Entries in Peninsula State Park (1)

Sunday
Jun172012

AFT’S WORLD PREMIERE “VICTORY FARMS” DELIVERS SWEET MEMORIES AND MUSIC

The night threatened with rain showers and thunderstorms on Thursday, June 14 at American Folklore Theatre’s World Premiere performance of Victory Farms. Then the stage lights shone on the set, the stars shimmered in the sky and the seats were filled with well-wishers for composer, lyricists and writers Emilie Coulson, Katie Dahl and James Valcq. An experienced Valcq partnered extensively with the two young writers to bring the musical to production. Then, in a moment before the play’s first notes began, Valcq presented these newcomers to professional theater with aprons decorated in cherry motifs to honor the play’s success.

Victory Farms represents six years of planning and research courtesy of the Fred Alley New Musical Fund. AFT Co-Founder Alley, who died too young in 2001, will be continually remembered with this delightful selection, a nod to his unique storytelling abilities. This musical relates the tale that German POW’s were assigned to the Wisconsin peninsula in 1944 to help bring home the cherry harvest. A humorous yet sensitive memory retelling how music can be the universal language understood by anyone and what signifies one's “home.”

Home initially defines Door County where Edna (Molly Rhode) and her 18-year old daughter, Dottie (Allie Babich) worry about harvesting their cherries. Dottie signed up through a special government program for 25 German POW’s to help with the work, while Edna resists the Germans because her husband was killed earlier in World War II. When Edna eventually surrenders to using the POW’s on the orchard, Dottie teaches them to properly pick the cherries. 

A commanding officer and former schoolmate of Edna's named Jack (an AFT favorite Doug Mancheski) oversees the three POW’s who have reluctantly traveled to Ellison Bay: The pessimistic Wolfgang (Steve Koehler), the optimistic baker, Josef (Dan Klarer) and handsome young Karl (Chad Luberger), who has a sweet eye for Dottie. Or could that be a “sweaty” eye for Dottie? The musical affectionately misconstrues the Germans struggling with the English language to create laughter within the story. Director Jon Hegge’s choreography comes to brilliant life in a number performed by the trio of prisoners, “Sweaty Pies,” which delectably states, “a pie can brighten up a dark and dreary day.” 

Numerous musical numbers will be memorable, including “Hand Over Hand,” “What is the Color” and “When I Look At You.” Victory Farms harbors Alley’s superb ability to uncover charm and warmth in simple humanity, stories taken from the history of his own Door County. Coulsen and Dahl grew up watching AFT as Door County residents, volunteered during their summers and Victory Farms proves their labor of love and perseverance resonates with AFT’S mission. Perhaps best understood by the people who learned to appreciate the theater in the park, including the actors and production staff who return year after year and pay tribute to this determined effort to produce new plays. 

Mancheski and Koehler have played in AFT productions either in the park or around the state with great success for several seasons. Rhode, a familiar Milwaukee actor and First Stage Theater Academy alumnus, finds a summer home at AFT. Babich’s debuting voice beautifully floats to the sky in the outdoor theater while adding dimension to Dottie, deepening the entire story. Her role brings another Milwaukee actor to AFT from the First Stage Theater Academy and the Sunset Playhouse, a former Rising Star in their cabaret series. 

Without revealing too many details an audience would want to discover for themselves, AFT’s new musical captures an appealing and timely theme that people from all over the world are more similar than strange. In this story, a lyrical song from Germany triggers memories from one hurting heart to another. Because many Germans settled in Door County before World War II, there were definitely familiar cultural pasts. 

Ultimately, Victory Farms celebrates the meaning to home and what can sustain the human spirit when separated from loved ones. AFT again performs that powerful message to anyone who has or will visit Peninsula State Park and often calls AFT a summer theater home, with admirable reasons. After more than 20 years, AFT’s voice and Alley’s legacy remain alive and well with Victory Farms, a story guaranteed to sweeten an audience’s memories this summer. The production honors one of the most poignant lines in the musical: “My home is the someplace where I put my heart.”

American Folklore Theatre presents Victory Farms throughout the summer on selected evenings. Also on stage for the 2012 season, attend the AFT hit productions Belgians in Heaven and Cheeseheads, the Musical. For more information, please call 920.854.6117 or click the link to the left.  By Peggy Sue Dunigan, who fondly recalls all the memories AFT has given her in the past, present and future. An avid theater-goer who treasures another premiere when Fred Alley, Jeffrey Herbst, Fred Heide and Doug Mancheski produced Lumberjacks in Love for the very first time, along with the outstanding “kid,” Karen Mal. Thank you for continuing AFT's legacy.