'Run Bambi Run' musical to premiere at the Milwaukee Rep Sept. 13

NOW: ’Run Bambi Run’ musical to premiere at the Milwaukee Rep Sept. 13

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The infamous tale of Lawrencia 'Bambi' Bembenek is one that captured the attention of Milwaukee and the world in the 1980s. Four decades later, the Milwaukee Repertory Theater is bringing the story of murder, mystery and passion back into the spotlight with the world premiere of the musical 'Run Bambi Run'.

Written by Academy Award-winner and Wisconsin native Eric Simonson, the story takes the audience on a journey with Bembenek and her fall from a police officer with the Milwaukee Police Department to Playboy Bunny to a convicted murderer, a crime she denied until her death in 2010.

"The story just never seemed to go away," Simonson said. "The story would not stop. It would just, it kept going. As it went, people in the state grew fascinated and infatuated with the story itself. She became a kind of Pretty Boy Floyd figure, or Bonnie and Clyde. She became folklore."

Simonson has been working on the project with the Milwaukee Rep's artistic director, Mark Clements, for over a decade. When it was determined the pair wanted to take the story to the stage, they had the perfect person in mind for the music.

"Eric said, 'Well, if we were doing the music then I guess we'd want the Violent Femmes to it in an ideal world,'" recalled Clements.

The two reached out to the Milwaukee band's guitarist and writer, Gordon Gano, who was honored to be brought on-board for the project.

"I was intrigued by it and flattered that I was sought out," Gano said. "I wanted to write new music for a new show and not have it be things taken from a catalogue of songs I've written, primarily with Violent Femmes, that people might know about. I didn't want this to be that."

Gano says he wrote two or three numbers for Clements and Simonson, numbers that are still in the production today, and got to work.

"A broad range of music," Clements said about the show. "From punk and rock to folk to almost gospel, country and everything in between which is very typical to Gordon Gano's Style of music. I feel like it's three locals, at this point, making the story."

The production is a massive undertaking for the company. The actors are also tasked with playing the instruments and dancing. For Erika Olson, who plays Bembenek in the production, she says it may be the biggest challenge she's faced in her career.

"You kind of have a lot of hats on at one time and you're juggling a lot and it takes a lot of energy and willingness to cooperate and collaborate in the world," Olson said. "This might be the hardest thing we've ever done, which makes it super fun, super challenging."

Despite the challenge, Olson says she takes a lot of pride portraying a character who showed a lot of fight and spirit, no matter how the public perceived her.

"She's a strong, independent woman. She speaks up for what she wants. She fights bullies. She's super loyal. She's got a great family. She loves her family. She grew up playing sports," Olson said, describing Bembenek. "All of these things about her that I felt I could really ground myself into that role."

Such a high-profile story, Clements admits it may bring some mixed feelings from some who wish it would be left alone and not brought back to life on the stage.

"There's a lot of people who probably would like and prefer this story not to be told again. I don't think that's our job to suppress those stories," Clements said. "At the end of the day, it's also a tragedy which I never lose sight of, that really never has had answers fully explained or given to people who really care about it. I think it's part of Milwaukee's folklore culture, almost four decades long at this point, and it's a story that keeps on resurrecting, keeps on wanting to be told and new generations of people get intrigued by it and I think that's how great stories kind of manifest and become part of our culture and this is one for us in Milwaukee."

Regardless of how people personally about the story, the company is confident the finished product will not disappoint.

"I think it's a real roller coaster ride emotionally with the music and the storytelling," Clements said. "I want people to be moved. I always want that experience where you're, one moment you're moved and then the company can turn it on a dime and make you laugh and then switch back."

"Whether or not you believe if she's (Bembenek) a murderer or not, come see the story and see the facts and see for yourself," Olson said. "Let the production speak for itself."

Run Bambi Run begins performances September 13 through October 11. Tickets are available for purchase online at www.MilwaukeeRep.com, by calling the Rep's Ticket Office at 414-224-9490 or in-person at 108 E. Wells St. in downtown Milwaukee.

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