Sad news, animatronic bear fans: The Shops of Grand Avenue‘s longtime holiday house band, the Leonard Bearstein Symphony Orchestra, will not return to the mall’s main court this winter. Grand Avenue management tells us that the motley crew of mottled musicians will be “out of season” this year. Beyond that, the future of Bearstein and his sleuth of classically trained colleagues is “up in the air.” Just another dark day for the performing arts.
The Grand Avenue, you may have noticed, is anything but grand these days. Recent closures in the already underpopulated downtown mall include Boston Store, most of the food court, that escape room, a first floor bookstore, and that little second floor convenience store where we’d occasionally buy cigarettes and Mountain Dew. Oh, and that barber who ran for mayor is gone, too.
But, like everything in Milwaukee these days, the Shops of Grand Avenue aren’t really dying—they’re just changing. The mall’s Plankinton Arcade is being transformed into apartments (just imagine living in that former pen shop!), and the mall’s owners have been teasing a “food hall” for the first floor. The current food court will likely be converted to office space. These plans, it should be said, have been floating around forever.
Back in 2015, our pal Justin Kern wrote a loving tribute/review of the Leonard Bearstein Symphony Orchestra. Here’s how he ended it:
It could be the jaded edge from attending hundreds of shows over the last two decades, but for me, the Leonard Bearstein Symphony Orchestra provided a unique, enjoyable, and odd show. Plus, there were no Christmas songs jackhammered in a loop in my head afterward. Rather, what popped in was a pre-programmed piece of crowd work shared during the set by the maestro, Leonard Bearstein:
“It is within your heart that the true meaning of the season resides. Wouldn’t you agree?”