andrew kruse-ross | a frank's christmas | dec. 2016
“Every show I write has a little piece of history in it," says Frank Hermans, founder and co-owner of Let Me Be Frank Productions, the comedic musical troupe that bears his name.
He does little to hide his love of local history, and it seems all of Northeastern Wisconsin has the potential to inspire the troupe's next musical comedy. In recent memory, Clintonville's seismic activity, Dyckesville's summer hot spot the Frosty Tip, Denmark's after school “activity bus," and most recently, Manitowoc's Mirro factory have all been given the nod in the troupe's productions.
“A Frank's Christmas," the troupe's most well-attended annual show, is no exception. Last year, the troupe took to the chilly waters of Lake Michigan aboard the Christmas Schooner to deliver Christmas trees to the people of Chicago. In both 2013 and 2014, the magical store window displays of C. F. Prange's served as the inspiration for the troupe's Christmas productions.
This year, “A Frank's Christmas" steps away from history, and, instead, finds its inspiration even closer to home. And for Frank Hermans, a man enamored with the lore of “Titletown," that is close indeed.
“This one, there's no history, it's all about kids – my kids. Having young children provides so much inspiration for me," says Hermans. “I got the idea for this show by watching them play with their toys and seeing how much these things mean to them."
With a constant stream of toys flooding the market, the stardom of any one toy is often fleeting. “A Frank's Christmas" deals with giving the forgotten toys of yesteryear another chance to experience Christmas in the arms of a lucky boy or girl. But, in true LMBF fashion, that second chance won't come without a healthy dose of humor.
“Our characters are toys, but they've all had a negative experience with Christmas," says Hermans. “And they need to be rehabbed if they're going to be some child's toy for Christmas again."
Audiences will meet a number of toy characters, each with their own hang-ups concerning the most wonderful time of the year. There's Doody, the infinitely less popular version of Woody from “Toy Story." Then there are the princesses: Ariel, Rapunzel and Belle. They appear to have everything going for them, but they've been living in the clouds and desperately need a reality check. By outward appearances, handsome Ken Doll seems to be perfect, but looks can be deceiving. And for Baby Herman, any hope that his role in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit" would shoot him to stardom has faded as the decades have ticked away.
Where can a disgruntled Christmas toy that's lost its holiday spirit hope to receive the training necessary to partake in another Christmas? Naturally at Santa's Center for Toy Rehab.
Here to help our distressed toys is another less-than-desirable toy, Stuperman. Fresh from serving his residency at Frosty's Home for Melted Snow Figurines, while earning his MBA from Cringle University, Stuperman is eager to do his best to get our toys back in the hands of children this Christmas.
Stuperman may be faster than a speeding bullet, but as the toy rehab councilor, he will have to come up with something super if he is to get these toys in shape in time for Christmas. Luckily, he'll have some help from his assistant, Hugo: Man of a Thousand Faces.
Perhaps some history has found its way into “A Frank's Christmas," as Frank admits, Hugo: Man of a Thousand Faces was a gift he coveted above all others back in 1976.
Hugo hasn't enjoyed the popularity shelf life that Barbie or Star Wars figurines have, so if you need a refresher, Hugo: Man of a Thousand Faces was sort of like Mr. Potato Head in human form.
“You could put a beard on him or sideburns," says Frank. “You'd give him different hair and make him look different, but he always ended up looking like a Tele Savalas doll."
Hugo: Man of a Thousand Faces is played by Hermans' partner and co-writer, Pat Hibbard.
Like any Let Me Be Frank show, “A Frank's Christmas" includes heavy doses of music provided by the cast and the LMBF band comprised of Dennis Panneck, Tony Pilz and Adam Cain. The band gets the military treatment this Christmas and play the part of G.I. Joe action figures.
“A Frank's Christmas" features 20 Christmas tunes from a variety of artists including Dean Martin, Elvis Presley, Amy Grant and Kelly Clarkston, as well as those from both the small and silver screen including “Let It Go," from “Frozen" and several selections from television's “Glee."
The show also includes a Frank Hermans original, titled “It's Christmastime." Frank says he wrote the song, again inspired by those closest to him.
“It's one of my favorite songs," says Frank. “It's a song I wrote for my family."
His isn't the only family he's concerned with during this performance. According to Hermans, “A Frank's Christmas," is the troupes only completely family-friendly show of the year.
“We've got a few innuendos that parents will catch, but the kids will love this show," says Hermans. “They'll love the toys, they'll love the princesses and I hope parents will bring the entire family to this show."
“A Frank's Christmas" isn't just about the laughs and music explains Hermans. The show blends a larger seasonal message within the story's comedic setting.
“I think we've got a very heartfelt ending. I think people are going to walk away with a warm feeling; I hope they do, anyway," says Hermans.
“Every toy is special to the child that receives it, especially when that toy goes to a child that maybe doesn't get as much as other kids. That's what we're really going for with this show."
During the Christmas of '76, Frank did get his wish. He found Hugo waiting for him under the tree, or maybe Hugo found him. To see if Doody, the princesses, Ken and Baby Herman are so lucky, be sure to catch “A Frank's Christmas" at the Meyer Theatre.
For tickets, visit ticketstaronline.com.
A Spirit of Giving
Opening night, proceeds from “A Frank's Christmas" will go to benefit an organization close to Frank's heart; $10 of every paid ticket will go to fund CP, and, during the entire run, a Drum Up Donations for CP campaign will be active where monetary donations may be left inside a drum located near the merchandise table at the Meyer Theatre.
Let Me Be Frank Productions has raised more than $500,000 for local charities and civic organizations over the years. Hermans says he hopes to add to those numbers this holiday season, potentially raising as much as $20,000 during the month of December to support area organizations.
“Last year we collected about four thousand dollars in donations for CP," says Hermans, who is an active member of the CP board of directors. “This year, I hope we can collect five to six thousand for this great organization."
On Tuesday, Dec. 6, $10 of every paid ticket will go to support CASA (Case Appointed Special Advocates). CASA serves as the voice for neglected and abused children in Northeastern Wisconsin.
Want Even More Frank?
If you find yourself in need of more Frank this holiday season, you're in luck. Frank's new book, titled “Simply Frank: The story behind the man, the brand and Let Me Be Frank Productions" is scheduled for release on Dec. 2. Yes, just in time for Christmas!
Covering the years 1964, when a health-plagued boy was born to parents living in a trailer on Green Bay's Eastside, to 2007, the year he and his namesake troupe, Let Me Be Frank Productions, came to call the Meyer Theatre their home, “Simply Frank" documents the life and rise of a Northeastern Wisconsin favorite: Let Me Be Frank Productions.
“This has been a real soul-searching effort for me," says Frank. “I tend to focus on the future, but revisiting my past has caused me to talk about some things I normally wouldn't talk about."
First loves, early family life, failed business endeavors and more are revealed in this fleet and comedic telling of Frank's life. Told, not only by Frank, but those closest to him, including his wife, Amy Riemer; his mother, Karen Coppersmith; his business partner Pat Hibbard and many others. “Simply Frank" is a must-have for any Frank fan.
Simply Frank is available for purchase at all Let Me Be Frank performances beginning on Dec. 2.
Book signing sessions will be held both before and after performances of “A Frank's Christmas" on Dec 10 & 17. This author and Frank will be on hand to sign copies of “Simply Frank" from 6:30 p.m. — 7:30 p.m. and again after the show from 10:30 p.m. to 11:15 p.m. All signings are included in the purchase price of a book during those times.
“I think that fans will have fun with this book," says Frank. “It's a quick, fun read, and they're going to learn some things about me that I'm sure they didn't know.
“There's much more to discuss. My hope is that if this is well received, we can come out with an expanded edition for next year."
“Simply Frank" is available at all Let Me Be Frank performances from Dec. 2 onward.
Author book signings are Dec. 10 and 17 before and after “A Frank's Christmas" at the Meyer Theatre.
Photos courtesy Sue Pilz