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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: ‘The Kissing Girl’ from 1909 being revived online in Sturgeon Bay

Critic At Large

Third Avenue Playhouse

Show poster.

STURGEON BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Third Avenue Playhouse will continue its “PlayWorks 2021” virtual series at 7 p.m. April 16 with “The Kissing Girl: A Vintage Musical Restoration Project by James Valcq.”

Tickets are free, with donations welcome. Info: thirdavenueplayhouse.com.

According to the website: The piece is a work-in-progress adapted and directed by James Valcq, who is co-artistic director of the professional theater.

Early in the 20th century, the Midwest had a thriving musical theater scene all its own centered on Chicago, featuring an explosion of works created specifically for Midwest audiences.

Valcq is in the process of dusting off 1909’s “The Kissing Girl.” Composed by Harry Von Tilzer with lyrics by Vincent Bryan and libretto by Stanislaus Stange, the comedy operetta had its world premiere in Madison before opening for a long run in the then-new Cort Theatre in Chicago.

The project is created in the tradition of “La La Lucille” and “Madame Sherry,”​ which were produced by Third Avenue Playhouse.

A full cast will read through the current draft of the script, and a few of the musical numbers will be heard.

The cast:

+ Dan Klarer (Fritz Kobus) has been seen on Door County stages since 2006, and Third Avenue Playhouse has been key. His past shows there include: “Every Brilliant Thing,” “Isaac’s Eye,” “The Santaland Diaries” and “Greater Tuna.” Klarer Dan is based in Chicago and has worked across America and internationally in the United Kingdom where he received his master’s degree from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow.

+ Drew Brhel (Hippocrates Muller), based in Milwaukee, returns to Third Avenue Playhouse. He has appeared in at least one production a summer there since the company’s second season. Some favorite roles at Third Avenue Playhouse include Matt Friedman in “Talley’s Folly,” Billy in “Billy Bishop Goes to War,” Mark Rothko in “Red,” and Voltaire/Pangloss in “Candide.”

+ Lydia Rose Eiche (Trudi) is at home in opera and musical theater and on the concert stage. Eiche has sung roles as diverse as Pamina in “Zie Magic Flute” and Yitzhak in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” She has performed with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Skylight Music Theatre and Milwaukee Opera Theatre, among others.

+ Michael Penick (Karl Oppe) returns to Third Avenue Playhouse, having played the title role in “Candide.” Regional credits include “Kinky Boots” (Charlie Price) at Circa ’21; “Hot Mikado” (Nanki-Poo) at Skylight Music Theatre and “The Mikado (Nanki-Poo) at Theatre 20/20.

+ Anna Cline (Rudi) was last seen at Third Avenue Playhouse as Paquette in “Candide.” Other credits include Northern Sky Theater, Milwaukee Repertory Theater and Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.

+ Alex M. Sabin (Paul Pretzel) returns to Third Avenue Playhouse, having performed in “La La Lucille.” He works at Broadway Theatre in De Pere and is an acting/performance instructor with Studio12. He has performed with such Green Bay area companies as Theatre Z, The Dance Company and St. Norbert College Music Theatre.

+ Debra Babich (Hilda Kobus) also returns. Credits there include “Madame Sherry,” “The Fantasticks and “House of Blue Leaves.” Although she has appeared on such hometown area stages of Milwaukee (​Skylight Music Theatre, Next Act Theatre, First Stage Children’s Theatre)​, Babich has also performed nationally (​New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, Actors’ Theatre of Indiana)​ and internationally (The Classic Theater Company in Greece).

+ Matt Frye (Albert Schnitzel) returns for the first time since 2017. He performed in “Candide” and “Red.” Regional credits include “Big Fish,” “Dogfight” (BoHo Theater), “The Full Monty,” “Bridges of Madison County” (Theo Ubique Theater) and “A Christmas Carol,” “Man of La Mancha” (Milwaukee Rep).

+ James Valcq (Kriebel/Pulaski), an aficionado of early American musical theater, created on Third Avenue Playhouse’s own stage the cavalcade of early Irving Berlin music “I Love a Piano” and a new performing edition of the 1910 musical comedy “Madame Sherry.” In 2019, Valcq unveiled his restoration of George Gershwin’s long-lost first Broadway musical “La La Lucille.”

+ Lanja Andriamihaja (Christina) is a Minnesota born and raised actress studying musical theater at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. She appeared in the university’s productions of “Heathers: The Musical,” “Clown Bar” and “Mamma Mia!”

+ Tess Bents (Lina) is a recent graduate of UW-Stevens Point and resident of Chicago. Some of her favorite roles include Mrs. Jennings in “Sense and Sensibility,” Weyard Sister in “Macbeth,” and Effy in “The Spitfire Grill,” co-authored by James Valcq.

“The Kissing Girl,” was billed a “comedy operetta” (a redundant term).

Michigan-born, Indiana-raised composer Harry Von Tilzer was one of the most prolific tunesmiths of his day and was the “father” of Tin Pan Alley, the legendary cynosure of popular music in the early 20th century. Probably Von Tilzer’s most recognized piece of music is for “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

Von Tilzer was born Harry Gumm in Detroit in 1872. When he was a child, his family moved to Indianapolis, where Harry was introduced to show business by the theatrical company that performed above his father’s shoe store. At age 14, Von Tilzer ran away from home and joined the Col Brothers Circus. By 1887, he was playing the piano, composing and acting in a Chicago repertory company. In 1892, he moved to New York where his first job was as a saloon pianist. In 1902, he formed Harry Von Tilzer Music Company and quickly became an icon of the Tin Pan Alley music era. Throughout his career, Von Tilzer published nearly 2,000 songs, and contributed an enormous amount to the industry through his involvement in the production and publication of early popular American music. In 1970, Harry Von Tilzer was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.

Vincent Bryan contributed lyrics to numerous popular songs of the Tin Pan Alley era and many interpolations to the 1903 Broadway and touring productions of “The Wizard of Oz.” He was a close behind-the-scenes collaborator of Charlie Chaplin from 1915 to 1917. Along with Hal Roach, he directed three Harold Lloyd films in 1919. An addiction to heroin prematurely ended his promising career in motion pictures.

Stanslaus Stange, a playwright, librettist and lyricist, created many Broadway shows in the fin-de-siecle era and early 20th century. After minor success as an actor, Stange made his career as a writer in the musical theater working with composers Julian Edwards and Victor Herbert. His biggest success was the American version of Oscar Straus’s operetta “The Chocolate Soldier.”

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