andrew kruse-ross | girls on ice | march 2019
The year 1999 produced plenty of entertainment both on and off the screen. On the big screen, the first of the Star Wars prequels leaves some of us scratching our heads and the first Matrix film leaves many of us questioning our reality. On the small screen, Bill Clinton's impeachment saga comes to a close and the saga of a pineapple dwelling sea sponge begins – all this under the threat of a world collapse at the hands of Y2K.
1999 is also the year that friends Joe Kiedinger and Frank Hermans are bellied up to the bar at De Pere's Sports Corner shooting the breeze. It's here that Hermans tells his friend he'd like to start up a dinner theatre troupe.
Kiedinger, always one with a nose for business, informed Hermans that on the list of businesses most likely to fail in America, only theatres fared worse than restaurants–and here Hermans wanted to combine the two.
Undeterred by silly little things like facts, the duo sets to work on their plan anyhow. After purchasing a script from Minneapolis playwright Brian Kelly called “The Temp," the troupe, comprised of many of Kiedinger's friends from nearby St. Norbert College begin rehearsing in the basement of the Sports Corner.
With little funding for their fledgling project, upon a borrowed stage and without a proper backdrop – the troupe hung black plastic sheeting instead –“The Temp" opens on a Monday night on the upper floor of the Sports Corner.
Despite the makeshift props and “trash bag" backdrop, the show's a hit.
Here we are, 20 years later and Frank's Dinner Theatre is now Let Me Be Frank Productions. Gone are the basement rehearsals, the borrowed stage and the trash bag backdrop.
Today, the troupe enjoys a proper rehearsal space in downtown Green Bay. If anyone can call the Meyer Theatre stage their own, it's Frank's as that venue's house entertainment troupe. And the backdrops? Those are made in Hollywood, California, specifically for each show–of which there've been some 127 since that first show in '99.
To commemorate their 20th season, Let Me Be Frank's is doing something special: They're giving Frank's Dinner Theatre a reboot!
Frank's Dinner Theatre will offer two shows you'll not see as part of the Let Me Be Frank's regular season. The troupe is offering the entirely new “Girls on Ice," which runs March 14-17 and revisiting “Brent the Musical" in November.
Both productions will take place within the more intimate confines of Backstage at the Meyer and include dinner and a show just as it was in the beginning.
“We're doing things just like we did back at the Sports Corner. Back then, I only had 110 seats but the Backstage seats 120 so we're upping it a bit," says a laughing Frank Hermans.
Hermans says the idea to reboot Frank's Dinner Theatre was that of PMI Entertainment Group Vice President of Marketing, Kathie Mickle.
“She really is the one who came up with the idea of returning to this concept of that up close, in-your-face sort of theatre performance that we used to do years ago."
Mickle was instrumental in the “Where's Frank" marketing plan that announced the troupe's move to the Meyer Theatre 14 years ago.
Hermans says there was some challenge in writing a show specifically for the smaller stage of the venue, but the shows feature a full cast and the LMBF's band.
In fact, Hermans is excited to have Lisa Borley, Kelly Gusloff, Amy Riemer and Kasey Schumacher all sharing a stage again.
“I wrote this show specifically with these girls in mind," says Hermans. “These are the girls that really are the heart and soul of Let Me Be Frank's over the last couple of years and I wrote their characters based upon how they really are.
“They're all mothers now and they don't get to do that many shows together and this was an opportunity to get them all on stage again together."
In an example of life imitating art, the theme of “Girls on Ice" revolves around old friends that once swore they'd never drift apart, having done exactly that, planning an overdue reunion.
“With the writing of this show, I get a little deep with the girls missing each other," says Hermans. “I hope some of that emotion of the girls reconnecting comes through."
But not to worry, says Hermans, “Girls on Ice" still packs plenty of comedy.
If the show's title has you thinking these gals are going to lace up and figure skate their friendships together again, forget about it. After all, this is Let Me Be Frank's, ahem, Frank's Dinner Theatre show we're talking about here. These gals are hitting the ice all right, but for walleyes.
As has been a constant throughout the troupe's history no matter the name, “Girls on Ice" features plenty of music with selections by Linda Ronstadt, Annie Lennox, Joan Jett, Tina Turner, Heart and more.
“I let the girls pick the songs they wanted to sing this time out, so they've picked their favorites and I think it's going to be pretty awesome."
“Girls on Ice" runs March 14-17 at Backstage at the Meyer. Tickets are $55 and include dinner and a show. Dinner is at 6 p.m. Performance begins at 7 p.m. Entrée selections include chicken marsala or Salisbury steak.
“Brent the Musical" runs Nov. 14-17 at Backstage at the Meyer.
Tickets are available at ticketstaronline.com.
Money (That's What I Want) – Barrett Strong
Yes, I'm Ready – Barbara Mason
Both Sides Now – Joni Mitchell
You're No Good – Linda Ronstadt
Walking on Broken Glass – Annie Lennox
Where the Boys Are – Connie Francis
Alone – Heart
I Hate Myself for Loving You – Joan Jett
Keep on Rolling – REO Speedwagon
Be My Baby – The Ronettes
I'm Coming Out – Diana Ross
River Deep, Mountain High – Tina Turner
Killing Me Softly – Roberta Flack
This Will Be (An Everlasting Love) – Natalie Cole
It's Raining Men – The Weather Girls