Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Frank’s Brings on Load of Color in Country-Minded ‘Franksmoke’

Let Me Be Frank Productions Franksmoke photo_1528549027458.jpg.jpg

Let Me Be Frank Productions lights up the stage in many ways. In “Franksmoke,” running this month in Green Bay and Manitowoc, here is a sampler:

+ To open the second act, Amy Riemer and Frank Hermans bring on the vocal heat in the sensual duet, “Let’s Make Love.” The segment includes steamy little references to their marriage.

+ Next, Pat Hibbard brings on the musical heat in the saucy “Country Girl (Shake It for Me)” while Tom Verbrick, Michael O’Malley and Lisa Borley bring on a different kind of heat as the guys dance like bees crazed by nectar. (The show has an overall frisky tone to go along with the country-style songs. It’s Frank’s first country show in eight years).

+ Because Kasey Schumacher is expecting a child in July, an obvious choice for her is to sing “One’s on the Way.” Cool thing: Schumacher acts/sings the song, giving it a whole lot of dimension.

+ Tom Verbrick in this show plays a character who walks and talks like John Wayne. So when he sings the hits “Friends in Low Places” and “Ruby,” he sounds like The Duke, pilgrim.

+ I’m sure it’s a matter of taste, but I think but Lisa Borley has a terrific version of the age-old “You Are My Sunshine.” The tempo is exceptionally slow, the aura particularly hilly and the style daringly avant gard country (which most people don’t know exists).

+ Blake Hermans is 18 years old, which is about as many years as Frank’s Dinner Theatre/Let Me Be Frank Productions – headed by dear ol’ dad, Frank Hermans – has been around. So Blake Hermans has grown up steeped in the showbiz life. Now, here he is, acting a role and singing songs in quite, quite comfortable ways and with nice colorings. He’s impressive.

+ Michael O’Malley again adds surprising touches as dimwit Festus. When it comes time to spring into action in a dart tournament, O’Malley indeed springs in a sequence of athletic moves.

+ Behind all this lighting up the stage are the essential lighter-uppers, the four bandsmen. The singing is bright and comfortable, helped greatly to be so by the extremely versatile players. Country music has a lot of juicy guitar solos, so stellar guitarist Dennis Panneck has a field day showing his stuff.

Along with the character Festus, “Franksmoke” includes a Marshall Dillon (Pat Hibbard) and a Kitty (Amy Riemer). They’re references to the old TV (and before that radio) series “Gunsmoke.” The tie-ins to the “Franksmoke” story aren’t especially strong because the story is mostly about rivalry.

Co-writers Frank Hermans and Pat Hibbard place the action in a bar in Marinette with a championship dart matchup about to take place between cross-river teams from Menominee, Michigan, and Marinette, Wisconsin. There are references to the cities’ astounding, 124-year high football rivalry (and historical notes) and the nuts and bolts of competitive darts (and game factoids).

This show is not going to move on to Broadway. It’s too good for Broadway. Broadway would not get all its surreal touches or how, for a hundredsomethingth time, a show troupe in Green Bay has concocted an entertaining burst of songs laced into goofus situations.

Friday’s opening-night audience was larger than usual, so the performance was up from the start. The crowd especially cranked up for “Country Girl (Shake It for Me),” which is something other than avant garde country.

***

Cast: Lisa Borley, Blake Hermans, Frank Hermans, Pat Hibbard, Michael O’Malley, Amy Riemer, Kasey Schumacher, Tom Verbrick

Band: Adam Cain, percussion; Pat Hibbard, bass; Dennis Panneck, guitars; Tony Pilz, keyboards

Running time: Two hours, 10 minutes

Remaining performances: Green Bay Meyer Theatre: 8 p.m. June 9, 14-16, 1 and 8 p.m. June 21, 8 p.m. June 22, 1 and 8 p.m. June 23 (meyertheatre.org). Manitowoc: 7:30 p.m. June 27 (cccshows.org)

Info: letmebefrank.com

***

Song selections

Act I

“Friends in Low Places,” Garth Brooks – Tom Verbrick

“Mama Tried,” Merle Haggard – Pat Hibbard

“White Liar,” Miranda Lambert – Lisa Borley

“Cowboy Casanova,” Carrie Underwood – Amy Riemer

“She Got the Goldmine,” Jerry Reed – Michael O’Malley

“How Far Do You Wanna Go,” Gloriana – Frank Hermans

“She’s in Love with the Boy,” Trisha Yearwood – Kasey Schumacher

“Days Go By,” Keith Urban – Blake Hermans

Act II

“Let’s Make Love,” Tim McGraw and Faith Hill – Frank Hermans and Amy Riemer

“Country Girl (Shake It for Me),” Luke Bryan – Pat Hibbard

“Ruby,” Kenny Rogers – Tom Verbrick

“One’s on the Way,” Loretta Lynn – Kasey Schumacher

“How Was I to Know,” Reba McEntire – Amy Riemer

“You Are My Sunshine,” Morgan Stapleton with Chris Stapleton – Lisa Borley

“Kiss an Angel Good Morning,” Charlie Pride – Michael O’Malley

“I Want Crazy,” Hunter Hayes – Blake Hermans

“I’ll Name the Dogs,” Blake Shelton – Frank Hermans

***

NEXT: “Freedom Train ‘1776’,” July 13-Aug. 4.

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.

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