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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Frank’s tunes in to ’50s, ‘Leave It to Beaver’

Hit songs have… a tick, a tick, a tick… good timing.

PHOTO: Performing in Let Me Be Frank Productions’ “Beauty and the Beaver” are, from left, Tom Verbrick, Ben Cahall, Pat Hibbard, Dennis Panneck, David Gusloff, Lisa Borley, Adam Cain, Kasey Corrado, Amy Riemer, Tony Pilz and Frank Hermans. Production photo

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Over time, Let Me Be Frank Productions has covered a lot of musical territory. An amazing amount of territory, really. This time out, the Green Bay show troupe takes a major shift in musical styles as it heads back to the late 1950s in the show “Beauty and the Beaver.” Performances at the Meyer Theatre in downtown Green Bay continue to April 26. Info: www.meyertheatre.org.

The setup for the “Beauty and the Beaver” (4½ stars out of 5)…

- Characters/story: We’re with the Cleavers – Beaver, Wally, Ward and June from TV’s “Leave It to Beaver.” Ward gives Wally and the Beav 40 cents each to whoop it up at the Brown County Fair and maybe meet a couple of girls. The two-faced Eddie Haskell is around to help the boys in his fashion and to admire Mrs. Cleaver. (It’s a given with Frank’s shows that there is a certain amount of suggestive humor).

- Music: Pop rules. The show’s songs have a beat, a rhythm, a sweet-ish simplicity and innocence. It’s an era of a catchy play with made-up words – “Whee-ooh, whee-ooh, hoo-ooh-oop-whee-ooh, whee-ooh” and “A tick, a tick, a tick, good timin’, a tock, a tock, a tock, a tock, a timin’ is the thing.” Romance runs from dreamy in “Tammy’s in Love” (beautifully sung by Amy Riemer, who is something else as a vocalist, period) to semi-operatic robust in “Night” (with David Gusloff taking on the lush style) to earnest in “Forget Him” (with Frank Hermans turning on his resonant voice). This show is so specific in style that Pat Hibbard, the troupe’s go-to guy for LET’S ROCK BIG songs, is left somewhat adrift in all the songs with no rock edge. (That’s not a cut; it’s just the style of the show).

***

Cast: Frank Hermans as Ward Cleaver, Amy Riemer as June Cleaver, Ben Cahall as Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver, David Gusloff as Wally Cleaver, Pat Hibbard as Eddie Haskell, Lisa Borley as Lisa Andre from Hobart, Kasey Corrado as Kasey Corrado  from Howard and Tom Verbrick as fortune teller Alli Booby. Band: Dennis Panneck, guitar; Tony Pilz, keyboard; Adam Cain, drums; Pat Hibbard, bass.

Songs

“Love is Strange (my sweet baby, you’re the one),” Frank Hermans and Amy Riemer

“Popsicles and Icicles,” Amy Riemer

“If You Want to be Happy” aka “Get an Ugly Girl to Marry You,” David Gusloff and Ben Cahall

“Never on a Sunday,” Lisa Borley

“Sincerely,” Kasey Corrado

“(I’m Always) Dreamin’,” Pat Hibbard

“(I’m Living Right) Next Door to an Angel,” Frank Hermans

“Lollipop,” Amy Riemer, Lisa Borley, Kasey Corrado

“Let Me In,” Lisa Borley

“Love Potion No. 9,” David Gusloff

“Hot Rod Lincoln,” Tom Verbrick

“Tammy’s in Love,” Amy Riemer

“Bobby’s Girl,” Kasey Corrado

“The Gypsy Cried,” Ben Cahall

“Night (Here Comes the Night),” David Gusloff

“Good Timin’,” Ben Cahall

“Forget Him,” Frank Hermans

“Party Lights,” Amy Riemer, Kasey Corrado, Lisa Borley

“The Boy I Love,” Lisa Borley

“Step by Step,” Pat Hibbard and all

***

Much of the story takes place at the Brown County Fair. One ongoing bit turns around a mechanical fortune teller played by Tom Verbrick, decked out as a sultan. There’s lots of good comedy stuff about the future. Another bit is about the talent portion of the 1959 Fairest of the Fair contest; Kasey Corrado’s “talent” is doing the splits while chugging a beer (co-writers Frank Hermans and Pat Hibbard’s type of humor all the way). Another bit is another priceless visual for the Frank’s annals – a bearded lady and a strongman in a poke-in-the-eye suit. (I don’t want to give away surprises here).

The ’50s style of music is the Frank’s wheelhouse of singing. The troupe likes melodies, likes catchy lyrics that the singers can hang a character on, likes the chance to SING in showcase ways. Some songs, for instance, are built for Ben Cahall’s falsetto. All the songs are from well before the singers were around (except Hermans), and it’s interesting how they take to them, like Kasey Corrado in “Sincerely” and Lisa Borley in “Let Me In.”

Reviewing Frank’s shows is something of a challenge because there is so much to them and they’re all kind of weird (yet fun) as songs arrive at the mere mention of a word. Also, the shows change from night to night because the performers improvise, particularly Hermans. Friday’s opening night show found Hermans playing off a rant by Ward Cleaver as a series of folks trickled in late, with the mock anger being of the moment.

REST OF SEASON: “Golden Bowl: Mixed Couples,” June 6-21; “Bay Beach Dance Party,” July 25-Aug. 23; “The Guernsey Boys: Behind the Music,” Sept. 19-Oct. 11; “A Frank’s Christmas,” Nov. 21-Dec. 27.

THE VENUE: Stop and look around the place. It’s an eye full. The Robert T. Meyer Theatre opened Feb. 27, 2002. It seats approximately 1,000. The building opened Feb. 14, 1930, as one of the palatial Fox movie houses. It’s picturesque. The theater’s interior aura was its saving grace toward the end of the 20th century, when the building was faced an uncertain fate. The architectural/decorative style is defined as Spanish Atmospheric. The auditorium is designed in the manner of a Moorish courtyard of old. The eclectic mix of architectural styles and colors carries throughout the lobbies. One of the Meyer Theatre’s remaining architectural cousins around the country is the Stefanie H. Weill Center for the Performing Arts in Sheboygan.

THE PEOPLE: Robert Meyer was president and chief executive officer of Tape Inc. of Green Bay. The theater took his name at the behest of his wife, Betty (Janet Elizabeth) Rose Meyer, whose financial contribution at a crucial time helped revitalize the building. The Rose family has a history of deep commitment to and involvement in the well being of Green Bay. Robert Meyer died in 1984, Betty Rose Meyer in 2008.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

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