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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Extra!: A whole lot of planning, preparation, practice filled this season

Critic At Large

Christmas performances galore in Northeastern Wisconsin

Program cover sampler. (Warren Gerds)


So here we are, Christmas Day.

Do you know how many of you, your family, your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues and your city/town folk participated this season in a performance to spread feelings about this day?

There is no way of counting an exact number, but it is a lot.

Hundreds upon hundreds of people gave freely of their time to play, prepare and practice for performances – and this is outside of places of worship.

So many felt it important do offer something to others to create a sense of sharing.

I guess.

There are probably as many reasons for performing the music, singing the songs and enacting the stories of the season as there were people who re-shaped their lives to be part of a performance.

These are three of my favorite things from this season:

+ My mailman, recently retired, in a rainbow of a role.

I first saw Lyle Becker as the male lead in the great Gilbert and Sullivan operetta “The Pirates of Penzance” at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. That was 1979. He has since participated in a multitude of productions (community, church, and the local pro Play-by-Play Theatre) in multiple capacities. Yes, he delivered my mail for many years.

Lyle Becker. (Ferron Photography)

In the Play-by-Play Theatre musical presentation of “The Gift of the Magi,” Lyle Becker portrayed the narrator, and then some. The premise is the masterful writer of surprise endings, O. Henry, is narrating his famous story of a poor young couple whose only riches are in their heart. In the musical, the character O. Henry then portrays people in the couple’s life.

Among other personas, Lyle Becker became a grocer, the owner of a clothing business no longer making new suits but repairing worn ones, a woman hairdresser and a mover and shaker now down on his luck. He became those personas – mannerisms, accents and all. At times, Lyle Becker added his warm tenor singing voice.

All those years of performing, and he put so much together in one production.

+ Two professional actors hitting a comedic rhythm of experts.

This is another case of putting so much together in one production.

Alan Kopischke and Noah Simon have acted in the professional ranks for years, performing in many companies. Northeastern Wisconsin is their locale now.

A foreshortened list of credits: Alan Kopischke in the one-man “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” at the ever-searching Third Avenue Playhouse in Sturgeon Bay. Noah Simon in “A Trick of the Light” at the prestigious Peninsula Players Theatre in Door County.

Alan Kopischke, left, and Noah Simon. (Heidi Hodges)

Alan Kopischke and Noah Simon are playing 11 characters each until Dec. 31 in the lampoon-laden “A Tuna Christmas” at Third Avenue Playhouse. While portraying all those characters is nifty, what is impressive is how they work as a team.

Alan Kopischke and Noah Simon are like hand-in-glove in the production. There is a comfort in watching them, like the stuff of Laurel and Hardy. The schtick is not the same, but that smoothness is the same.

You know how sometimes you smile, chuckle and laugh all the way through some things – a story, a movie, a play? Bingo!

+ A son expressing relief, hope and love.

This was a once-in-a-lifetime sequence.

It happened at a performance of the Knights on Broadway of St. Norbert College show troupe’s “Christmas with the Knights: Finding Hope.”

Flashing back: Spaced all through the show in the college’s Dudley Birder Hall in De Pere are video clips of people around campus offering thoughts on what gives them hope. Answers span all over the place. In the video, some students find hope in their friends. Activism, family, pets, kindness and “Jesus and my guitar” are other answers.

Brian Bruess, the college’s president, finds hope in the “amazing students” and their development.

Nicholas Surprise, a singer in Knights on Broadway, says he finds hope in the fact that both his parents, after long struggles with cancer, today are free of an active presence.

Nicholas Surprise. (St. Norbert College)

In real life, Nicholas Surprise is the next student soloist to be featured in the concert. He stands at the front of the stage and sings, in Latin, “Ave Maria” in a voice that has deepened and widened in his development on campus. From Wautoma, Nicholas Surprise is a biology major with this performance thing one of his roots.

The song ends.

A big smile rises from him.

A full-house audience watches as Nicholas Surprise leaves the stage, walks down steps to the front row and hugs his mother and father.

Such hugs.

Such a situation.

Such power.

Such poignance.

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