Since Milwaukee Rep’s 2023/24 Season was first announced in February, audiences haven’t stopped talking about Run Bambi Run, the World Premiere rock musical making its debut this September in the Quadracci Powerhouse.
Featuring original songs by Gordon Gano (Violent Femmes), a captivating book by Academy Award-winner Eric Simonson (Lombardi) and direction by Artistic Director Mark Clements, this brand new production is a made-in-Milwaukee original that you won’t want to miss.
Longtime Milwaukeeans will already be familiar with the Bembenek saga; her trial, conviction and escape in the 1980s/1990s made headlines in Cream City and across the country. And, while the cold, hard facts of her life story have been chronicled in best-selling books, made-for-TV movies and true crime podcasts, our musical dives deep into the emotional heart of her journey – a woman alone, fighting to be heard in a sensationalized world set against her.
ACTOR/MUSICIANS SET THE STAGE
Our musical begins one evening in a bar that made Milwaukee (in)famous. The Run Bambi Run cast gathers onstage to share a beer as they recall Bambi’s bizarre, stranger-than-fiction tale – inserting their own conflicting opinions on who this glamorous woman really was.
This bar is the launching point for our production, where moments of her life are brought about by a tour-de-force acting ensemble who collectively narrate the story into existence – dramatizing her early years as a young, optimistic Polish-American girl from Milwaukee’s South Side, through her training and removal from the Milwaukee Police Department, her short stint as a waitress at the Lake Geneva Playboy Club, her sensationalized trial and conviction, escape from prison and lifelong search to clear her name (including a life-altering turn on the Dr. Phil Show).
As our cast moves Bambi’s story from the recession-stained 1970’s into the optimism of the 1980’s and beyond, these actor-musicians deliver fierce rock anthems reminiscent of Broadway smash hits like Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Hedwig and the Angry Inch through ensemble performances in the vein of recent musicals like Come from Away.
Throughout the course of the show, nearly a dozen cast members will give history-making performances as actors/singers/musicians/storytellers who seamlessly transition from character to character, work together to shape the setting and go “full rock star” as instrument-playing members of the band.
A dynamic set by award-winning scenic designer Scott Davis (Milwaukee Rep’s Hedwig, Our Town, Guys and Dolls) invokes the look and feel of the bars and streets of vintage Milwaukee, enabling our actor/musician ensemble to move minimal set pieces on- and off-stage, suggesting a variety of locations in Milwaukee and beyond.
WHO WAS “BAMBI” BEMBENEK?
Let’s start with the basic facts: Laurie Bembenek grew up on Milwaukee’s predominantly Polish-American South Side. She joined the Milwaukee Police Department and, almost a month after completing her work as a cadet, lost her job on the force. Between jobs she worked as a waitress at the Playboy Club in Lake Geneva and met Elfred Schultz, an MPD officer whom she married. She was accused and convicted of murdering Schultz’ ex-wife, Christine Schultz in a highly publicized trial. While serving a life sentence in prison, Bembenek escaped to Canada seeking asylum until her eventual return and imprisonment in the United States.
With a life full of dramatic twists and turns, Bambi’s trial and dramatic escape captured the imagination of the press and the public. Who really was this woman that was making headlines across the country?
To some, she was a heartless femme fatale, manipulative and detestable. A vain beauty queen, obsessed with her appearance. A glamorous temptress and a cold-hearted convict.
To others, she was a freedom fighter, a tragic figure given a raw deal by the police, the press and the court of public opinion. A victim-turned folk hero who was set-up for a crime that she didn’t commit.
Innocent or guilty? Nobody knows for sure but, since her story first made headlines, Bembenek’s contentious legend has only continued to grow.
No matter your opinion, one thing remains clear – Laurie Bembenek never gave up on fighting for her story to be told. Surrounded by swirling half-truths, tabloid smear articles, and a divided public, she fought to stand up to a system set against her.
At the core of our musical lies this frantic search – a quest for justice and to be heard. Our production spotlights a solitary woman on an urgent mission for truth, unrestrainable and relentless in an uncaring world.
A MILWAUKEE REP FIRST
Run Bambi Run was developed over the course of several years as a part of Milwaukee Rep’s John (Jack) D. Lewis New Play Development Program. When it makes its debut this Fall, Run Bambi Run will make history as the first World Premiere musical to debut on the Quadracci Powerhouse stage.
With a thoroughly Milwaukee story and characters, created by a writing team with Milwaukee roots and developed in-house at Wisconsin’s largest performing arts organization, you won’t want to miss this one-of-a-kind theatrical event. Bambi’s search for truth and justice is a wild ride that you have to see to believe.