Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: 2018 Edition of ‘A Frank’s Christmas’ Showcases Beloved Songs

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Let Me Be Frank Productions A Frank's Christmas 2018 photo_1544017399492.jpg.jpg

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Photo caption: The cast for Let Me Be Frank Productions’ “A Frank’s Christmas: Schroeder’s Department Store,” is, front row, from left, Frank Hermans, Pat Hibbard, Lisa Borley, Sarah Hibbard and Amy Riemer, and, back row, Michael O’Malley, Tom Verbrick, Blake Hermans, Tony Pilz, Adam Cain and Dennis Panneck. (Sue Pilz photo)

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Turning back the clock is what Let Me Be Frank Productions does.

The Green Bay show troupe’s latest – one-hundredsomethingth – show turns back in a variety of ways.

+ “A Frank’s Christmas: Schroeder’s Department Store” takes place in Two Rivers sometime in the 1940s.

Women’s hair styles are wavy; dresses have either big skirts or are form-fitting. Two men in the story wear business suits, while three others wear a kind of Zoot suit of the era – though of wild, Christmasy, poke-in-the-eye patterns.

The wildly dressed men are brothers who “run” Schroeder’s Department Store, which in real life is still going in its 127th year as a Two Rivers institution. The men are pictured as cases of arrested development as they don’t really work, barely decide and clash a lot with toy swords.

The store is depicted by a huge backdrop of the inside of a department store and by Christmas toys from back when. We know it’s the 1940s because one of the men in a business suit plans to introduce the Slinky, the springy, sprongy wiry toy that bounced onto the scene then.

+ The music turns back the clock to Christmastime as heard on the radio of the ’40s/’50s and seen on TV in the ’50s – give or take.

Songs tend to be the versions of beloved vocal stars – Bing Crosby, the Andrews Sisters, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis and Andy Williams. That’s quite a Who’s Who.

The Frank’s singers don’t necessarily try to copy the stars, just sing the songs they sang – usually in really swell ways. The singing that people come to Frank’s shows for is here in sweet array.

The story of this production starts with the real place, Schroeder’s, and instantly sweeps into fantasy. Slinking into Schroeder’s is a man in a suit with a sure-fire plan for the Schroeder brothers to boost business. The man’s last name is Krumpas, who in old, old lore was a kind of demon. The devil in disguise in this story is portrayed by Pat Hibbard, who does a nifty job of spinning people’s heads with how-to-make-a-quick-profit hocus pocus. His foil is Clarence Jingle, who is Frank Hermans as the good guy with two feel-good names (Clarence being the angel from “It’s a Wonderful Life”). The story wanders all over the place, and songs just appear more than usual because singing really popular songs is the core of what this show is about.

Three songs stand out.

One. “Sleigh Ride.” Frank Hermans pours fresh energy into it, moving lightly on his feet. Behind the scenes, Hermans is coming off hip-replacement surgery about a month ago. Here he is in the thick of a show like nuthin’ happened. Twice in Tuesday’s show casual references popped up to his situation. One came in a dance with his wife, Amy Riemer, who said, “Not bad for a new hip.”

Two. “How Great Thou Art.” This rousing hymn is set up by showbiz lighting of Frank Hermans silhouetted. He booms and muscles the song a la Elvis Presley.

Three. “O Holy Night.” This version is from Leontyne Price, who was the epitome of quality in operatic singing. Amy Riemer lets fly in the style, showing yet another tool in her hardware store of versatility.  

Also flavoring the show: The shenanigans of the brothers (always-active Michael O’Malley, Tom Verbrick and Blake Hermans). Lisa Borley anytime she sings one of the popular songs. Youth by way of Blake Hermans (Frank’s son) and Sarah Hibbard (not related to Pat), who easily fit into the flow. A jingle that shows off sweet harmony of Sarah Hibbard, Amy Riemer and Lisa Borley as they sing “Schroeder’s, the store with so much more.”

By the time this production is done Dec. 28, it will have played in four cities – Algoma, Chilton, Green Bay and Manitowoc. It is Frank’s 19th original Christmas show.

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Cast

Clarence Jingle – Frank Hermans

Schroeder employee Amy – Amy Riemer

Schroeder employee Lisa – Lisa Borley

Schroeder employee Sarah – Sarah Hibbard

Damien Krumpas –Pat Hibbard

Hillary Schroeder – Tom Verbrick

Gary Schroeder – Michael O’Malley

Neil Schroeder – Blake Hermans

Band

Guitars – Dennis Panneck

Drums – Adam Cain

Keyboards – Tony Pilz

Bass – Pat Hibbard

Running time: One hour, 55 minutes

Remaining performances

  • Green Bay, Meyer Theatre: To Dec. 23, 8 p.m. TuesdaySaturday, with 1 p.m. shows Dec. 6, 7, 13, 15 and 22. Info: ticketstaronline.com.
  • Chilton, Engler Center for the Performing Arts, Chilton High School: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17. Info: englercenter.com.
  • Manitowoc: Capitol Civic Centre: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 28. Info: cccshows.org.

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Musical selections

Act I

“We Wish You the Merriest” (Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby) – Tom Verbrick and Michael O’Malley

“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” (Ella Fitzgerald) – Lisa Borley

“Winter Wonderland” (Andrews Sisters) – Sarah Hibbard

“Zat You Santa Claus?” (Louis Armstrong) – Pat Hibbard

“Sleigh Ride” (Johnny Mathis) – Frank Hermans

“I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” (Kay Starr) – Amy Riemer

“All I Want for Christmas” (Nat King Cole) – Blake Hermans

“Happy Holidays” (Andy Williams) – Frank Hermans, All

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (Ella Fitzgerald) – Amy Riemer

“Jingle Bells (I Like a Sleigh Ride)” (Peggy Lee) – Sarah Hibbard, Amy Riemer, Lisa Borley

Act II

“Nutrocker” (Trans-Siberian Orchestra) – Band

“It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” (Bing Crosby) – Tom Verbrick

“The Christmas Song” (Nat King Cole) – Michael O’Malley

“Carol of the Drum (Little Drummer Boy)” (Trapp Family Singers) – Lisa Borley

“How Great Thou Art” (Tony Fontane) – Frank Hermans

“Baby It’s Cold Outside” (Dean Martin) – Amy Riemer, Frank Hermans

“Silver Bells” (Doris Day) – Lisa Borley

“O Holy Night” (Leontyne Price) – Amy Riemer

“Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer” (Ella Fitzgerald) – Sarah Hibbard

“Baby Please Come Home” (Gaspard Royant) – Pat Hibbard

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THE VENUE: Stop and look around the place. Meyer Theatre’s auditorium is an eye full. The Meyer 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.

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays. My latest book, “I Fell Out of a Tree in Fresno (and other writing adventures),” is available in Green Bay at Neville Public Museum and Bosse’s.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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