Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Kids from Wisconsin troupe nurtures now


DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV) – With the 2014 edition of Kids from Wisconsin, audiences can have it both ways in the show troupe’s heaping collection of songs both now and retro. The show – titled “Can’t Hold Us!” – is impressive for its doses of freshness and juiced-up energy.

Thursday, Kids from Wisconsin made its annual swing into Walter Theater of St. Norbert College (listed as DePere University in the program) as part of a 32-city tour, with 10 days of performances thrown in at Wisconsin State Fair.

Show selections are arranged, rehearsed, choreographed and dressed to the hilt. “Kids from Wisconsin” is something of a brand, and there are standards to keep up. This troupe keeps the faith.


Creative: Producer – Mark S. Dorn; choreographers – Jessica Foley (primary), Heather McLain; musical arranger and choral director – Taras Nahirniak; band feature arranger – Dean Menten; costume designer – Deanna Garland.

Singer-dancers: Cody Anderson, Menomonie; Jarred Bedgood, Milwaukee; Lexie  Chiasson, Kenosha; Bridget Cushman, Thiensville; Hunter Evenson, Galesville; Alaric Frinzi, Mayville; Nicole Goodreau, New London; Madison Gruman, Burlington; Eric Guenther, Cottage Grove; Alex Hatcher, Ripon; Casey Houlihan, New London; Brandon Lindemann, Burlington; Jenny Marsland, Madison; Emily Matt, Waukesha; Ashley Patin, Muskego; Isaiah Reynolds, Brookfield; Cody Rosenthal, Mayville; Hayley Rosenthal, Beloit; Jeremy Steinmetz, Eau Claire; Jena Tolksdorf, New Franken.

Band: Bradford Schulz, percussion, Pleasant Prairie; Cora Hougard, piano, Delafield; Dominic Domeyer, trumpet, River Falls; Traverse Such, guitar, Cascade; Isaac Surprenant, bass guitar, New Berlin; Kevin Dolfin, trumpet, Hingham; Kyle Johnson-Evers, woodwind, Muskego; Matthew Haverson, trombone, Cameron; Nick Feist, trumpet, Plover; Jessica Kust, piano, Klondike; Amanda Frisch, trombone, Wisconsin Dells; Alliot Nagle, percussion, Fennimore; Mitchell Burish, trumpet, Manitowoc.

Musical selections

Act I

Theme song

  “Here We Go”

“The Music of Billy Joel”

    “Piano Man,” “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” “Only the Good Die Young,” “Movin’ Out,” “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” “Keeping the Faith” and more

“Duke Ellington” (band)

  “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “Mood Indigo,” “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” “Caravan” and more

“Hits of 2014”

  “Some Nights,” “Light ’em Up,” “You Make Me Feel Like I’ve Been Locked Out of Heaven,” “What Do I Stand For,” “Say Something (I’m Giving Up on You),” “Let It Go,” “Roar,” “We Will Never Be Royal,” “Because I’m Happy” and more

“Fleetwood Mac” (band)

  “Dreams,” “Go Your Own Way,” “You Make Loving Fun,” “Don’t Stop” and more

“Big Bad Voodoo Daddy”

  “Diga Diga Do” and more

Act II

“The Great American Songbook”

  “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “Blues in the Night,” “Tea for Two,” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “Stardust,” “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” “Makin’ Whoopee,” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and more

“Feel the Funk” (band)

  “Super Fly,” “Jungle Boogie” and more

“Tony Awards on Stage”

  “Gold” from “Once,” “It’s Your Wedding Day” from “The Wedding Singer,” “Live in Living Color” from “Catch Me If You Can,” “Once and for All” from “Newsies,” “Some Day” from “Memphis,” “Step in Time” from “Mary Poppins,” “Story of My Life” from “Shrek” and more

“Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” (band)

  The entire soul jazz tune


  The entire Sarah Bareilles hit


While good and energetic and strong in support and youth-skilled, the 13-piece band has a tough task in its instrumental interludes while the 20 singer-dancers change costumes. The music the band plays is indelible from how it was performed by elite original artists – how can a youth musician match a Duke Ellington player, or the sounds of Fleetwood Mac, or the hyper drive of funk bands? That’s not to say there’s no spirit, with “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” being the prime rouser.

Dominating the attention is the singer-dancer ensemble. Some highlights:

- Swing dancing. Whew. The troupe dances a lot. Every move is precise (or close to precise). Many songs are fired up with motion – kicks, trick moves, an undulating roll in the theme song – AND THEN comes the super whoop dee doo of pumped up swing dancing to the hot music of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. The ensemble is spring-loaded in a style of dance that is from a past era but anything but old for all its physical, rhythmic and stamina demands – with the performers singing much of the time, too! The troupe also does tap dancing in “Puttin’ on the Ritz” and a rhythmic pattern in “Step in Time” and show dancing in lots of places, with the performers displaying much discipline.

- The present. The creative arm of Kids from Wisconsin pays attention to what’s popular today and suitable for the kind of firepower a polished show troupe can deliver. The “Hits of 2014” and “Tony Awards on Stage” sections are bolts of crispness. In “Hits of 2014,” there’s even dramatic intensity and tension in a duet by Bridget Cushman and Isaiah Reynolds in “Say Something (I’m Giving Up on You).” In the Broadway section, the attention is on recent shows rather than golden agers – bringing a sense of discovery.

- Tributes. Great music makers get nods, with wonderful traditions upheld in the Kids from Wisconsin way of paying attention to vitality.

In a way, it’s fun to look back at troupe alumni who went on. Among many others, some became entertainers like Pat McCurdy, band leaders like D. Thomas Busch of Pulaski who take groups to national prominence, show troupe proponents like Kevin Flogel, star-tracked hopefuls like Jack Janowicz and Broadway/New York performers like Jessica Wright.

On the other hand, keeping Kids from Wisconsin going for 45 years is the now. These “Kids” are the pick of today. This time. That’s the way it was in the past, that’s the way it will be in the future. The troupe is the living example of the marketing line about something special from Wisconsin.

AHEAD: Today, Friday, Aug. 15, Burlington High School; Aug. 17, Leach Amphitheater, Oshkosh; Aug. 19, Stefanie H. Weill Center, Sheboygan; Aug. 20, Edgar High School; Aug. 21, Fort Atkinson High School; Aug. 22, New Berlin West High School; Aug. 23, Monona Grove High School.

VENUE: The 725-seat Byron L. Walter Theatre features a proscenium stage (flat front). Its walls are textured concrete blocks laid in a wave pattern. The ceiling includes white acoustical clouds. Seat material and carpeting are the traditional theater red. The theater is located in Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts at St. Norbert College in De Pere. It is the larger of two theaters in the building, the core of which was built in 1955. In 1989, the Walter Theatre was renovated to improve the lobby and interior aesthetic, adding seating and improving the acoustics.

THE PERSON: Byron L. Walter (1877-1954) was a businessman. He operated Green Bay Hardware, Inc. until his retirement in 1953. Walter was co-founder of Paper Converting Machine Co. and for a time served as president. After his death, the Byron L. Walter Family Trust was established, and it made possible the theater. The trust continues to make widespread contributions to community projects and institutions.

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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