Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: More originality in Frank's 2017 Christmas show

‘A Frank's Christmas: Randolph the Baddest Outlaw'

ALGOMA, Wis. - This is the 18th year that Let Me Be Frank Productions show troupe of Green Bay has put on a Christmas show. The show stories are not even close to being the same from year to year. This year, the setting is 1890s Waupaca.

Now, the songs are not of that era.

And the history is fractured.

And the characters are all made up.

But the story toddles along comically with the cast members playing colorful characters, some more goofus than the others.

The goofus-e-ist is Slushy Morals. He is presented to us speaking only Swedish – “Galut ga meeka abuck,” or something like that. And what he says – usually something not nice – can only be translated by Randolph Weidneer (how’s that for a name?).

The tongue-in-cheek about Randolph is he is the adopted son of the operator of Kringall’s Cocoa bar, where a specialty is hot cocoa on the rocks. Randolph is from Ireland (so he can wear a green outfit), and is trying to be the “baddest outlaw” but is failing because something kindly always comes of his crimes.

This Pulitzer Prize material carved from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (kinda/sorta) is the setup for the troupe’s showcase singing. Featured are troupe namesake Frank Hermans and the three female cast members, assisted by the live, know-every-style-under-the-sun band.

The music is all Christmas-sss-sss-sss-ish. Often, songs you have indelibly placed in your head are presented in revised renditions based on established stars’ styles. It would be too boring for Let Me Be Frank Productions to present the song in same old, same old ways, so the troupe’s choices of interpretations always bring a fresh, or at least different, spin to the Christmas show scene.

Highlights:

+ “Go Tell It on the Mountain” with Kasey Schumacher painting the song prettily.

+ “Noel” – not anywhere near “The First Noel” – with Lisa Borley and the band building drama.

+ “Here Comes Santa Claus,” with Frank Hermans turning on his Elvis motor.

+ “The Man with the Bag,” with Amy Riemer getting one of the few chances in this show to let fly her R&B forte.

Michael O’Malley pours out all sorts of character acting in the story, and his Randolph Weindeer is a fun role. In one nutty scene, Randolph and sidekick Slushy Morals are on the lam after holding up the bank and are warming up at a campfire. Of course, there is no real fire on stage, and when the scene ends, Randoph drags the fake campfire prop off stage by its electrical cord.

Pat Hibbard is around for his forays into rock songs and for his language-twisting character, The Miner. Here’s one thing The Miner says: “I used to drink a lot.” Pause. “Still do, but I used to, too.”

The show has some “wild west” stunt action. Randolph and the Sheriff (Tom Verbrick) carry side arms, and each can twirl the guns. Lisa Borley gives a gun a convincing spin, too. Randolph and the Sheriff get into a fight, and O’Malley and Verbrick have at it in a frisky, physical scene that includes a whack with a fake bottle.

Music in the show includes many of the major styles – pop, rock, country – with the band also creating an old music hall flavor in one song and a polka romp in another.

By the time the run ends Dec. 29 for “A Frank’s Christmas: Randolph the Baddest Outlaw,” the show will have played in four cities, with most of the performances being at Green Bay’s Meyer Theatre. I caught up with the show Saturday night at Algoma Performing Arts Center. While there was no large backdrop like in the troupe’s home theater, the players’ performances were consistent with what they normally do – which is fairly energized. They used to perform well. Still do, but used to, too.

***

Creative: Writers – Frank Hermans, Pat Hibbard; vocal director – Amy Reimer; music director – Dennis Panneck

Cast: Narrator/Bartender; Frank Hermans, Randolph Weindeer – Michael O’Malley; Noel the First – Amy Reimer; Jumpin’ for Joy – Kasey Schumacher; Missy Toe – Lisa Borley; The Miner – Pat Hibbard; Sheriff Wunhorst Whopenslae – Tom Verbrick; Slushy Morals – Heath Hermans

Band: Guitar – Dennis Panneck; keyboard – Tony Pilz; drums – Adam Cain; bass – Pat Hibbard

Running time: Two hours

Remaining performances: Green Bay, Meyer Theatre: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, to Dec 23, plus 1 p.m. Dec. 7, 14 and 16. Info: ticketstaronline.com. Chilton, Engler Center for the Performing Arts, Chilton High School: 7:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 11. Info: englercenter.com. Manitowoc, Capitol Civic Centre: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 29. Info: cccshows.org.

***

Musical selections

Act I

“Randolph the Baddest Outlaw” (Frank Hermans) – Frank Hermans

“The Man with the Bag” (Kellie Pickler) – Amy Riemer

“Joy to the World” (Francesca Battistelli) – Kasey Schumacher

“Here Comes Santa Claus” (Elvis Presley) – Frank Hermans

“Run Run Rudolph” (Luke Bryan) – Pat Hibbard

“Christmas Cookies” (George Strait) – Tom Verbrick

“Go Tell It on the Mountain” (Francesca Battistelli) – Kasey Schumacher

“Noel” (Chris Tomlinson featuring Lauren Daigle) – Lisa Borley

“Jingle Bell Rock” (Blake Shelton) – Frank Hermans and Amy Riemer

“Nuttin’ for Christmas” (Sugarland) – Michael O’Malley

Act II

“Jingle Bells” (rock version) – Band

“Let It Be Christmas” (Alan Jackson) – Frank Hermans

“City of Silver Dreams” (Sugerland) – Amy Riemer

“All I Want for Christmas is You” (Vince Vance and the Valients) – Lisa Borley

“Blue Christmas” (Lady Antebellum) – Michael O’Malley

“Meet Me Under the Mistletoe” (Randy Travis) – Pat Hibbard

“Please Come Home for Christmas” (Eagles) – Kasey Schumacher

“Must Be Santa” (Bob Dylan) – Heath Hermans

“Up on the Housetop” (Reba McEntire) – Amy Riemer

“Marshmallow World” (Francesca Battistelli) – Lisa Borley, all

***

NEXT: “Submarine Races ‘Manty’,” Feb. 2-14.

THE VENUE: Algoma Performing Arts Center is located in Algoma High School. The school was built in 1935 at the height of the Great Depression with help of projects created by the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The auditorium was renovated in 2008. In 2014, the auditorium was renamed as it took on wider purposes for the community. The auditorium retains many original design elements. Hints of Greek classicism are everywhere. Side walls include variations on Grecian arches and columns (a type of Doric) with gilt fringing all around. Basic colors are red and gray. The seat structure looks to be original with wooden arms and laminated backs in a sturdy metal frame, with the red fabric seat cushions of a more recent vintage. Seat sides facing the aisles are painted tan, with decorations infused in the metal being a flower-like design vertically and a curled design horizontally at the bottom that’s reminiscent of a curl-tipped imperial moustache. The proscenium arch carries the Grecian theme, with a slight bow, gilt trimming and top decoration of a 20 shells in a row. The stage curtain is golden. A wood-faced stage front rises about 2½ feet from the auditorium floor, which is cement painted red. Two aisles have speckled mauve carpeting lined with LED lighting. The stage is lower than the stage front. Amid the Grecian aura is a modern digital clock to the audience’s right. The auditorium includes a balcony. The overall historic look makes it clear why community members want to preserve its original character.

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays. My books, “Three Miles Past Lost and in the Pickers” and “Nickolaus and Olive – a naïve opera (in words)” and the award-winning “Real, Honest Sailing with a Great Lakes Captain,” are available online and in Green Bay at Neville Public Museum, Bosse’s and The Reader’s Loft.


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