When the World Premiere rock musical Run Bambi Run begins performances later this fall, audiences can expect not only a rocking good time but can be satisfied in knowing that they are watching a truly made-in-Milwaukee theatrical event.
Who better to tell this uniquely Milwaukee story than Academy Award-winner Eric Simonson (Book) and Gordon Gano (Music and Lyrics) of the Violent Femmes. Like Laurie Bembenek, these two artists came of age in southeastern Wisconsin during the 1980s. Although unlike the main character of our musical, these two have found major success by captivating imaginations around the world since then.
So who are these artists and what is their connection to our region?
Academy Award-winner Eric Simonson (Book, Run Bambi Run), a graduate of Lawrence University, was born in Milwaukee before his family moved to the small town of Eagle, about 50 minutes southwest of Cream City.
Simonson has won acclaim across both theater and film, including major accolades for his writing, directing and producing. An ensemble member of Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater Company, Simonson's plays have been staged to great acclaim here in his home town, on Broadway, and on stages across the country. At Milwaukee Rep, audiences will remember his work as exemplified in plays like Lombardi, Work Song (co-written with Dial M for Murder adaptor Jeffrey Hatcher) and "Moby Dick" which was listed on on TIME Magazine’s Top Ten Productions.
On the silver screen, Simonson received Oscar attention for short documentaries, including a nomination for On Tiptoe: Gentle Steps to Freedom and a win for A Note of Triumph in 2005, which also received the Princess Grace Statue Award for Sustained Artistic Achievement.
In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel earlier this year, Simonson recounted a conversation with Artistic Director Mark Clements in which he was urged to turn his original idea for a Bembenek play into a musical, and was presented with an opportunity to name his ideal musical collaborator.
Without hesitation - Simonson replied, the Violent Femmes.
Enter Gordon Gano (Music & Lyrics, Run Bambi Run), the frontman, lead guitarist and songwriter for the legendary group, arguably the biggest band to ever come out of Milwaukee. Gano, in the midst of a tour with Colin Hay and the Barenaked Ladies when the idea was introduced, was intrigued by the concept and set out to pen and compose original songs for this World Premiere.
Like Simonson, Gano's creative roots sprouted during his time growing up in Oak Creek and West Allis. As a young musician, his first step towards becoming a professional rock star can be traced back to the summer of 1981 near the East Side's Oriental Theater. While busking with the Femmes, Gano and company were spotted by James Honeymoon-Scott, guitarist for The Pretenders, who liked what he heard and invited them to open for them in place of another group who had backed out of the gig.
The year 2023 marks a huge milestone for Gano and band, as they and their fans are celebrating the 40th anniversary of their landmark self-titled debut album. Earlier this year, Mayor Cavalier Johnson even proclaimed April 13 as Violent Femmes Day in the City of Milwaukee.
The World Premiere of Run Bambi Run also represents a unique homecoming for these two artists, as well as a rare opportunity for Wisconsin theatergoers - a brand new, original musical with a hometown story, written and conceived by two of our generation's most acclaimed artists, and developed and produced at Milwaukee Rep, our state's largest arts organization.