Time for another show review! With an extra-long summer show this season, I felt like it had been a long time since I’d seen a Let Me Be Frank show and I was more excited than usual to check out, “Fort Howard: We Wipe America” at the Meyer Theatre. I had the opportunity to see the 4th show of the 2023 season during the cast and crew’s dress rehearsal, and I can confidently say I haven’t laughed out loud that much in a long time.
What’s this show all about? Well, you never know what will happen when the boss calls a meeting – especially at Fort Howard. A group of factory employees have gathered per boss John Cofrin’s request. Come to find out, the company has gone 100 days without a work-related injury (which is quite the feat with this crew!). Each day without an injury results in a paid bonus from Fort Howard’s insurance company. Mr. Cofrin believes it’s time to give back to the employees with a party at the Zodiac Club. The employees simply must make it a few days without an injury, and a party with an open bar is all theirs. During a shift, a problem arises that could threaten their fun and cause the party to be called off. Can the employees band together and come up with a solution? You’ll have to find out in this all-new and all-original show.
Having the show centered around a group of workers at a factory worked quite well. While often the shows have separate pairings or groups (i.e. – the ladies are one “group” and the men are another), having the entire cast as a collective workforce was fun to see. It allowed each of the colorful characters to interact with one another on different occasions. I love seeing the varying types of connections and humor that come forth when the whole team is on stage at once.
However, having the show centered around a factory with 2,000+ employees at a time (at the real life Fort Howard Company) and having only 7 actors on stage was clearly noticeable 😉 I appreciated how the cast acknowledged the inevitable historical and factual inaccuracies, and made a joke of it. With these jokes and acknowledgments, the cast seemed to break the fourth wall even more than usual. Directly interacting with the audience is something that makes Let Me Be Frank Productions stand out, and it was on a high level for the performance I witnessed.
Another aspect I noticed was the clear visual distinction between the first and second acts. The first act appeared deliberately muted in terms of costumes, props, and the set. When the curtain opened for the second act, however, you could immediately tell you were about to witness a party with flashy sequined costumes, a disco ball, and a giant backdrop. Kudos to Ross Loining on lights and Kelly Klaus on sound for making the visual and audible differences in each act noticeable, too. With each act, it appeared as though the opening song was given a lot to captivate the audience. Pat Hibbard’s rendition of Sweet Emotion by Aerosmith to start the show had me swaying in my seat with the pulsing energy. Sarah Galati and the ladies pulled the audience right back into the storyline with the lead vocal, harmonies, and flirty dance moves in Lonely Night (Angel Face) by Captain & Tennille.
With a set list from the 1970s, I was surprised I didn’t recognize many tunes in this show. I think out of the 17 songs, I recognized 5 of them. Granted, the 1970s wasn’t exactly my era of musical discovery and awakening, so don’t necessarily take my word for it My bet is that many of our regulars in the audience will recognize many more than I did. Not having an awareness or familiarity with many of the songs enabled me to listen more closely to the lyrics, harmonies, and instrumentation. Whether or not I knew the song, the immense talent of Tony Pilz on keys, Andrew Klaus on drums, Pat Hibbard on bass, and John Singer on guitar is always easy to recognize. It was an unexpected — but rather pleasant surprise — not to be able to hum along to each song.
A few other thoughts and highlights:
+ I was swooning at Lisa Borley’s sultry performance of Woman in Love by Barbra Streisand. And THAT NOTE near the end! My goodness!
+ It’s no surprise Amy Riemer does disco songs phenomenally. Her rendition of He’s the Greatest Dancer by Sister Sledge was one I will remember for a long time.
+ Sarah Galati mixed her rich vocal tone with an abundance of physical humor during Right Time of the Night by Jennifer Warnes.
+ Paul Evansen has a rare ability to perform a song and make it feel like he’s singing it with the audience, not at the audience. This skill of his was evident during Keep on Smilin’ by Wet Willie.
+ Frank Hermans hit his vocal sweet spot with I’ve Found Someone of My Own by The Free Movement. He does those smooth, adult contemporary songs so well.
+ Pat Hibbard’s version of Bang a Gong (Get it On) made me wish I could rewind the live performance and watch it again and again.
+ Come and Get Your Love by Redbone was a great choice to end the first act on a high note. Bravo, Tom Verbrick!
“Fort Howard: We Wipe America” continues:
Friday, September 15th at 7:30pm with a benefit show for NEWCAP, inc.
Saturday, September 16th at 7:30pm
Thursday, September 21st at 7:30pm
Friday, September 22nd at 7:30pm
Saturday, September 23rd at 7:30pm
Friday, September 29th at 7:30pm
Saturday, September 30th at 7:30pm
Thursday, October 5th at 7:30pm
Friday, October 6th at 7:30pm
Saturday, October 7th at 7:30pm
Thursday, October 12th at 1:00pm & 7:30pm
Friday, October 13th at 7:30pm
Saturday, October 14th at 1:00pm & 7:30pm
Doors open one hour prior to each performance. Tickets are available at meyertheatre.org, ticketstaronline.com, or by calling Ticketstar at 920-494-3401.
An out-of-town performance will be held at the Capitol Civic Centre in Manitowoc on Wednesday, September 27th at 7:00 pm. Head to cccshows.org or call 920-683-2184 for tickets and more information.
Cast: Frank Hermans as John Cofrin, Pat Hibbard as the boss, Tom Verbrick as a factory employee, Lisa Borley as a factory employee, Amy Riemer as a factory employee, Sarah Galati as an engineer, Paul Evansen as a millwright.
Band: John Singer (guitars), Pat Hibbard (bass), Tony Pilz (keyboards), Andrew Klaus (drums).
Lights: Ross Loining
Sound: Kelly Klaus