Nostalgia is a funny thing. It’s quite personal. If the person remembering happens to write entertainment shows, the nostalgia becomes public. Something the likes of “The Freedom Train ‘1976’” comes along with Frank Hermans recalling Green Bay at a specific time – Aug. 15, 1975.
The show is a lot about Green Bay and the music that would have been heard at the time, a fairly rich and varied period in popular music.
Hermans and co-writer Pat Hibbard like to put a catchy, character-filled story around the music. This time was more of a challenge than most. Somehow, Spanky and Alfalfa from the “Our Gang” comedies of the 1930s show up in the ’70s story. Oh well, there’s always the music.
+ There is the band showcase “Locomotive Breath.” It starts with guitarist Dennis Panneck, keyboardist Jeff Arnold and drummer Adam Cain in a rock-and-soulful groove. Pat Hibbard eventually arrives to add bass and dig into the dynamic song’s lyrics the way he loves to do. In the thick of things, Arnold adds an imitation flute – completing the trademarks of the Jethro Tull song.
+ There is Amy Riemer singing “Midnight at the Oasis” in ways better than has ever been heard on record or the radio. Not only does Riemer have the creamy voice, she adds a visual portrait of someone inviting romance.
+ There is Lisa Borley with her high-rev voice shifting through gears in “Love Train” and other hits.
Around such luster comes the story. In advance of the nation’s Bicentennial celebration, a railroad train carrying historic documents and popular memorabilia made its way around the nation. The so-called The Freedom Train made a stop on Aug. 15, 1975, at the National Railroad Museum in Ashwaubenon. Frank Hermans, age 11, made his way from the East Side to the West Side to see the attraction. Forty-three years later, Frank Hermans, now age 13, has this show filled with bundles of stuff about Green Bay and the time.
Townies will understand the East Side/West Side (some would argue that should be written West Side/East Side) we’re-better-than-you-are rivalries. This show dates the disputing to when the West Side was the municipality of Fort Howard and the East Side was La Baye.
There are references to the downtown mall (East Side) and the Shopko store (West Side) and many more passing factiods.
Amy Riemer teases about the accuracy of her husband, Frank Hermans, whose character calls himself History Buff. She says it’s more like History Bluff.
One of the more interesting asides comes in some lines by Lisa Borley. In the story, there’s an attempt at stealing and a wondering about that being caught on camera. “There are no security cameras,” she says. “It’s 1975. You can drink and drive.” (Times do change).
The show is crammed with this and that, like stuff that’s tossed in the attic helter skelter and left – and now pulled out to examine. Like this:
Michael O’Malley plays Alfalfa full on – pointy hair, tight suit on a lean body, bizarre dialogue and limber dance moves. Some songs are sung with high-note helium assists from balloons, representing cannabis – the history of which is part of the show. A “heist” is attempted for some sports memorabilia on the train – Lew Alcindor’s shoes and Joe Frazier’s boxing shorts. As the porter on the traveling train, Tom Verbrick tries to sort out the shenanigans.
This show includes a newbie, Talor Sohr, who more than holds her own with perky voicing in her one showcase song, “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing.”
Songs of the time are such that Frank Hermans gets to try out different shades of his voice, including kind of growly in Badfinger’s “Baby Blue” and husky in Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train.”
The original stars who sang the songs in this show today are such ages as 69 (Cat Stevens), 70 (Leo Sayer), 74 (Diana Ross and Maria Muldauer), 76 (Barbra Streisand and Helen Reddy) or dead (Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard). Frank’s shows present their songs with the kind of shine they had in their prime.
Company: Jeff Arnold, keyboards; Lisa Borley, vocals; Adam Cain, percussion; Frank Hermans, vocals and co-writer; Pat Hibbard, bass, vocals and co-writer; Michael O’Malley, vocals; Talor Sohr, vocals; Tom Verbrick, vocals
Running time: Two hours, 5 minutes
Remaining performances: At Meyer Theatre to Aug. 4 – 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, plus 1 p.m. Aug. 4 (info: meyertheatre.org). A performance at Capitol Civic Centre in Manitowoc starts at 7:30 p.m. July 25 (info: cccshows.org).
“Here Comes the Freedom Train” (Merle Haggard) – Tom Verbrick
“That’s the Way (I Like It)” (KC and the Sunshine Band) – Michael O’Malley
“Money Honey” (Bay City Rollers) – Pat Hibbard
“Right Back Where We Started From” (Maxine Nightingale) – Lisa Borley
“I Don’t Know How to Love Him” (Helen Reddy) – Amy Riemer
“Peace Train” (Cat Stevens) – Frank Hermans
“Do You Know Where You’re Going To” (Diana Ross) – Amy Riemer
“Hey Porter” (Johnny Cash) – Tom Verbrick
“Tracks of My Tears” (Linda Ronstadt) – Lisa Borley
“Long Train Running” (Doobie Brothers” – Frank Hermans
“You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” (Leo Sayer) – Taylor Sohr
“Locomotive Breath” (Jethro Tull) – Pat Hibbard and band
“Stoney End” (Barbra Streisand) – Lisa Borley
“Midnight at the Oasis” (Maria Muldaur) – Amy Riemer
“Baby Blue” (Badfinger) – Frank Hermans
“Moonlight Feels Right” (Starbuck) – Michael O’Malley
“One Toke Over the Line” (Brewer and Shipley) – Frank Hermans
“Squeeze Box” (The Who) – Pat Hibbard
“More, More, More” (Andrea True Connection) – Amy Riemer
“Love Train” (The O’Jays) – Lisa Borley and All