Before we dismiss "Packer Fans from Outer Space" as the goofy title of a silly musical, we must consider this. In the spring of 1952, the superintendent of Door County's Peninsula State Park spotted a strange object hovering in the sky.
He described it as a huge circle of light surrounding a smaller circle. The superintendent called a reporter for the Door County Advocate, who also saw the object. A Wisconsin State Patrol officer followed the light up the peninsula until it disappeared, headed northward, over the water.
Later that night, flying saucer sightings were reported in Canada.
Fifty years later, "Packer Fans from Outer Space" debuted on the American Folklore Theatre outdoor stage in Peninsula State Park. A fresh production, containing two new songs, opens June 8 in Vogel Hall at the Marcus Center.
The 1952 sightings inspired AFT co-founder Fred (Doc) Heide to write the musical. "I decided we had to do a show about that flying saucer," he recently explained in a phone chat. The AFT exclusively stages original family-friendly musicals that have a connection to Wisconsin.
"We also needed to do a Packers show," he continued. Heide decided to blend UFO's with football, and he started work on the musical in the mid-'90s.
The Packers element focuses on a 1953 game between the Chicago Bears and the Green and Gold. It ended in the only tie in the long and legendary series between the teams. Heide said the musical's title popped into his brain while hiking.
Most of the songs and much of the story were written by him. He eventually included company members Lee Becker to assist with the book and lyrics and James Kaplan to contribute several songs.
After its 2002 world premiere, "Packer Fans from Outer Space" received a number of community theater productions, and it was also produced at the Heartland Festival, a summer theater fest in Platteville, when John Hassig was the executive director. Hassig is now the programming director at the Marcus Center.
His personal fondness for the show and its popularity in Platteville led to his decision to produce the musical here. "It has some wonderful music," he said recently. "And it is really a family show."
Veteran Milwaukee actor and director Jenny Wanasek is staging "Packer Fans" with a heavy duty cast that includes Norman Moses, Bill Theisen, Rhonda Rae Busch, Beth Mulkerron and Paul Helm.
Uprooted Theatre's "Hair, Nails & Dress"
Let's call the Uprooted Theatre world premiere production of "Hair, Nails & Dress" a developing work. The drama was written by Caleen Sinnette Jennings, an American University theater professor with solid credentials, and the story is definitely engaging. Some of the language is poetic and evocative.
Three generations of an African-American family – all women – are squeezed into close living quarters. Money is tight, and problems are many.
The action takes place on the youngest woman's high school prom night. A hard worker and good student, she has made a bad decision in seeking to get the money for the prom dress she wants. Her tale gradually unfolds over two acts.
If that were the only conflict in "Hair, Nails & Dress," it would be more than sufficient. But Act II becomes a series of troubling personal revelations from all the characters, turning the play into a ponderous melodrama.
A final plot twist comes out of nowhere, without any foundation or foreshadowing Sharp editing and reshaping is needed.
The Uprooted cast, directed by Marti Gobel, is spotty. Sola Thompson, playing the prom-goer, and Kim Ballou, who portrays the drama's grandmother/narrator, possess depth and a sure grasp on their characters.
Damien has been around so long, he was at Summerfest the night George Carlin was arrested for speaking the seven dirty words you can't say on TV. He was also at the Uptown Theatre the night Bruce Springsteen's first Milwaukee concert was interrupted for three hours by a bomb scare. Damien was reviewing the concert for the Milwaukee Journal. He wrote for the Journal and Journal Sentinel for 37 years, the last 29 as theater critic.
During those years, Damien served two terms on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, a term on the board of the association's foundation, and he studied the Latinization of American culture in a University of Southern California fellowship program. Damien also hosted his own arts radio program, "Milwaukee Presents with Damien Jaques," on WHAD for eight years.
Travel, books and, not surprisingly, theater top the list of Damien's interests. A news junkie, he is particularly plugged into politics and international affairs, but he also closely follows the Brewers, Packers and Marquette baskeball. Damien lives downtown, within easy walking distance of most of the theaters he attends.