In Arts & Entertainment

Viswa Subbaraman is classically trained and ran an opera company in Houston before coming to Milwaukee.

Subbaraman prepares for debut as Skylight artistic director

Viswa Subbaraman admits to a mild case of nerves as Skylight Music Theatre announced its 2013-14 season Thursday, the first under the new Artistic Director who is expected to continue the impressive record of the Skylight over the past few years.

"I think anytime you start a new thing it's natural to be a little nervous," he said Thursday while sitting comfortably in a conference room at Skylight. "But I'm also very excited about our season and can't wait for it."

Subbaraman is classically trained and ran an opera company in Houston before coming to Milwaukee. But he is no stuffed shirt who is going to force huge ladies and men singing at the top of their lungs down the throats of Milwaukee audiences.

"I think that one of the problems with opera is that it has developed kind of an elite air about it," he said. "I'm fighting against that. The history of opera is that it was a populist form of music and entertainment. I think we can do that here with the resources of Skylight."

Subbaraman is a very handsome young man and full of energy for the task at hand. Just 36 years old, he has an impressive resume and a disarming manner that makes you want to root for him to be successful. The seven shows he's chosen for next season reflect the diverse interests that seem to drive him.

He decided to have his first season revolve the themes of freedom and revolution. And he got the idea from a familiar place.

"Les Miserables" is the famous and powerful Broadway musical that recently played to good box office but mixed critical success as a film. Once "Les Miserables" was picked, it became the job to fill in the rest of the season with a wide variety of productions that seem likely to entertain, challenge and perhaps introduce Milwaukee audiences to some new stuff.

The season will open with the opera "Fidelio" with music by Beethoven. This German opera will be sung in English and set treated as a Bollywood production, complete with the elaborate choreography and music and semi-corny stories so common in Bollywood films. The Wisconsin Sikh Temple in Oak Creek will collaborate with Skylight on the production.

"Les Miserables" will be the second show of the season and it will be staged by Milwaukee actor Molly Rhode, who also staged the memorable Sound of Music at Skylight last Christmas. It will be interesting to see what kind of magic she can work with such a magic show.

The next play could well be one of the most interesting of the season. It is "El Cimarron" which is subtitled "Biography of the Runaway Slave Esteban Montejo."

Almost by mistake I saw this show in New York and was surprised at how profoundly moving it is. It's a one-man show with three musicians on stage and is both unusual and very emotional. This production could well open the Skylight to Milwaukee's growing Latino population, for whom art is such an important part of their community.

That same community, along with just about everyone else will probably enjoy the next production, "In The Heights" the story of life in a Dominican-American neighborhood, Washington Heights in New York. The music from this show is blood boiling and will have people practicing their salsa moves in their seats. This show was nominated for 14 Tony awards and the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

"Hydrogen Jukebox" is a meeting between composer Philip Glass and poet Allen Ginsburg. I don't know anything about this show by it is supposed to cover a broad array of social issues, like the sexual revolution and drug use.

A musical revue called "I Hear America Singing" written and directed by Milwaukeean Daron Hagen. Hagen, who grew up in New Berlin has gained acclaim as an opera composer and conductor. This revue, which will be staged in the Studio Theater, features a number of popular songs sung by actors auditioning for a fictional play.

The season ends with the classic "Hair," which is nothing if not a play about freedom and revolution. It's the story of the flower children with enough great songs to both stir memories and capture new hearts. Anyone who has ever seen this show understands its broad appeal and intelligent approach to life.

"Fidelio" opens in September of this year and we will then be off and running under the Subbaraman regime at Skylight. I think you'd be a fool to bet against him.


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