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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: One and one and one and one = a fantastic four in Wisconsin theater

Critic At Large

Fred Alley, James Valcq, “Doc” Heide, Jeffrey Herbst

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – When doing one story for WFRV Local 5, I sometimes bump into another story.

The second story is usually a reward and sometimes a surprise.

The story you are reading came to be when I put one and one and one and one together to add up to an especially remarkable four.

It happened in a realization after an interview with man of theater James Valcq. He told a tale of meeting three friends for a tour of the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. Ellis Island is located in New York Harbor near the Statute of Liberty.

The time was the early 1990s, and James Valcq was meeting Fred Alley, Jeffrey Herbst and Frederick “Doc” Heide – each involved in theater, all from Wisconsin.

The realization: What they have done since then!

Were they a pebble, each would cause a ripple in the large pond of theater art in Door County that would interlock with the three others’ ripple and then splash well outside the pond.

One by one by one by one:


Fred Alley: Along with helping create Door Shakespeare, a founder of Northern Sky Theater in Door County. He’s from Mount Horeb.

Door Shakespeare is in its 25th season of presenting classically oriented plays, especially of William Shakespeare, at Bjorklunden on the shore of Lake Michigan near Baileys Harbor.

Northern Sky Theater is headquartered in Fish Creek. Its origins trace near 50 years ago to the Heritage Ensemble that progressed into American Folklore Theatre, which Fred Alley was part of starting. Northern Sky Theater performs in two theaters, one outdoor, one indoor, as it presents solely original musicals with Wisconsin stories.

Fred Alley at theater. (Northern Sky Theater)

Along with possessing a golden tenor voice, Fred Alley had a nimble way with creating characters on stage and on paper.

Among the shows he co-wrote are “Guys on Ice,” “Lumberjacks in Love” and “The Bachelors.”

“Guys on Ice” has been running somewhere since it premiered in 1998.

Fred Alley and James Valcq wrote “The Passage” and “The Spitfire Grill.”

James Valcq: Co-artistic director of Third Avenue Playhouse in Sturgeon Bay, composer, director, performer and more. He’s from Milwaukee.

A year-around venue, Third Avenue Playhouse became a theater of note under the hand of James Valcq and co-artistic director Robert Boles with their experience (Broadway, academia and more) with professional casts.

It was “The Passage” that Fred Alley and James Valcq were researching on Ellis Island. The poignant musical premiered in 1994 as an American Folklore Theatre presentation. Among cast members were Fred Alley and “Doc” Heide.

Fred Alley, left, and James Valcq. (Northern Sky Theater)

The two also wrote “The Spitfire Grill,” which has had more than 700 productions internationally. The musical premiered Off-Broadway Sept. 7, 2001 (four days before 9/11). Fred Alley was deceased. He died May 1, 2001, at age 38 of a heart attack.

James Valcq also co-authored the musicals “Victory Farm” (2012) for American Folklore Theatre and “Boxcar” (2018) for Northern Sky Theater.

Among his creations at Third Avenue Playhouse are “Velvet Gentleman” and “La La Lucille,” in which he also acted, sang and played piano.

Frederick “Doc” Heide: Along with co-founding American Folklore Theatre/Northern Sky Theater is artistic advisor, playwright and performer. He’s from Green Bay.

Among the shows he co-wrote for the troupe are “Belgians in Heaven,” “Packer Fans from Outer Space,” “Guys & Does,” “Sunsets & Smores” and “The Mountains Call My Name.”

The original cast for “Belgians in Heaven” (1994) included “Doc” Heide, Fred Alley and Jeffrey Herbst.

“Doc” Heide, left, Fred Alley and Jeffrey Herbst dance in “Belgians in Heaven.” (Roger Hamilton)

On stage, “Doc” Heide sings, acts, dances and plays string instruments.

He started with the Heritage Ensemble in 1973.

Frederick “Doc” Heide’s other job is stunning – a psychology professor. A licensed clinical psychologist, he teaches at the California School of Professional Psychology-San Francisco.

He once told me people in Wisconsin have no idea what he does most of the year in California, and people in California have no idea what he does in summer in Wisconsin.

Jeffrey Herbst: Artistic director of Northern Sky Theater (starting in 1993 as American Folklore Theatre), director, performer. He’s from Mount Horeb.

He calls the shots for, and often performs in, shows that are seen by tens of thousands of people each year.

Jeffrey Herbst. (Northern Sky Theater)

As artistic director, Jeffrey Herbst nurtured the creation of more than 60 original productions. Included are “Guys on Ice,” “Lumberjacks in Love,” “Packer Fans from Outer Space,” “Victory Farm,” “Guy & Does,” “Dad’s Season Tickets,” “Boxcar,” “Windjammers,” “Dairy Heirs,” “We Like It Where?” “No Bones About It” and “Loose Lips Sink Ships.”

And “The Passage.”

On stage, Jeffrey Herbst sings, acts and dances – plus he directs and creates dances for some shows. He has been part of “And If Elected” for every presidential year (except this one) for decades.

He was a member of the Heritage Ensemble in 1985 at Governor Dodge State Park (a second troupe).


Going back to Ellis Island:

The place means so much to so many. In this case, the meaning is unique in theater creativity.

These friends who were at the same place at the same time with their imaginations cranking are a wellspring of originality here in Wisconsin.

They are one and one and one and one – a fantastic four.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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