andrew kruse-ross | a frank's christmas | dec. 2018
Actor, musician, television personality, spokesperson, board member, there are many ways a person might be familiar with Frank Hermans; he's a wearer of many hats. One of the lesser known in the Hermans wardrobe is that of history buff – or “History Bluffâ€ as he chooses to call himself.
It's no wonder then that Hermans chooses to infuse his shows with a granule of local history.
“Every show I write has a little piece of history in it,â€ admits the Let Me Be Frank Productions namesake.
The troupe's latest offering – A Frank's Christmas at Schroeder's Department Store – is no exception; the Two Rivers landmark serves as the background for the troupe's 19th all-original Christmas presentation.
Schroeder's is the perfect setting to drum up holiday nostalgia. The stalwart business has done what so many like it have not been able to accomplish: survive.
And it's done so for 127 years. That's a lot of Christmas memories.
According to Hermans, to survive, Schroeder's has seen many changes over the years. Started as a mercantile in 1891, the store has worn as many hats as Hermans has.
“At one point, they sold groceries and were also known for tailoring suits,â€ says Hermans. “And in the 1930s, Schroeder's biggest seller was barley because people were making their own beer during prohibition.â€
Beverages aside, it's roughly this time, the '30s, where our story takes place. In 1929, brothers Neil, Gary and Hillary took over business operations from their grandfather and continued to do so into the 1960s.
According to Hermans, the trio complemented each other well, each bringing something special to the store's operation.
Neil had a photographic memory and ran the books. Gary brought tailoring to the store's offerings and Hillary's expertise was in shoes. But this is where history begins to diverge from our story.
Unlike the real Schroeder brothers, who were undoubtedly competent businessmen, our Neil, Gary and Hillary have more in common with Larry, Curly and Moe.
Herman's points out that his fictionalizing of the Schroeder brothers comes with the blessing of the granddaughters that operate the store presently, fourth-generation owners AJ Ashenbrenner and Theresa Kronforst.
Says Hermans, “The brothers in our story are really just into screwing around; they have no idea what's really going on in their store.â€
As Christmas is approaching, a salesman comes to town by the name of Damian Krumpus and he's got some wares to sell to the Schroeder brothers: secondhand toys any one-pony tourist trap would be proud of.
Krumpus, played by Pat Hibbard, is a persuasive guy. With a new dime store opening up on every available street corner, it's only a matter a time before department stores are lost to history, or so he tells the Schroeders. If they don't want to close up shop, their only solution is to offer their customers his secondhand toys at a considerable markup.
Sadly, the brothers are all to ready to believe Krumpus, but that's when Clarence Jingle arrives on the scene.
Jingle, played by Hermans, has a new product the brothers might be interested in.
“Jingle's got a new invention that's going to revolutionize the toy industry. It's called a slinky.â€
Will his invention save Shroeder's Christmas season? Will Krumpus see the error of his ways? Find out during “A Frank's Christmas at Schroeder's Department Store.â€
A Family Thing
As is true every year, A Frank's Christmas is 100 percent family-friendly.
“Kids will love this show's action and all the slapstick comedy and everyone will love the song selection as these are the Christmas songs we all know and love.â€
A Frank's Christmas features 20 holiday classics renditions as performed by Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day and others.
Hermans says his wife's rendition of “O Holy Nightâ€ will leave audiences speechless.
Speaking of family, Hermans' son Blake Matthews returns to the cast for this season and for those attending a performance on a non-school night, Harrison Hermans opens the show with, “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.â€
One More Hat
Over its nearly 20-year history, Let Me Be Frank's has raised more than half a million dollars for local charities and organizations and that number continues to rise.
This year, the troupe has dedicated two shows to fundraising for area organizations. Opening night, Friday, Nov. 30, $10 of every paid ticket will go to benefit CP and on Thursday, Dec. 6, $10 of every paid ticket will go to the Meyer Theatre Foundation and help ensure Green Bay's landmark theatre leave its doors open for all.
A collection drum for CP is also available at every show. This year, the troupe has collected $18,000 for CP and an anonymous donor has generously offered to match every dollar placed in the drum.
“We're so happy to be able to give back to the community that let's us do what we so enjoy doing,â€ says Hermans. “I still can't believe I get to do this for a living. I still wake up in the morning scared that I'll have to get a real job.â€
A Frank's Christmas runs Nov. 30 — Dec. 23, Tuesday — Saturday evenings at the Meyer Theatre (8 p.m.). Matinees are offered on Dec. 6, 7, 13, 15 & 22 at 1 p.m. Tickets are available through ticketstaronline.com.
Out of town performances are offered at the Algoma PAC on Saturday, December 1 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets at algomapac.com or by calling (920) 487-7001; the Engler Center in Chilton on Monday, December 17 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets at englercenter.com or by calling 1-866-967-8167; and the Capitol Civic Centre in Manitowoc on Friday, December 28 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets at cccshows.org or by calling (920) 683-2184.
--image courtesy Sue Pilz