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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘A Frank’s Christmas’ a coat of many colors in Green Bay

Critic At Large

Let Me Be Frank Productions

Opening sequence from Let Me Be Frank Productions’ 2021 edition of “A Frank’s Christmas.” (Warren Gerds)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – The year is 1. Jesus Christ is coming up on his first birthday. In Egypt, the Pharaoh’s family tries to figure out a way to mark the day.

That is nut for the story of Let Me Be Frank Productions’ 2021 edition of “A Frank’s Christmas.”

Very different.

The show troupe adds songs to the story. Most of the titles have been around for years and years. In this show, most are contemporary interpretations. The lyrics mostly are the same; the styles are of a kind of rock genre – which may account for the extra volume in this show’s music presentation.

Different.

The show turns around faith. Words and philosophies found in church surface regularly. Troupe namesake Frank Hermans even makes statements for living along the line of we should all get along and respect one another.

Very different.

In its quest for originality in entertainment, Frank’s again hits the mark.

In this show, there is a story as usual with Frank’s. But there are no segues – plays with words that lead into songs. There’s talk and jokes and the development of plotting in the Pharaoh’s family, but then another Christmas song is performed.

The lineup seems to have this concept for the singers: What are the Christmas songs by your favorite artists that you would like to sing? The singers sing songs in the style they are comfortable in. Included are the edgy Jars of Clay for “O Little Town of Bethlehem” for Zach Hibbard among the younger performers and a power-voice Elvis Presley version of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” for Frank Hermans.

To this technicolor aural display, the band adds a Trans-Siberian Orchestra steroid version of Christmas as an instrumental.

In the second half of the show, traditional stylings surface as in Lisa Borley’s soaring “Ave Maria” and Amy Riemer’s embracing “Silent Night.”

A continued version of “Silent Night” is special. Luster radiates as Lisa Borley, Sarah Galati and Amy Riemer join for an a cappella, harmonic collaboration of sheer beauty – three wonderful voices blended.

Around the singing, the story tumbles along as a combination of history with character shenanigans. At the center is Tom Verbrick as Jafar, dressed in a fantastic robe that’s part of the show’s splashy ancient Egypt visual sha-zam, like the Pharoah’s gold lamé shoes. Caught conniving, Jafar has been forced to be a lacky for the Pharaoh (Frank Hermans) and his family of wobbly wheels – loopy Queen Cleo (Amy Riemer) and daughters, tarty Princess Jasmine (Sarah Galati) and tacky Princess Amira (Lisa Borley).

Puns are everywhere. Groaners along the line of this: Mummies sang rap music. Mummies are wrapped in cloth. Wrap. Rap. Get it?

Topping the play-on-words pile are three characters, the Maas brothers. Zach Hibbard is Joseph, the technicolor dreamcoat guy who got dumped in a well by his brothers. Blake Hermans is Nickolas, current holder of the dreamcoat. Pat Hibbard (who wrote this stuff with Frank Hermans) is Chris. Okay, now there is Chris and Maas. Say the names fast and – ta-da – you have the show’s billing as “the first original fictional Christmas story.”

This is a big, colorful, complex show with laughs and meaning and visual pop. It’s fun and funny and the jokes are good and singing is zesty.

Dennis Panneck, from left, Pat Hibbard, Tom Vervbrick, Sarah Galati, Zach Hibbard, Amy Riemer, Blake Hermans, Lisa Borley, Tony Pilz, Andrew Klaus, Frank Hermans. (Sue Pilz Photography)

The sound level is a bit much. While fitting the style of many songs, what I surmised Friday night was this: A song was performed with vigor and excellence, and that sound overwhelmed the enthusiastic response from the audience, which was not an adrenaline-stoked rock crowd. Even though the reaction was strong and positive, the response felt weak – like a step down.

This is the troupe’s 22nd Christmas show, and the 20th collaboration of Frank Hermans and Pat Hibbard in creating a Christmas show. Each production has been different than the last. That kind of sustained originality is a rarity in the entertainment business. This year’s production takes the troupe’s imagination to a new level.

***

Running time: Two hours, 18 minutes

Remaining performances: Green Bay at Meyer Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4, 8-10; 1 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 11; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 15; 1 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 16; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17-23. Info: meyertheatre.org. Meyer Theatre COVID-19 safety protocols and regulations may be found at https://meyertheatre.org/keeping-you-safe/. Manitowoc at Capitol Civic Centre at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7. Info: cccshows.org.

Company

Pharaoh (the narrator) – Frank Hermans

Chris (a Maas brother) – Pat Hibbard

Queen Cleo – Amy Riemer

Jafar (evil assistant to the Queen) – Tom Verbrick

Princess Amira – Lisa Borley

Princess Jasmine – Sarah Galati

Nickolas (a Maas brother) – Blake Hermans

Joseph (a Maas brother) – Zach Hibbard

Band and support: Dennis Panneck (guitars), Pat Hibbard (bass), Tony Pilz (keyboards), Andrew Klaus (drums), Ross Loining (lights), Kelly Klaus (sound)

***

Musical selections

Act I

“Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors” (Christmas parody) – All

“Go Tell It on the Mountain” (Jennifer Nettles) – Sarah Galati

 “Sweet Baby Jesus” (Carrie Underwood) – Lisa Borley

“We Three Kings” (Aly & AJ) – Amy Riemer

“What Child is This” (Third Day) – Tom Verbrick

“Chanukah Song” (Neil Diamond) – Frank Hermans

“O Little Town of Bethlehem” (Jars of Clay) – Zach Hibbard

“A Whole New World” (Brad Kane and Lea Salonga) – Blake Hermans and Zach Hibbard

“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” (David Archuleta) – Blake Hermans

“Little Drummer Boy” (Meaghan Smith) – Sarah Galati

“Oh Come All Ye Faithful” (Weezer) – Pat Hibbard

Act II

“Carol of the Bells” (Trans-Siberian Orchestra) – Band

“The First Noel” (Gabby Barrett) – Amy Riemer

“The Magic of Christmas Day (God Bless Us Everyone)” (Celine Dion) – Lisa Borley

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” (Johnny Reid) – Pat Hibbard

“Mary Did You Know” (Hannah Ellis) – Sarah Galati

“Mary’s Boy Child” (David Archuleta) – Blake Hermans

“It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” (Elvis Presley) – Frank Hermans

“Ave Maria” (Celine Dion) – Lisa Borley

“Silent Night” (Kelly Clarkson) – Amy Riemer, with trio finale of Amy Riemer, Lisa Borley, Sarah Galati

“Joy to the World” (Third Day) – Zach Hibbard, All

***

NEXT: “New Year’s Eve with Frank! Best of 2021,” Dec. 31.

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.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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