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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: COVID-19 adds meanings to ‘Elvis Lives!’ at Ashwaubenon PAC

Critic At Large

Frank’s Tribute & The All-Star Band

Amy Riemer performs as Reba McEntire as part of “Elvis Lives!” at Ashwaubenon Performing Arts Center, Jan. 22, 2021. (Warren Gerds)

ASHWAUBENON, Wis. (WFRV) – Without the 800-pound gorilla in the room, “Elvis Lives!” is just another show by Frank’s Tribute & The All-Star Band of the Green Bay-based show troupe Let Me Be Frank Productions.

It’s a colorful showcase of almost 2¼ hours of often-flashy singing, a nifty band and splashy lighting. In style and dress, the singers embrace material of big stars. Many a time, the singers light up the stage.

Frank’s Tribute & The All-Star Band performed Friday night at Ashwaubenon Performing Arts Center. It was essentially a return engagement twice over, from 2019 and 2020.

New in 2021 is the 800-pound gorilla called COVID-19. Wow, does that imposing, scary creature make a difference. People wear masks, the crowd size is limited (to 190, with about half that attending Friday), and there are assorted rules (see below) for simply going to a live, in-person performance.

Time and again Friday, the performers expressed gratitude to the audience and about being able to perform. Except for that, it would be hard to tell the 800-pound gorilla was in the room.

The show is a show. Now silently infused in it is a sense of escape and release and relief.

Step back and look around, there is this: On Jan. 22, 2021, “Elvis Lives!” was the first regularly scheduled live performance with a paying in-person audience of the year in all of Northeastern Wisconsin. The thing was a phenomenon.

Is a phenomenon because the show is being repeated at 7:30 p.m. today, Saturday, Jan. 23. Info: Ashwaubenonpac.org or ticketstaronline.com

Frank Hermans in “Elvis Lives!” (Warren Gerds)

I now turn to the 2019 show at the Ashwaubenon PAC. I repeat my review, with adjustments and updates:

There are tribute shows galore – here, far and practically everywhere. One among many that strike me as interesting is Frank’s Tribute & The All-Star Band. Interesting, because:

– It’s homegrown.

– Covers a lot of stars.

– Comes from a familiar troupe.

– Took place in an appealing auditorium concert setting.

– Features performers who know how to sing in a lot of ways.

– Features a band that seems to be able to play anything in the wide, wide world of popular music.

Let Me Be Frank Productions show troupe of Green Bay is primarily associated with original comedies with music that are put on at the Meyer Theatre in downtown Green Bay.

But the outfit led by Frank Hermans does an assortment of gigs in the area in venues large and small. One is Frank’s Tribute & The All-Star Band, which it put on Friday night at Ashwaubenon Performing Arts Center as part of the center’s season fare.

The show features songs of stars in their heyday. The songs tend to be big hits, so there is an automatic appeal.

You know you are not getting the stars as they are today. Some are dead. Some are getting on and no longer sing as they did in their glory years. The illusion of the show is the stars sing as they once did, or close to the way they did.

The singers dress in the manner of the stars, though there is no great pretending they are clones (as in some tribute shows). You go to Madame Tussauds for that. This show is aimed toward what they sounded like – live, on stage, with a live band consisting of Dennis Panneck on guitar, Tony Pilz on keyboard, Andrew Klaus on drums and Pat Hibbard on bass.

The show takes singers from the Let Me Be Frank Productions troupe and puts them in a solo spotlight as they replicate a single star. It is fascinating how the troupe’s singers work to bring out the special qualities of their singer’s voice – what made the star stick in the minds of listeners in the first place. Of course, they never are exact, but they often create good stuff trying.

Highlights of Friday’s show:

+ Frank Hermans as Elvis Presley: This is Elvis through time. More than the other performers, Frank Hermans tells the backstory of his singer. He puts on the Southern, kind of mumbling voice of Elvis as he tells about happenings in Elvis’s life and sings a selection of his songs in often strong and vibrant ways. A few are “Stuck on You,” “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” “Teddy Bear” and the three dramatic songs of “Trilogy.” Hermans kids that his personification sounds like Elvis and looks like Alex Baldwin. He jokes about the cheap dye he uses to make his hair jet black and the pounds of mascara he applies to take on the Elvis look. Hermans is forever flexible and has a way with an audience as frontman.

+ Mike Hermans as George Jones: This is like opening a scrapbook on vintage country when a twang was part of the deal. Mike Hermans plays on the gnarl in Jones’ voice and his clever lyrics (“Hotter than a Two-Dollar Pistol” and “The Race is On”). The segment adds to the show’s variety – and the scope of music the versatile band can play.

+ Pat Hibbard as Yakov Smirnoff: Hibbard doesn’t sing here (he’s the troupe’s rocker otherwise) but shows some of his roots as humorist. Plays on words fill the bit with Smirnoff freshly arrived from Russia and seeing a sign, “Welcome to Smirnoff” (the vodka) and thinking “What a country!” Or: “The ad in the paper said ‘Big Sale. Last Week.’ Why advertise? I already missed it. They’re just rubbing it in.” Hibbard’s put-on Russian accent is put on extremely well. And to this day, it fun picking on the rigid Russians.

+ Lisa Borley as Barbra Streisand: This shows how distinct the original’s voice is – and luxuriously luminous and large. Wowzer dowzer, can Borley light up “Evergreen,” “People,” “Extra, Extra,” “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and “Stoney End” – and hhhooollldddddddd ending notes impressively. Borley can both caress notes and set them afire.

Lisa Borley sings. (Warren Gerds)

+ Amy Riemer as Reba McEntire: Among the multiple vocal personas of Amy Riemer, Reba McEntire for her comes with a ton of hits, a vista of styles within an identity and red hair. Riemer applies a dusting of a drawl in a richly colorful array that includes “Take It Back,” “Tell Me Why,” “Turn on Your Radio” and the story-song “Fancy.” Examine recordings of Amy Riemer’s voice in the mainstage shows, and you will find that all along she’s been exploring where her voice can go – and it’s been to a whole lot of places. Reba McEntire is but a niche.

+ Pat Hibbard returning as a storyteller: He reads “Cinderella,” only discombobulated into “Rindercella” with turnabout being fair play in comedy.

+ Frank Hermans returning as Cher: He is bewigged and dressed as Cher in a bare-shoulder, skimpy thingie, though Friday he/she forgot shoes and performed barefoot. This Cher returns to the beginning to “I Got You” with Paul Evansen joining as Sonny to not only sing but add ad-lib cracks on the whole bizarre escapade.

+ Paul Evansen as Neil Diamond: Evansen’s take is he is a character in Diamond’s songs, something of hormones afoot in some cases. Evansen became a presence in such songs as “Cracklin’ Rosie,” “Solitary Man” and “Coming to America.” More than the other performers, Evansen plays up the audience to generate participation. Friday, he especially got it in “Sweet Caroline” with the audience waving arms and singing along … bum, bum, bum.

+ And, and, and, while one singer from the troupe is on stage doing their solo thing in the spotlight, Amy Riemer, Lisa Borley and Sarah Galati are offstage providing backup singing – a whole lot of unsung backup singing. It takes the Let Me Be Frank Productions village to bring up this entertaining baby.

NEXT (for the venue): Four Guyz in Dinner Jackets – “Call Us Old-Fashioned: The Supper Club Tour,” March 6.

NEXT (for Frank’s): “Menoma Mia,” starting Jan. 29, Meyer Theatre, downtown Green Bay.

VENUE: Ashwaubenon Performing Arts Center is located in the northwest sector of the Ashwaubenon High School campus at the corner of Willard Drive and South Ridge Road. The look of the hall is that of a community/school district making a statement: The performing arts count. The facility’s design is by Bray Associates Architects, Inc. of Milwaukee and Sheboygan. The theater includes a theatrical slope. The basic floor is gray with patterned grays in the carpeting. The 740 seats have tan plastic backs, muted green fabric seat cushions and oak arms. Key elements are wood panels on walls and curved acoustical clouds in the ceiling for sound purposes. The basic stage is 26 feet high and 49 feet wide, with a section that bows out almost 18 feet being a covered (or uncovered) orchestra pit. The stage curtain is different from the standard rich red; it is rich green. The lobby – lighted by a series of white, circular fixtures, curves around the rear entrances of the theater. The space includes chest-high tables and ticketing, concession and coatroom areas. The facility was completed in 2016.

***

Message from Kate Green, Ashwaubenon PAC executive director about this show:

Dear Frank’s Tribute and the All-Star Band Ticket Holder,

As we get closer to the shows this weekend, we wanted to share some information with you before you arrive. We take the safety of our staff, performers, volunteers and guests seriously and have implemented some new protocols to reflect that.

When you purchased your ticket, you likely learned that we shall be requiring our staff, volunteers and patrons to wear masks, covering both nose and mouth, at all times while in the building. We encourage you to bring your own mask to wear, but we will have disposable masks available on site if needed. 

In the past, our volunteer ushers have taken your tickets and ripped them for entry into the theater. In effort to reduce the amount of contact between usher and patron, we will instead visually check your ticket and then mark it with a permanent marker rather than ripping off the end stub.

Some additional changes and safety efforts include:

·        Our normal seating capacity of 740 has been reduced to 190 to allow for plenty of spacing between your assigned seating groups;

·        Intermission has been omitted to reduce congregating in the theatre aisles and lobby;

·        Coat check and concessions services are not being offered at this time for the safety of our volunteers and to eliminate the need for mask removal to eat or drink;

·        Touch-free hand sanitizing stations are available throughout the lobby and entrances into the theater;

·        Program notes can be accessed digitally via QR code rather than offered as passed-out paper books;

·        Surfaces and seats are cleaned with SARS-COV-2 virus-killing disinfectant via electrostatic sprayer;

·        Doors within the venue will be propped open when possible and practical to avoid unnecessary surface touching;

·        Plexiglass barriers are in place at the ticket office for the safety of our patrons and ticketing staff;

·        The venue’s young HVAC system offers computer-monitored outside air mixture capabilities and excellent filtration with brand new filters installed this week.  

We thank you in advance for joining us this weekend, and we appreciate all you do to help us reach a time when we can open our doors to full capacity once again!

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