker) will take up residency at the end of the hall, where guests can spin-to-win penny candy or drinks at the bar.

In the lobby, audience members can stop to take their photo at another painted cut-out (posing as a strong man and trapeze artist), have their fortunes told by a tarot card reader with a French deck of cards (available at all performances), and even take cours de francais (translation: French language lessons), courtesy of Alliance Francais of Milwaukee, on a few select nights.

Finally, after the fun and games in the lobby, everyone will be able to grab bags of popcorn from a traditional popcorn cart by the bar, and head into the theater—which might be the biggest surprise of all for In Tandem regulars.

To accommodate the 15-member cast, In Tandem is completely transforming the The Tenth Street Theatre—right down to the seats and where they are positioned.

“The seats were built to be reconfigured, but we’ve never needed to do it,” Flieller explained, as Marketing Manager Ann Ricca brought over a scale model of the set for reference. “We’re going to take the first four rows of the main section, and put it technically in the ‘back stage’ area.” Moving the sections will allow for 30 plus sets of seats on three sides of the theater, opening up the floor for more activity, such as sleight of hand, puppetry, and juggling. 

While some theaters would be daunted at the above tasks at hand, the Fliellers welcome the challenge.

“I’m stoked.” Flieller stated enthusiastically.

Perhaps that is because the carnival life runs in the family.

“I have carnie blood,” Chris Flieller, Artistic Director of In Tandem, said with a laugh, while Jane Flieller went on to explain that Chris’ great-grandfather owned a carnival. 

Despite the show’s exciting bells and whistles, it’s that connection to the world of carnival that is fueling In Tandem’s desire to give Milwaukee a peek behind the big-top curtain.

“I want to make sure that all the fun stuff and all the little tricks don’t overpower the sweet, simple story that this show is. [It’s] about love, hopes and dreams, and growing up.” 

In Tandem presents Carnival, April 21-May 14 at the Tenth Street Theatre. Tickets are now on sale, and can be purchased by calling (414) 271-1371 or by visiting In Tandem online at InTandemTheatre.org.

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