GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – This may bring a smile: The latest Let Me Be Frank Productions show is set in 1968, when troupe namesake Frank Hermans was 11 years old. He’s now playing Timber, a member of a high school basketball team.
There’s more. Frank Hermans’ character has a fascination for a nun, portrayed by Frank Hermans’ real-life wife, Amy Riemer.
There’s more. One of the Frank Hermans/Amy Riemer sons is in the show. Harrison Hermans, age 10, portrays the son of the coach of the basketball team. In character, Harrison Hermans gives Timber all kinds of heat for being a slacker. On stage, Harrison Hermans lips off to his father in the name of play-acting – making cutting comments related to wood to go along with the Timber nickname.
Let Me Be Frank Productions shows are usually cosmic, and “Pennings from Heaven” is right up there. The blind casting (anybody playing any role, like a teenager at 57) is just one part of the cosmicisity.
The story of “Pennings from Heaven” is heavy duty all-boys high school rivals Pennings and Premontre have a key basketball game coming to qualify for state, and there’s also a dance that will involve the all-girls St. Joseph Academy and guys from Pennings. Teenage angst and hormones and rascality and duhhh-bness and a brace of double-entendre jokes tumble all around, and then singing breaks out. The punch bowl gets spiked more than once, so there’s that kind shenanigan-producing stuff, too.
This is all for the sake of songs, as usual.
Co-writers/directors Frank Hermans and Pat Hibbard step into a danger zone with Amy Riemer portraying a nun in the midst of their kind of mischief. The nun had a love previous to her calling, has an admiring boy student and is continually weighing propriety while wearing a habit and a shortened skirt (all the better to dance in). The show closes with the nun singing her affirmation of her calling in a soaring gospel/spiritual/R&B number. How’s that for different?
Here are some other different things:
+ A boy in the show. It’s a bit more than a walk-on role for Harrison Hermans, who crackles in insult humor, is bright in his featured tune, kind-of dances and, in Saturday afternoon’s show, bungled a necessary cross-over dribble with a basketball, to which his father said, “That was not good.”
+ There now is one show in the history of musical theater in which two characters wear Pennings Squires basketball uniforms the entire way through. Notable is Frank Hermans as Timber, a basketball nerd who also palms a basketball (official size? probably not) much of the time while delivering lines.
+ In one of her songs, Lisa Borley shifts gears from her trademark powerhouse to gentler color. “(Once I Had a) Secret Love” also gets added touches in lighting and musical effects by way of synthesized strings, and the number is embracing and beautiful.
+ Tom Verbrick pops with a dual voice in the novelty classic “The Purple People Eater.” In the recording studio, the cute voice probably was a speeded-up soundtrack. Tom Verbrick simply switches to a high mode for the same effect. Very cool. He also has one of the best song lead-ins for a Frank’s show when his character is teased by a girl about one of his pick-up lines. He says, “I’ve got a ton of them,” and then gets up and sings “Sixteen Tons.”
+ The story, of course, is different as a basis for a comedy musical tapping into pop and R&B songs of the ’60s. The fractured history name-drops all sorts Green Bay area names and places from back then. In his traditional pre-show chat, Frank Hermans explains a lot. At Saturday’s matinee, there was a bonus. When Frank Hermans was talking about the history of Pennings High School, a woman in the audience said she attended the school, baffling him. It turns out the woman was in the last graduating class (1958) of coed Nicolet High School, which the next year became all-boys Pennings.
+ Many of the early Frank’s shows – 50 to 100 productions ago – were infused with a certain earthiness. In recent years, that toned down. In “Pennings from Heaven,” most of the characters are teens, and boy-girl, dating/mating stuff are main topics. The show is strongly earthy. The character Barb (Sarah Galati) is particularly risqué/comical in passing on her mother’s words of wisdom on an activity she says she does not especially like despite what Barb hears.
Not different is the singing showcase with a versatile band and light shows. The pop era of the ’50s/’60s had a special brightness that is captured so well and strongly in such songs as “Quando Quando Quando” by Frank Hermans, “Broken Hearted Melody” by Amy Riemer, “Mambo Italiano” by Sarah Galati, “Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in his Kiss)” by Lisa Borley and “Bony Maronie” by Pat Hibbard.
This is the first Frank’s mainstage show at the Meyer Theatre with no COVID-19 seating restrictions since “Hamilton, Ltd.,” which closed Feb. 22, 2020 – 17 months ago.
Timber – Frank Hermans
Tommer – Pat Hibbard
Loafer – Tom Verbrick
Sister Bonaventure – Amy Riemer
Karen – Lisa Borley
Barb – Sarah Galati
Baba Louie – Harrison Hermans
Band: Dennis Panneck (guitars), Pat Hibbard (bass), Jeff Arnold (keyboards) and Andrew Klaus (drums)
Running time: Two hours
Remaining performances: Meyer Theatre, Green Bay: 1 and 7:30 p.m. July 29; 7:30 p.m. July 30, July 31, Aug. 5, 6, 7, 12, 13 and 14; info at meyertheatre.org. Capitol Civic Centre, Manitowoc: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 4; info at cccshows.org.
“Pennies from Heaven” parody (Louis Prima) – All
“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” (The Tokens) – Harrison Hermans
“Sugartime” (McGuire Sisters) – Sarah Galati, Lisa Borley, Amy Riemer
“Frankie” (Connie Francis) – Amy Riemer
“Gonna Get Along Without You Now” (Skeeter Davis/(She & Him cover) – Sarah Galati
“The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss)” (Betty Everett) – Lisa Borley
“The Purple People Eater” (Sheb Wooley) – Tom Verbrick
“Cupid” (Sam Cooke) – Frank Hermans
“The Bird Is the Word” fragment (The Trashmen) – Frank Hermans
“Bony Moronie” (Larry Williams) Pat Hibbard
“Quando Quando Quando” (Engelbert Humperdinck) – Frank Hermans
“A Rockin’ Good Way (To Mess Around and Fall in Love)” (Dinah Washington and Brook Benton) – Frank Hermans and Amy Riemer
“Little Town Flirt” (Del Shannon) – Frank Hermans
“Gimme Some Lovin’” (The Blues Brothers) – Pat Hibbard with dance by Lisa Borley, Sarah Galati, Amy Riemer and Tom Verbrick
“Secret Love” (Doris Day/Mandy Moore cover) – Lisa Borley
“Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow the Sun)” (Del Shannon) – Pat Hibbard
“Broken Hearted Melody” (Sarah Vaughan) – Amy Riemer
“Mambo Italiano” (Rosemary Clooney) – Sarah Galati
“Oh No Not My Baby” (Aretha Franklin) – Lisa Borley
“Sixteen Tons” (Tennessee Ernie Ford) – Tom Verbrick
“Something’s Got a Hold on Me” (Etta James/Christina Aguilera cover) – Amy Riemer, all
NEXT: “Frank’s Family Feud,” Sept. 17-Oct. 9.
THE VENUE: Stop and look around the place. Meyer Theatre’s auditorium is an eye full. Located at 117 S. Washington St. in downtown Green Bay, the Meyer is one of the state’s colorful historic theaters. In its current form, the Robert T. Meyer Theatre opened Feb. 27, 2002. It seats approximately 1,000. The building dates back much farther. It opened Feb. 14, 1930, as one of the palatial Fox movie houses. The place is picturesque. The theater’s interior aura was its saving grace toward the end of the 20th century, when the building was faced an uncertain fate. The architectural/decorative style is defined as Spanish Atmospheric. The auditorium is designed in the manner of a Moorish courtyard of old. The eclectic mix of architectural styles and colors carries throughout the lobbies.
THE PEOPLE: Robert Meyer was president and chief executive officer of Tape Inc. of Green Bay. The theater took his name at the behest of his wife, Betty (Janet Elizabeth) Rose Meyer, whose financial contribution at a crucial time helped revitalize the building. The Rose family has a history of deep commitment to and involvement in the well-being of Green Bay. Robert Meyer died in 1984, Betty Rose Meyer in 2008.