GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) –
Back in the day when Green Bay had 30 night spots with six-nights-a-week live entertainment – really! – bands tended to have one main singer who could move as far as the microphone cord would let him or her. Showy bands could crank up the heat, for sure.
Flash forward, and Let Me Be Frank Productions name-drops some Green Bay bands from the ’60s-’70s era and puts on a show those groups could only dream of:
+ Eight singers.
+ No microphone wires, so singers are free to move – and dance all over the place.
+ Adaptable sound system to singers’ voices.
+ Adjustable lighting.
+ A set and props.
+ A story built around popular songs.
That’s the setup for “Booyah! Finger Road,” which Friday night started a one-month, two-city run at the Meyer Theatre in downtown Green Bay.
The story revolves around a church picnic with the main attraction being a band and the Northeastern Wisconsin specialty soup called booyah. The premise revolves around this church’s booyah recipe, which is top secret and so desirable that competitors want to steal it. It is an only-in-this-area story. As always with Let Me Be Frank Productions shows, it is an excuse to hang songs around, with segues sometimes only being a word or a phrase.
Some points of interest in the show:
Company namesake Frank Hermans, trimmed following hip replacement surgery, features brightness in his singing, starting with the show-opening “You Don’t Have To Be So Nice.” He plays a parish priest who delivers a remarkable sermon that gives equal time to stereotypes among men and women.
Amy Riemer plays a parishioner who adores the priest (in untouchable ways). In this show, Amy Riemer does two notable things. One. She takes on two Aretha Franklin songs and is phenomenal in the quality and nuance she delivers. Her singing is the young Aretha Franklin, very limber. Two. Amy Riemer continues to explore with where her voice can go, this time in Spanish lyrics, singing to samba rhythms to open the second act.
Blake Hermans plays a kid hanging around the picnic for the beer he can score. In this show, he is involved in two notable things. One. It was only a one-time thing Friday night, but his father, Frank Hermans, set him up to crack up on stage. In a deadpan, Frank Hermans called Blake Hermans, “Boris,” which produced a snort-laugh from Blake Hermans. They went on to sing a father-son duet. How often does that happen? Two. Blake Hermans has a vocal niche of his own. He can sing in the manner of Otis Redding and Bill Withers – a soul/groove with curves and dives and inflections galore.
Tom Verbrick plays the grumpy keeper of the secret, but his most secret thing is an add-in for Blake Hermans in Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay” – the skipping, clear whistling.
Talor Sohr plays a 17-year-old attendee of the picnic. Her specialty: The young voice. That’s necessary for such songs from back when as “Lazy Day” – light, bright and happy-airy.
Lisa Borley plays a worker at the picnic. Among her songs is a watershed that took pop music from lite to meaningful: Leslie Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me,” which Lisa Borley delivers with power.
Pat Hibbard plays a hippy-dippy bandsman. Songs of the era don’t quite have the meat that he thrives on, but there is plenty for him to apply his endless satire. “Father” Frank Hermans’ sermon probably has Hibbard-Hermans co-writing roots.
Michael O’Malley plays a spy trying to get the ingredients of the secret recipe. As usual, O’Malley is a distinctive character – more than once referred to as a guy from the ‘20s. The novelty song “Winchester Cathedral” is doubly so, with his impressionistic dance opening and then the quaint voicing. Some of O’Malley’s spoken lines could be comments on the show overall – “… brilliant and stupid at the same time.” And, after the line, “It doesn’t make any sense,” his response of, “It doesn’t have to.”
At its core, this show is booyah. Huh?
The word “booyah” and Let Me Be Frank Productions are flukes.
The word – which is specific to Northeastern Wisconsin – is from a misunderstanding by a newspaper reporter (it happens, let me tell you) of a word spoken in Walloon – the French-speaking arm of languages in Belgium, where many people started out before settling in this area.
The word is so defining of the area that now the powers that be of a semi-pro baseball team have changed the team’s name from the Green Bay Bullfrogs to the Green Bay Booyah. A lot of people won’t get it, but what the hey, the word is infused in local culture. I once had a featurette column in the newspaper that I called “Booyah” – quirky, fun things – but the publisher at the time didn’t get it, and I had to lose it.
And Let Me Be Frank Productions as booyah? Where else but in Northeastern Wisconsin can there be a show group that, among its multiple ventures, makes up fractured history shows around songs from music eras and has been doing it for 20 years and counting. That’s booyah – only here, and not everybody gets it. I know the secret recipe, but I’m not tellin’.
Father Frank – Frank Hermans
Mr. Crab – Tom Verbrick
Mr. Bowler Hatguy – Michael Thomas O’Malley
Picnic Attendee – Blake Hermans
Band Leader and bass – Pat Hibbard
Picnic Attendee – Talor Sohr
Beer Girl – Lisa Borley
Beer Girl – Amy Riemer
Drums – Adam Cain
Keyboards – Tony Pilz
Guitars – Dennis Panneck
Running time: One hour, 55 minutes
Remaining performances: Meyer Theatre, Green Bay: at 8 p.m. Feb. 2, 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16; 1 and 8 p.m. Feb. 21; 8 p.m. Feb. 22; and 1 and 8 p.m. Feb. 23 (Info: meyertheatre.org). Capitol Civic Centre, Manitowoc: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 13 (Info: cccshows.org).
“Wait a Million Years” (The Grass Roots) – Frank Hermans
“(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” (Aretha Franklin) – Amy Riemer
“The Last Time” (The Rolling Stones) – Tom Verbrick
“Pied Piper” (Crispian St. Peters) – Michael O’Malley
“I’m Ready for Love” (Martha Reeves & The Vandellas) – Lisa Borley
“Bend Me, Shape Me” (The American Breed) – Pat Hibbard
“Don’t Worry Baby” (The Beach Boys) – Talor Sohr
“(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” (Otis Redding) – Blake Hermans
“Anyone Who Had a Heart” (Dionne Warwick) – Lisa Borley
“You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice” (The Lovin’ Spoonful) – Frank Hermans
“Mas Que Nada” (Sergio Mendez & Brazil 66) – Amy Riemer
“Winchester Cathedral” (The New Vaudeville Band) – Michael O’Malley
“59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy)” (Simon & Garfunkel) – Frank Hermans and Blake Hermans
“Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Song)” (The Buckinghams) – Tom Verbrick
“Think” (Aretha Franklin) – Amy Riemer
“Lazy Day” (Spanky & Our Gang) – Talor Sohr
“Friday on My Mind” (The Easybeats) – Pat Hibbard
“Come a Little Bit Closer” (Jay & The Americans) – Frank Hermans
“You Don’t Own Me” (Lesley Gore) – Lesley Gore
“Use Me” (Bill Withers) – Blake Hermans