Think outside the box.
It’s a familiar phrase that plays a role and a ROLE in Let Me Be Frank Productions’ “A Frank’s Christmas,” which opened a long run with a matinee performance Thursday at Meyer Theatre.
The phrase is used as a line in the show. In that role, the phrase is a clever play on words: Toys come in boxes. The toys in the show are human-like, with brains. The toys have a problem they need to solve. The best way to solve it is to think outside the box. Get it?
As a ROLE, the phrase applies big time because the show as a whole is a case of thinking outside the box – going the untraditional route to get something done. Some of the Christmas songs and carols that you hear your grandmother sing are in the show but in updated interpretations. Other songs are from pop stars’ Christmas albums. Christmas is in the air, all right, but in different ways.
Mostly, the show is a singing showcase with a with-it band. The highly developed, offbeat story sets up the singing. A song sampler:
– A highlight is “Silent Night” for female trio. The piece starts with the singers singing with music from the band and then turns to a cappella – and terrific – by way of Lisa Borley, Kasey Corrado and Amy Riemer. Great harmony, good chemistry.
– “Let It Go” features the voice of Amy Riemer – tight, strong, rounded vowels, smooth shifts – in the meaningful song from the Disney movie “Frozen.” It is better than the soundtrack original by Idina Menzel because it is live, with a live band, by a singer whose voice lives.
– “It’s Christmastime,” an original by troupe namesake Frank Hermans that fits right in with the “Christmas, updated” flow of the show. Hermans sings it in character as Stuperman, a take on Superman with a singing voice often that is of Elvis Presley.
Creative: Writers – Frank Hermans, Pat Hibbard; music director – Dennis Panneck; vocal director – Amy Riemer; sound – Kelly Klaus; lighting – Tracey Cook; costumes and props – Linda Groskopf and Bev Riemer
Cast: Lisa Borley, Kasey Corrado, Frank Hermans, Heath Hermans, Pat Hibbard, Michael O’Malley, Amy Riemer, Tom Verbrick
Band: Adam Cain – drums; Pat Hibbard – bass; Dennis Panneck – guitars; Tony Pilz – keyboards
Running time: Two hours, 10 minutes
Remaining performances: Meyer Theatre: 1 p.m. Dec. 2, 8, 15, 17; 8 p.m. Dec. 2, 6-10, 13-17, 23. Algoma Performing Arts Center: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 3
This show is high-concept. The premise is Santa Claus has such a thing as a rehabilitation center for toys that have been either neglected or discarded. The aim is to get them shaped up and into the hands of kids who’d love to have them. The toys have personality disorders. Leading their counseling are Stuperman (Frank Hermans) and Hugo, the man of 1,000 faces (Pat Hibbard). Therapy includes the toys doing role-playing – as Santa, a toy and a child. I told you this was high concept. In the great lengths that Let Me Be Frank Productions goes to set up songs, variations on famous (mostly) Disney animated cartoon characters are created, thus:
Lisa Borley is Rapunzel from “Tangled.”
Kasey Corrado is Belle from “Beauty and the Beast.”
Heath Hermans is Baby Herman from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit’”
Michael O’Malley is Ken of the many Barbie Doll movies.
Amy Riemer is Ariel from “The Little Mermaid.”
Tom Verbrick is Doody (Woody) from “The Toy Story.”
Now, just like the characters are, the costuming is just a bit off from the originals.
Song interpretations range. Kasey Corrado is straightforward sweet in The Carpenters’ “Merry Christmas Darling” by way of “Glee.” Lisa Borley embraces a slowed down “Glee” version of “We Need a Little Christmas,” which was festive in the movie “Mame.” Pat Hibbard pours on the rock drive for “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” that would have Beethoven and church choir masters rolling in their graves. All this is to repeat that the show is non-traditional
As part of high-concept things, prior to each character/singer taking his/her highlight solo, the performer gives a highlight of the history of his/her toy’s creation and arrival on the big screen. There’s a taste of toy history. Again, high-concept.
All of the show’s characters are kooky in a Let Me Be Franks Production way. Darkest and grossest by a long shot is Baby Herman, whose “my-diaper-needs-changing”/poo jokes are endless – and, at least for me, over the edge. Other little dicey things assure this is not a kiddie Christmas show.
The climax is a surprise. All the characterizations and colorful presentation of songs/singers does lead to somewhere. There will be no spoilers here, though.
Side trip: The matinee performance I saw was not listed on the original public schedule. The audience was primarily from bus tours – a private show kind of thing. When the theater opened up single-ticket sales, I bought mine as an opportunity to lighten my time load of Christmas shows ahead. The performance was fascinating. Most audience members were from outside the area and unfamiliar with Frank Hermans and Let Me Be Frank Productions. From my perspective, the audience did not know what to make of the show. Thus, it was basically unresponsive aside from the patter of polite applause. Showbiz being showbiz, onward the performers went like everything was normal. They stayed in character, delivered songs and jokes and did the show without much audience action or interaction – just like a rehearsal. So the show ends. Hermans doesn’t do his usual performer introductions, I think to be done with this experience. Surprise! – the last thing expected: The audience gets up and gives the show a standing ovation! It seems the folks liked what they saw, they just didn’t show it. For once, Hermans seemed nonplussed.
“Nut Rocker,” B. Bumble & The Stingers – Band
“Christmastime (Is Here Again),” The Beatles – Frank Hermans, Pat Hibbard
“Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me,” Elvis Presley – Frank Hermans
“This Christmas,” Tori Kelly – Amy Riemer
“2000 Decembers Ago,” Joy Williams – Lisa Borley
“Merry Christmas Darling,” from “Glee” – Kasey Corrado
“Mary’s Boy Child,” Roger Whittaker and the Black Gospels – Tom Verbrick
“One Child, One Day,” Reba McEntire – Amy Riemer
“Let It Snow,” Dean Martin – Michael O’Malley
“All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth,” LeAnn Rimes – Heath Hermans
“It’s Christmastime,” Frank Hermans original – Frank Hermans
“Run, Run Rudolph,” Kelly Clarkson – Lisa Borley
“Breath of Heaven,” Amy Grant – Kasey Corrado
“Silent Night,” Kelly Clarkson/Trisha Yearwood/Reba McEntire – Lisa Borley, Kasey Corrado, Amy Riemer
“Let It Go,” from Disney’s “Frozen” – Amy Riemer
“We Need a Little Christmas,” LeAnn Rimes – Lisa Borley
“Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” The Band Perry – Kasey Corrado
“Merry Christmas Baby,” Elvis Presley – Frank Hermans
“Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” The Fab Four – Pat Hibbard
“Do They Know It’s Christmas,” from “Glee” – All