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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘The Kissing Girl’ in Sturgeon Bay dials into comical fluff of yore

Critic At Large

Third Avenue Playhouse

Cast for Third Avenue Playhouse production of “The Kissing Girl,” by row, from left: Top – James Valcq, Michael Penrick, Dan Klarer, Lanja Andriamihaja; Second – Tess Bents, Drew Brehl, Anna Cline, Debra Babich; Third – Lydia Rose Eiche, Alex S. Sabin, Matt Frye. (Warren Gerds screenshot)

STURGEON BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – The Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk.

Third Avenue Playhouse with “The Kissing Girl” Friday night.

Both flew.

Not far.

But it was a start.

“The Kissing Girl,” a confection from 1909, was given a ZOOM-infused theatrical reading Friday as part of the professional company’s ongoing “PlayWorks 2021” series.

The piece is a satire, farce, lampoon and comedy all rolled into one.

Story: A marriage is to take place. The parties love someone else, but they agree to marry because $$$$$ is involved if they do so. They plan to immediately divorce, $$$$$$ in hand.

There’s a whole lot more. Two hours’ worth.

Third Avenue Playhouse is something of a specialist in such shows taken off the shelf and dusted off. Co-artistic director James Valcq has done it in the past at the theater with great success – “La La Lucille” and “Madame Sherry.”

This one is a work in progress, with progress caught in the spider web called the COVID-19 pandemic.

From the Library of Congress, James Valcq acquired the script to “The Kissing Girl.” His request for the score arrived just as the Library of Congress shut, caught in that web.

Friday night, the cast either spoke the rhyming words of the songs or James Valcq plugged in known songs that fit the story. In one case – “I Want a Girl (Just Like the Girl That Married Dear Old Dad)” – the song was beautifully sung by a lustrous tenor (Michael Penick). In some others, James Valcq sang as others lip-synched.

Work in progress, indeed.

But it flew.

The story is zany. The characters are colorful. The aura of an era is there – that of gaiety in a style of American musical theater.

James Valcq (inset) detailing history of show. (Screenshot)

James Valcq’s enthusiasm and expertise were on display in the introduction of “The Kissing Girl” and the follow-up talkback.

“It seemed to play better than I expected,” he said of the performance, which he directed.

The future? Would it be part of a coming season at the theater? “I think we might want to do this,” James Valcq said.

The cast – from veteran pros to fresh collegiate talent – was into the show. There’s something about dusted-off uniqueness to pique performance interest.

Some of the humor was inadvertent. Scenes were set by word by Robert Boles, the other co-artistic director. Many a time, introductions came to the characters of Trudi, Rudi, Pretzel and Schnitzel. Say that a half dozen times, and it starts to sound like a German law firm, ready to break into an oom-pah-pah tuba tune.

What the pandemic has wrought is opportunities like “The Kissing Girl” run-through: Players in many places gathered on one screen to “exhume a lost and forgotten show” (James Valcq’s words) to test it for pulse.

If only for one night, it did have life for three acts and two three-minute intermissions.


The basics

“The Kissing Girl: A Vintage Musical Restoration Project by James Valcq.”

Creative: Music – Harry Von Tilzer; lyrics – Vincent Bryan; libretto – Stanislaus Stange; adaptation, direction – James Valcq


Narrator/scene setter – Robert Boles

Trudi, a Bohemian peasant girl – Lydia Rose Eiche

Rudi, another Bohemian peasant girl – Anna Cline

Kriebel, Mountain guide of the Hunter’s Rest Inn and General Factorum – James Valcq

Hilda Kobus, Landlady at the inn – Debra Babich

Fritz Kobus, a Corporal in the Austrian army – Dan Klarer

Hippocrates Muller, a wealthy brewer – Drew Brhel

Karl Oppe, the King’s forester – Michael Penick

Paul Pretzel, a member of the Schutzen Corps – Alex M. Sabin

Albert Schnitzel, a member of the Schutzen Corps – Matt Frye

Max Pulaski, a Polish cement manufacturer – James Valcq

Christina, the daughter of Muller – Lanja Andriamihaja

Lina, the “Kissing Girl” – Tess Bents


NEXT: “The Understudy” by Theresa Rebek, 7 p.m. April 30, info at

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