andrew kruse-ross | home of the burger happy days | march 2017
Let Me Be Franks are back at it again in their second show of 2017. Inspiration is never far from home for Let Me Be Franks and their new show “Seymour, 'Home of the Burger' Happy Days," pulls from sources that are all Wisconsin.
“There's just so much history in the state to pull from, you never run out of ideas," says Frank Hermans, the man behind Let Me Be Frank Productions.
That certainly seems to be the case as Hermans has had a hand in the creation of more than 100 original shows since the troupe's earliest beginnings which date back to the closing months of 1999, many of those shows were written with partner and co-writer Pat Hibbard.
“Seymour, 'Home of the Burger' Happy Days" pulls from Wisconsin histories both fact and fictional.
“Someone, ages ago, suggested that we do a show that pulled from 'Happy Days.' It was a great idea and we're excited to play around with it," says Hermans.
The popular sitcom, which was set in Milwaukee, ran for nearly a decade between 1974 and 1983 and generated several spin-offs, including “Laverne and Shirley." The beloved female bottlecappers of that program are also subject to the Frank treatment in the new show as well.
“My wife and I have been watching tons of episodes of both shows to prepare for this," says Hermans “and you know, the comedy worked for that time, but watching them again today, they're just not that funny anymore. We aim to bring these great characters back to life in a funny way."
Attempting to do just that will be Ditchie, Ralph, Potsie and the philosophical oracle of the group, The Fronz. True to their television counterparts, the boys really only have one thing on their minds: girls. Only The Fronz is wise to the ways of the fairer sex, but can his wisdom help the guys land a kiss at the Outagamie County Fair before the clock strikes midnight?
“If they don't get a kiss they've got to parade around downtown Seymour in their underwear," says Hermans.
To avoid the humiliation, and in order to land a lady, The Fronz suggests the boys play to their strengths and talk about the things they're good at, but with their talents being: eating, math and master … ing the English language, even The Fronz will have his work cut out for him.
Adding to this challenge are the savvy ladies of “'Home of the Burger,' Happy Days," Laverne, Shirley and Pinky Tuscadero. Where romance is concerned, these girls are fed up with mere boys are instead looking for real men.
“These girls are grown up, they've got real jobs at the Seymour bottling plant and they're sick of meeting boys fresh out of high school."
After a plan to join a bowling league — an all-girls bowling league — failed to turn up any sound prospects, the girls are going old school: They're heading to the Outagamie County Fair to find their beaus, much to the dismay of Shirley, who finds the fair's “droppings" repulsive.
Can our sophisticated ladies hope to find romance with the younger Ditchie and his friends? Can the boys hope to win their bet and land a kiss before midnight, or will they all be paying the price and have to bare it all and take the walk of shame?
In sticking to the “Happy Days" theme, the show features 20 hit songs from the 1950s and early-'60s, much to the chagrin of Hermans, who says he prefers to steer away from the most obvious choices when selecting songs for his shows. In part, the hit songs appear in this show out of necessity.
“We don't like to do the same songs that we've done before," says Hermans. “But we're in our 18th season this year and we've performed over 1,700 songs in that time; It's time to do the hits."
Hermans, who is a self-admitted history buff — and also occasionally the comedic History Bluff — enjoys injecting area history into his shows whenever possible. In this case, it was a closer look at his fictional surroundings of “Happy Days," that sparked the idea to infuse an area history he'd not yet used before.
“I'm watching 'Happy Days' and thinking about the show and I just keep thinking about Arnold's drive-in where all the kids hang out," says Hermans. “That got me thinking about burgers and that got me thinking of Seymour and Burger Fest."
Burger Fest is the annual celebration that takes place every summer to celebrate the Home of the Hamburger, Seymour, Wisconsin, and its inventor, Charles Nagreen, better know to history as “Hamburger Charlie." Proceeds from the volunteer-run event fund scholarships and community projects Seymour.
Hamburger Charlie was 15 years old when he first loaded up his ox cart and travelled 20 miles from his home in Hortonville to sell his meatballs at the Seymour Fair. Charlie knew that people would be hungry at the fair and would likely want something to eat in between exploring the fair's exhibits. What he didn't realize is that people preferred to eat while viewing the exhibits, and as meatballs weren't the most portable of food items, his sales were lackluster.
Charlie, however, was an enterprising young man and quickly improvised. He located some bread and began serving his meatballs smashed between two slices of bread. He called the creation a hamburger (as they were created from hamburger steak) and the rest, as they say, is history. The year was 1885.
Obviously, Charlie's creation was a hit and he would go on to sell his culinary creation at fairs across the state for the next 65 years.
Evidence of Charlie's impact isn't hard to come by, especially in Seymour. A statue of Charlie in his iconic red suspenders and tie has been erected in Seymour's downtown and great care is given to selecting the next person to don his iconic attire and play the part of the next “Hamburger Charlie."
That honor used to belong to Bill Collar. Collar is the president of the Seymour Community Historical Society. He played the part of “Hamburger Charlie" for 18 years.
“He was a real gregarious person," says Collar. “He played the guitar and came up with jingles and would sing to get peoples' attention and bring them over to his stand. I guess he was quite the character."
That character is responsible for putting the city of Seymour, today with a population of approximately 3,500, on the national stage.
“It's amazing, but we get people from all over the United States that want to visit the Home of the Hamburger and actually have a hamburger in Seymour," says Collar. “It's given our community some identity from that point of view."
Let Me Be Franks will pay a special tribute to “Hamburger Charlie" during the show, as the LMBF band will don the red tie and suspenders associated with the hamburger's creator. This is a small gesture when measured against the impact made by the enterprising teenager from Hortonville, but Collar believes “Hamburger Charlie" would be surprised to see the impact he's made.
“I don't know that he realized at the time what kind of an impact the hamburger had on America," says Collar, “and the world for that matter."
“Seymour, 'Home of the Burger' Happy Days" runs April 7-29 at the Meyer Theatre. On opening night, $10 of every paid ticket will go to fund Burger Fest. Visit ticketstaronline.com for tickets.
A special performance will take place in Manitowoc at the Capitol Civic Centre on Wed., April 19. Tickets are available at cccshow.org.
Burger Fest is Aug. 11 and 12. For more info, visit homeofthehamburger.org.
The Crew Cuts
Jimmy Gilmer & the Fireballs
“Happy Days Theme"
“His Latest Flame"
“Hit the Road, Jack"
“I Know a Place"
“Laverne and Shirley Theme"
“Que Sera Sera"
“The One Who Really Loves You"
“(Today I Met) The Boy I'm Going to Marry"
“My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own"
“Our Day Will Come"
Ruby & the Romantics.
“Lipstick on Your Collar"