BWW Reviews: AFT Reprises a Winning PACKER FANS FROM OUTER SPACE
After attending American Folklore Theater's Packer Fans From Outer Space twice in one week, the smiles and laughter can still be remembered, a Door County memory to revisit regularly, even when the company's name changes next year to Northern Sky Theater. Lee Becker, Frederick Heide and James Kaplan collaborated as composers, lyricists, and writers of professional theater that brings to the Peninsula Park Stage this cadre of unforgettable characters in an unimaginable story. A story set in 1953 where one Juddville apple farmer, Harvey Keister, saves the intergalactic Packers from extinction by the intergalactic Bears, and in the battle, saves the earthly Green Bay Packers from their demise as Wisconsin's football team.
This plot might sound like a skit from Saturday Night Live-only hilarious--while Director and Choreographer Molly Rhode working in tandem with Choreographer Pam Kriger brightens the production with charming dance numbers. One example from the show titled "Winning is the Only Thing," parodies Bob Fosse's Cabaret opening with AFT's Galactic Coach Doug Mancheski performing the iconic role of the Master of Ceremonies while his two outer space Packers, 39 and 24, provide the metallic colored chorus line.
The innumerable delights in AFT's Packer Fans revolve around the tender romance between Harvey Keister, an exceptional Bill Theisen and former Artistic Director at Milwaukee's Skylight Music Theatre, and his wife Marge. Theisen partnered with the warm acting and beautiful voice of Rhonda Rae Busch's Marge, this pair was created in theater heaven for the production. Genuine affection shines through every moment of the performance,. One song, "Nuts in Every Tree" sings about how, "Everyone is a little crackers, a little crazy..the normal way to be. Fruits in every basket, nuts in every tree."
Add into this twosome, the little Keister and would be scientist, Peggy, played by a darling Eva Nimmer, who also discovers love under the interplanetary stars with Galactic Packer 39, the clever and heartwarming Chase Stoeger. Watching these two collide from their different worlds, singing "We Call That Love" or "Life on Earth" will romance any die hard Packer Fans cynic.
Or pair Stoeger's 39 with the other Galactic Packer 24, and equally accomplished Adam Zeph, and the two will win over any audience. When they disguise their green and gold outer space selves into the Swedish Lars and Elsa, with the spheroid, or talking football, hidden underneath Elsa's skirt, these visitors to the tiny town of Juddville plan to assist Harvey in his prophetic mission. When the pair sing the "The Artsy Farmer," madness ensues and this might be another classic comedy team in the making,
While Harvey dares to fulfill the prophecy of being "The Big Keister" to save all the earthly Packers by painting an armor, helmet and a weapon green and gold, the resulting battle resolves with the number "Dat's What Nice About A Game." Even Marge, a dedicated Chicago Bears fan, joins with her "better half" to bring love, peace and understanding to earth and outer space.
Plenty of other enchanting and funny moments occur in the show, between Harvey and Marge, or mother and daughter Marge and Peggy, while the language that the outer space men speak with utter believability translates into a revelation of theatrical comedy. Paul Helm's musical direction and arrangements under Colin Welford's supervision behind the scenes add considerably to this joyful, jumping with laughter comedy as do costumes by Karen Brown-Larimore.
No one needs to understand football or be a Packer fan to revel in every pun, turn of phrase or musical note. And if the audience discovers the underlying message of "make love, not war," and to love your enemy, so much the better. AFT's and this incredible cast create what comedy intends to do when at its absolute finest. Allow the audience to laugh at their human foibles while grasping the larger truths underneath. An otherworldly experience under the Door County sky that might illuminate the right stars in the audience's eyes.
AFT reprises this unbelievable tale from outer space with well done tweaks to capture new and old fans again and again, similar to re-reading a beloved fairytale. Althogh this fantasy story really was based on several historically accurate facts from 1953. While the century might have changed, fifty years later the Green Bay Packers and Bears remain rivals, Illinois tollway fares have increased and war still rage across the world. Audiences will continually need to remember to laugh, love and live life fully in the style of Harvey Keister whether in Juddville or the Crab Nebulae. Most importantly, this year AFT reminds the audiences to continue making those Door County theater memories by revisiting this "Bart Starr" stellar Packer Fans from Outer Space.
American Folklore Theatre presents Packer Fans from Outer Space through August. For information or tickets, or to contribute to the Fred Alley New Musical Fund, please call: 920.854.6117 or www.folkloretheatre.com