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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Packer Fans from Outer Space’ a hoot

American Folklore Theatre brings back the hilarious show.

PHOTO: Performing in the song “The Big Kiester” aboard Starship Nitschke in the 2014 edition of American Folklore Theatre’s “Packer Fans from Outer Space” are, from left, Chase Stoeger, Doug Mancheski, Bill Theisen and Adam Zelp. Len Villano photo

FISH CREEK, Wis. (WFRV) – “Packer Fans from Outer Space” – just the title brings a smile.

The American Folklore Theatre show is one of its musical comedy classics. Performances (5 stars out of 5) continue through the end of August in Peninsula State Park Amphitheatre. Info: folkloretheatre.com.

The cosmic and clever show is by “Doc” Heide and Lee Becker. It arrived in 2002 and along the way even toured to Green Bay.

The Heide-Becker sense of humor is “out there” in more ways than one.

Their show imagines Packers and Bears waging deadly war in a parallel galaxy to us. A Packer contingent comes to Earth aboard Starship Nitschke to find a worthy fanatic-fan leader to help rescue them from extinction. Entry is through the outhouse, painted green and gold, on the farm of Door County apple grower Harvey Kiester and his wife, Marge.

The Galactic Packers dress in Day-Glo green and gold uniforms. Their leader is a gruff fellow with a fedora and eyeglasses who looks like Vince Lombardi (if he’d fallen into vats of green and sparkly gold paint). Along the way, this Coach sings “Winning is the Only Thing.”

The setup for this show comes from a crumb of history about a claimed sighting of a flying saucer in 1952 near Juddville, about 10 miles south of the theater. The show is set in November 1953. Dwight D. Eisenhower is president of the United States, which is in the midst of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. A Galactic Packer drops a line that is typical of some of the show’s humor: “At what temperature do you fight this war?”

Other humor revolves around puns on “Kiester” – as the south end of a person going north – perhaps the world record in this show. There’s humor at practically every turn. Heard on the radio are commercials for the County Home, for help with bats in the belfry and such. The song “Nuts in Every Tree” finds Harvey Kiester, dressed in a green-and-gold women’s corset with XXL frontage, dancing around the stage and singing “Everybody’s just a little crackers.” Marital humor pops up, as when Marge asks, “Harvey, am I too fat?” Harvey: “No, Marge, you’re just fat enough.”

This may be American Folklore Theatre’s funniest show. The Packers-Bears state of mind thing is great fodder for lovable lampooning/admiration.

Speaking of love, the brainy Kiester daughter falls for one of the Galactic Packers, and the feeling is mutual. Amid silly songs, they have ones of wonder (“Life on Earth”) and love (“We Call That Love”).

Bill Theisen and Rhonda Rae Busch have a jolly time as Harvey and Marge. Chase Stoeger and Adam Zeph romp as Galactic Packers, with Doug Mancheski a gas as Coach. Eva Nimmer is the cheery, hopeful Peg Kiester.

Director Molly Rhode packs a lot of action into the show to go along with the bundles of jokes.

In keeping with the show, one family tailgated in the parking lot on opening night. Green Bay Packers wear is an everyday thing around here, but a jersey in the audience was a sign of confidence – “84 – Abbrederis” – for Packers draft pick Jared Abbrederis.

I’ve seen this show a number of times and am more and more impressed by all the wit and warmth in it with each viewing.

***

Creative: Book and lyrics – Frederick “Doc” Heide, Lee Becker; music – Frederick “Doc” Heide; additional music – James Kaplan; director – Molly Rhode; choreography – Molly Rhode, Pam Kriger; musical supervisor – Colin Welford; music director – Paul Helm; musical arrangements – Paul Helm; stage management – Neen Rock; scenic design – James Maronek; costume design – Karen Brown-Larimore; lighting design – Dave Alley; props – Kathleen Rock; sound design – Chris Guse.

Cast: Harvey Kiester, an apple farmer – Bill Theisen; Marge Kiester, his wife; Rhonda Rae Busch; Peg Kiester, their daughter – Eva Nimmer; 24, a Galactic Packer – Adam Zeph; 39, a Galactic Packer – Chase Stoeger; Coach, a Galactic Packer – Doug Mancheski; Space Bears and Men in White Coats – Marcus Hunter, Dave Maier; Prolate Spheroid – Shawn Galligan; Townspeople – Shawn Galligan, Molly Jisa; Lloyd Upkins – Dave Maier; Jingle Singer – Holly Feldman.

Songs

“Welcome to Wisconsin,” Company

“Gold and Green,” Harvey, Marge

“Interplanetary Emissaries of Peace,” Peg

“Big Kiester,” Coach, 24, 39

“The Artsy Farmer,” 24, 39, Harvey

“We Call That Love,” Peg, 39

“Love Our Enemy,” Peg

“You Gotta Hate the Bears,” 24, 39

“The Things Men Do,” Marge

“Gold and Green” (Reprise), Harvey, Marge

“Life on Earth,” Peg, 39

“Winning is the Only Thing,” Coach, 24, 39, Harvey

“The Things Men Do” (Reprise), Marge

“Nuts in Every Tree,” Harvey, Marge

“Dat’s What’s Nice About a Game,” Company

“Interplanetary Emissaries of Peace (Reprise),” Peg, Marge

“Welcome to Wisconsin” (Reprise), Company

***

THE VENUE: American Folklore Theatre performs in a scenic, 800-seat amphitheater in Peninsula State Park near Fish Creek in Door County. It’s a unique setting for plays. Seating is on wood benches. The stage is about 25 feet by 45 feet and of irregular shape because two tall white pine trees grow in the middle of the stage. Other pines ring the fringes of the stage. “The stage deck, unlike all of the stage walls, is made from recycled plastic,” said artistic director Jeffrey Herbst. “It’s water impermeable. The deck has held up really, really well. The rest of the stage, anything that’s vertical is cedar that has to be stained and treated and washed and kept. We went with that kind of material was partly because we wanted something that wouldn’t warp and because when it rains on that material, it actually becomes less slick. With cedar, when we had it as decking in the past, as soon as you had water on it, it was like an ice skating rink.” The amphitheater is tucked in a forest and accessed by winding roads.

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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