|Tickets to all shows are available online April 15th at www.FolkloreTheatre.com or by phone by calling the AFT Office at 920-854-6117.
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Rave Reviews for 2010 Summer Season!
'Life on the
part of strong season at
By Mike Fischer, July 23, 2010
Fish Creek - Mark Twain
borrowed more from and gave more to American folklore than any of our canonical
It's therefore no surprise to see Door County's American
Folklore Theatre celebrate its 20th birthday - and commemorate the 100th
anniversary of Twain's death - by giving birth to "Life on the
Mississippi," an original musical commemorating the two-year period when a
young Samuel Clemens became a steamboat pilot on Old Man River.
Drawing heavily on Twain's own memoirs, Douglas M. Parker
(book and lyrics) and Denver Casado (music) focus on Sam's apprenticeship under
the salty Captain Bixby, as well as Sam's close relationship with his younger
Twain would remember these pivotal years as the time when he
grew up, and there is no question that as the musical begins, Sam Clemens has a
lot to learn about a world where people - like the river - have much more going
on than one can see on the surface.
"Every day," Bixby tells him, "the river
tells a story," and as the action unfolds, Sam learns to read the stories
because he learns to listen, morphing from a brash and cocksure youngster into
a keen observer and budding writer.
This makes Sam a vintage straight man - one who becomes a
writer by stepping back and allowing the quirky characters around him to do the
talking. As Sam, Chase Stoeger clearly understands his role, and he generously
allows himself to be upstaged by the motley crew he encounters.
Playing multiple characters, Lee Becker and Mark Moede bring
us onto familiar AFT ground, serving up large slices of cornpone humor while
spinning the sort of tall tales that would make Twain famous.
Chad Luberger's irrepressibly enthusiastic Henry reminds us
of the boy Sam once was, while Doug Mancheski's Captain Bixby foreshadows the
cantankerous but also warm-hearted man Sam would one day become.
Loved by both of the Clemens brothers, Molly Rhode's Adele
gives us two beautiful ballads showcasing her first-class pipes. In "Looking," Adele makes
clear that on the river and in life, what counts is the journey rather than the
destination. In "He's Still Here," Adele insists that the only way we
can cheat death is through the stories we tell, helping us remember those who
are gone while keeping ourselves alive.
It is a lesson Sam Clemens never forgot, ensuring that he
and his stories would live forever - not only in Twain's writings, but in
thoughtful, well-crafted musicals such as this one. (Other Life on the Mississippi Reviews)
Bone Dance -
Dancing in the Dark
There's nothing like a ghost story to drive home the vital
importance of narrative in cheating death, and there's nothing like AFT's
outdoor stage, in the depths of woodsy Peninsula State Park, to evoke how
closely death once lurked, just beyond the shadows of our ancestors' campfires.
AFT's wildly popular "Bone Dance" has been
thumbing its nose at the grim reaper since 1995 by mixing haunted tales from
around the world with gallows humor - including a perfectly harmonized madrigal
on corpse-fattened worms and groaners that could make the dead turn in their
graves (Sample: "Hear about the ghost who got lost? He was mist").
In two of the stories, including the hilariously creepy
"The Man Who Married a Finger," the living marry the dead. Many of
the stories feature hunger and cold - a reminder of a time when both were
common killers, and when animal cunning could make the difference between
survival and starvation.
One of the best of these is "Flying Head," in
which an ever larger and more voracious monster comes calling for a young
woman's baby. A series of increasingly large monster heads are among the many
ingenious puppets and masks designed by Ralph Lee, all of which add
immeasurably to the stories in which they appear.
Lee's creations hark back to older storytelling traditions,
as does the cast's heavy reliance on pantomime, accompanied by exquisitely
timed sound effects.
There's even room here for some Louis Armstrong, with a
rendition of "Skeletons in the Closet" that features smartly
tap-dancing skeletons, as well as some scat singing from Mancheski in
"Wait Till Emmet Comes," one of many scenes that he steals while
displaying his full range of comic gifts and helping us laugh in - and at - the
surrounding darkness. (More Bone Dance Reviews)
Cheeseheads Rule the World
In the current recession, our primal fears of yore have been
replaced by a visceral fear of losing our jobs, while the stories we tell
involve an insistence that we really do still matter in a seemingly indifferent
Cue the theme music for "Cheeseheads, the
Musical," which is back after last summer's auspicious debut. It rounds
out AFT's three-play summer season.
Set in late 2008, "Cheeseheads" features the
mythical Schnaybel Famous Cheese Co., a family-run operation from Sheboygan
that has been sold to Conglomerated Cheese after the death of the Schnaybel
With the arrival of Melanie (Rhode), a hotshot executive
from Conglomerated sent in to raise productivity, the salad days seem gone
forever, as the idiosyncrasies of the Schnaybel workforce yield to the ruthless
efficiencies of a Conglomerated assembly line.
But not so fast. As AFT itself repeatedly reminds us,
Wisconsin and its unique heritage have a way of overcoming all efforts to
streamline their differences. Normalize the quirky Doc Muenster (Doc Heide),
with his homegrown cheese creations? Or the silent handyman Thursday (Becker),
whose facial expressions say more than the thousand words he refuses to speak?
You might as well deny the obvious love of the proverbial
girl next door (a charming Pamela Niespodziani) for Bobby (a delightfully
clueless Stoeger) - or deny a born ham like Mancheski (playing the plant
manager) a chance to bask in the limelight.
This is Wisconsin, gosh darn it, and its citizens won't give
up their traditions without a fight - particularly when we're helped along by
the likes of Paul Libman's catchy tunes and Dave Hudson's witty lyrics, which
range from poignant to downright rousing.
No wonder that Melanie eventually waves the white flag and
goes native. By play's end, even the Flatlanders sitting around me were on
their feet and cheering this improbable, wonderful and utterly cheesy story. (More Cheeseheads, the Musical Reviews)
AFT's 20th Anniversary Book
"See You Under The Stars..."
"Hilarious and heartwarming!" These
adjectives are often used to describe AFT performances. Turns out they also provide a fitting description of American Folklore Theatre itself. See You Under the Stars...The History of American Folklore Theatre chronicles the growth of AFT, from its gutsy startup in 1990 to the success it enjoys today. It tells a tale every bit as entertaining as any AFT production.
Authored by Patricia Lewis Williamson, this very funny 174-page book reveals
the behind-the-scenes story of AFT. It's a tribute to creativity,
entrepreneurship, hard work, heartbreak, perseverance, and most of all
talent. The book includes over 90 colorful photos as well as warm anecdotes,
review snippets, uproarious recollections from cast and crew, and intriguing capsule
biographies of key company members. Its year-by-year format not only
provides a delightful trip down memory lane, but also shows what it takes to
create AFT's pleasing-to-all-ages brand of original musical theater.
Readers unfamiliar with American Folklore Theatre will be introduced
to the magic of the starlit amphitheatre in Peninsula State Park and feel as if they've met the wonderful characters who grace the AFT stage. Readers who already know and love AFT will find that See You Under the Stars
gives them reason to love it even more. A perfect gift for any AFT fan in your family!
|American Folklore Theatre is a non-profit professional theatre organization that produces original musical shows in repertory from June through August. AFT continues its performances into the fall with shows in Door County town halls September through October and over the Christmas holidays. American Folklore Theatre is a member of Theatre Wisconsin and the Theatre Communications Group (TCG), organizations that promote non-profit theatre groups. For more information on American Folklore Theatre, please call the AFT office at (920) 854-6117 or visit the AFT website at www.FolkloreTheatre.com.