Written by Frederick Heide and Lee Becker
Music by Frederick Heide
Additional Music by James Kaplan
A Cosmic Musical that Tackles the Heart
Historic UFO sightings over Door County combine with the Packers-Bears rivalry to inspire this warm and rollicking musical comedy that dares to ask the question, “Is winning the only thing?”
Packer Fans From Outer Space, based (very) loosely on actual events, follows the exploits of Juddville fruit farmer Harvey Keister. Harvey, a big fan of the Green Bay Packers, is called upon by a group of Packer aliens to save their planet from the evil Space Bears. Marge, his Chicago Bears-loving wife, fears for his sanity. The actual events that were the inspiration for this offbeat musical are several UFO sightings over the skies of Door County in the Spring of 1952, and the 1953 tie game between the Packers and the Bears.
Produced in 2002, 2003 & 2014
Fans Win Big at Revived “Packer Fans From Outer Space”
Peggy Sue Dunigan – July 21, 2014
After seeing American Folklore Theater’s “Packer Fans From Outer Space” twice in one week, the smiles and laughter are still vividly in mind. The winning team of Lee Becker, Frederick “Doc” Heide and James Kaplan has created a set of unforgettable characters in an almost unimaginable story. Set in 1953, Juddville apple farmer Harvey Keister saves the Packers from extinction by intergalactic Bears, and in the ensuing battle saves Wisconsin’s football team for posterity.
The plot might sound like a skit from Saturday Night Live, but Director Molly Rhode, working with Choreographer Pam Kriger, ably brightens the production with charming dance numbers. One example from the show, “Winning is the Only Thing,” parodies Bob Fosse’s Cabaret opening with AFT’s Galactic Coach Doug Mancheski performing the iconic role of Master of Ceremonies while two out-in-space Packers, numbers 39 and 24, provide the metallic-colored chorus line.
One of the delights in Packer Fans revolves around the tender romance between actor Bill Theisen’s Harvey Keister and Rhonda Rae Busch’s Marge, Harvey’s wife. The lovely pair was created in theater heaven for this Packer Fans production. Genuine affection shines through every moment of the duo’s performance. One song, “Nuts in Every Tree,” delightedly tells us that “Everyone is a little crackers, a little crazy…the normal way to be. Fruits in every basket, nuts in every tree.”
Added into this twosome is little Keister and would-be scientist Peggy, played by a darling Eva Nimmer, who also discovers love under the interplanetary stars with Galactic Packer 39, the clever and heartwarming Chase Stoeger. Watching these two collide from their different worlds, singing “We Call That Love” or “Life on Earth” will soften the heart of any die-hard cynic.
Chase Stoeger’s 39 and Adam Zeph’s 24 can similarly win over any audience. The two Packers disguise their green and gold outer space selves as the Swedish couple Lars and Elsa, and carry a talking football hidden underneath a skirt. Visitors to Juddville, the couple assists Harvey Keister in his prophetic mission, singing the “The Artsy Farmer” all the while. Another classic comedy team in the making!
While Harvey dares to fulfill the prophecy of being “The Big Keister,” saving the earthly Packers by painting armor, helmet and a weapon green and gold, the resulting battle resolves with the number “Dat’s What Nice About A Game.” Even Marge, a dedicated Chicago Bears fan, joins with her “better half” to bring love, peace and understanding to planet earth and outer space.
Plenty of other enchanting and funny moments occur in the show, between Harvey and Marge, or mother and daughter Marge and Peggy, while the language that the outer space men speak with utter believability translates into pure theatrical comedy. Paul Helm’s musical direction and arrangements under Colin Welford’s supervision add considerably to this joyful comedy, as do the fun costumes by Karen Brown-Larimore.
No need to understand football or be a Packer fan to revel in every pun, turn of phrase and musical note and discover the underlying message of “make love, not war” and love your enemy.
This fantasy is actually based on historically accurate facts from 1953, and while the century might have changed, 50 years later the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears still remain rivals, the Illinois tolls have increased, and war still rages across the world. In 2014, continue to make your family’s Door County theater memories by revisiting this “stellar” production.
American Folklore Theatre presents “Packer Fans from Outer Space” through August. For information or tickets, call 920.854.6117 or visit www.folkloretheatre.com.
‘Packer Fans from Outer Space’
MIKE FISCHER, Special to the Journal Sentinel – June 23, 2014
Getting in tune is even more of a challenge for the characters in “Packer Fans From Outer Space,” which was given a first-class production at the Marcus Center two years ago, but which AFT is staging for the first time since 2003, under Rhode’s direction.
Conceived by Heide, Lee Becker and James Kaplan, this show’s set-up is as crazy as the title: In 1953 Juddville, Harvey Kiester, a mild-mannered apple farmer who doubles as a rabid Packer fan, becomes the improbable savior of aliens known as the Galactic Packers, who are locked in never-ending combat with the Space Bears.
The “Big Kiester” girds for battle by wearing a green-and-gold corset and a leather football helmet — which looks as ridiculous as it sounds when worn by a big and lovable dumpling like former Skylight Music Theatre artistic director Bill Theisen, reprising his role in the Marcus production. No wonder that Harvey’s Chicago-born, Bears-loving wife — Busch, also reprising her Marcus role — eventually calls for the men in white coats to take Harvey away.
But at the risk of having you think I should join Harvey, let me hasten to add that despite this zany setup and enough groaners to ground any spaceship, “Packer Fans” is an awesome show — even if one doesn’t give a fig about the Packers or football.
For as Harvey’s outlandish outfit suggests, “Packer Fans” is really about learning to let your freak flag fly, even when a culture of conformism and fear — whether at the height of the Cold War in 1953 or right now — makes it hard for any of us to show our true colors.
It’s because Harvey does so — painting his outhouse green and gold — that he attracts the attention of the Galactic Packers, who use the outhouse door as a portal between worlds, embodied by scenic designer James Maronek’s nifty, quick-change set, which flips to become a space ship.
Harvey is able to overlook the Galactic Packers’ strange ways and vaguely Russian speech, taking flight because he can see past how he and these aliens are different to focus on what they have in common. Ditto Peg, his geeky and science-mad daughter, who is borne aloft by the charming Nimmer’s poignantly sung melodies, reflecting Peg’s idealistic hope for a world at peace — as well as her blossoming love for one of the spacemen.
That would be Stoeger’s Galactic Packer #39, excellent as an agonized young man caught between the rigid code to which he’s always adhered and his dawning sense that there might be more to life than galactic football.
“Packer Fans” mesmerizes with laughs and heart at AFT
Dave Begel – June 20, 2014
With a title like “Packer Fans from Outer Space,” it would be logical to expect an evening of frivolous fun, much like watching Saturday morning cartoons.
Who would think that a play like this would feature an important message and a tender love story between awfully different young people? Under the deft and gentle hand of Milwaukee’s Molly Rhode, the play pulls you into unusual places, all under the guise of the perennial battle between the Packers and the Chicago Bears.
“Packer Fans” gets a remounting by the American Folklore Theatre in their cozy outdoor space in Peninsula State Park in Door County. The show, written by the team of Frederick Heide and Lee Becker, was last produced over a decade ago.
This team has created such outrageously funny plays like “Belgians in Heaven” and “Guys and Does.” “Packer Fans” could well be expected to follow in that same slapstick kind of vein, but it doesn’t, as Rhode finds a heart in this play and puts it on full display with a marvelous cast of actors.
The story focuses on the Kiester family: Harvey, his wife Marge and their teenage daughter Peg. Peg wants to be a scientist, studying intergalactic phenomena and using her knowledge to bring about world peace. Her mom wants her to “find a nice guy and settle down.”
Well Peg, who believes the sightings of flying saucers in Door County are true, does meet a man, although whether he’s nice or not is open to question.
The man is “39,” one of two Packers from outer space. He, his partner “24” and “Coach” – who wears a coat a lot like Vince Lombardi – have come to earth to take Harvey back so that he can rid the world of the horrible Space Bears. Harvey, you see, is an incredibly devout Packer fans, trapped in a marriage to a Bear fan.
The story focuses on Harvey, a character brought to life by Bill Theisen, the longtime artistic director at Skylight and a man who clearly needs to be on stage in Wisconsin a lot more.
Theisen, who is built kind of like a pear on steroids, brings hilarity wherever he goes and with whatever he says. The moment he put on a Packer colored bra – complete with large green and gold breasts – and managed a frightful shimmy on stage brought the house down.
He is also a marvelous singer who understands that in musical theater the words of a song are incredibly important, and he makes sure each word is sung just as it should be.
But this play is not all about laughs, even though they come frequently and easily.
Somewhere in this script, Rhode found a story about how different people have all kinds of mistaken impressions of people who aren’t like them. It’s about how those mistaken impressions can make people act in ways that are self-protective and sometimes painful.
The journey of these characters toward something resembling peace and friendship is a halting one, but each obstacle – from language to values – is brushed aside in the unrecognized desire to be something other than enemies.
The main love story is between Peg, gracefully and earnestly played by a lovely Eva Nimmer, and “39,” played by Chase Stoeger (who is married to Rhode). Stoeger is marvelous as an alien who not only doesn’t understand anything about Peg, but is determined to avoid any contact with women of any stripe. The lovely song “Life on Earth” is a joyful collision of two worlds, both enlightened to the other.
The production helps to solidify Rhode as even more than the triple threat she had been at one point. She can act, dance, sing, play instruments, choreograph and direct with incredible depth and sensitivity. A cast in Rhode’s hands can be sure that they are going to find new places to explore, and the audience is the clear winner.
‘Packer Fans from Outer Space’ a hoot
WARREN GERDS – June 19, 2014
FISH CREEK, Wis. (WFRV) – “Packer Fans from Outer Space” – just the title brings a smile.
The American Folklore Theatre show is one of its musical comedy classics. Performances (5 stars out of 5) continue through the end of August in Peninsula State Park Amphitheatre. Info: folkloretheatre.com.
The cosmic and clever show is by “Doc” Heide and Lee Becker. It arrived in 2002 and along the way even toured to Green Bay.
The Heide-Becker sense of humor is “out there” in more ways than one.
Their show imagines Packers and Bears waging deadly war in a parallel galaxy to us. A Packer contingent comes to Earth aboard Starship Nitschke to find a worthy fanatic-fan leader to help rescue them from extinction. Entry is through the outhouse, painted green and gold, on the farm of Door County apple grower Harvey Kiester and his wife, Marge.
The Galactic Packers dress in Day-Glo green and gold uniforms. Their leader is a gruff fellow with a fedora and eyeglasses who looks like Vince Lombardi (if he’d fallen into vats of green and sparkly gold paint). Along the way, this Coach sings “Winning is the Only Thing.”
The setup for this show comes from a crumb of history about a claimed sighting of a flying saucer in 1952 near Juddville, about 10 miles south of the theater. The show is set in November 1953. Dwight D. Eisenhower is president of the United States, which is in the midst of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. A Galactic Packer drops a line that is typical of some of the show’s humor: “At what temperature do you fight this war?”
Other humor revolves around puns on “Kiester” – as the south end of a person going north – perhaps the world record in this show. There’s humor at practically every turn. Heard on the radio are commercials for the County Home, for help with bats in the belfry and such. The song “Nuts in Every Tree” finds Harvey Kiester, dressed in a green-and-gold women’s corset with XXL frontage, dancing around the stage and singing “Everybody’s just a little crackers.” Marital humor pops up, as when Marge asks, “Harvey, am I too fat?” Harvey: “No, Marge, you’re just fat enough.”
This may be American Folklore Theatre’s funniest show. The Packers-Bears state of mind thing is great fodder for lovable lampooning/admiration.
Speaking of love, the brainy Kiester daughter falls for one of the Galactic Packers, and the feeling is mutual. Amid silly songs, they have ones of wonder (“Life on Earth”) and love (“We Call That Love”).
Bill Theisen and Rhonda Rae Busch have a jolly time as Harvey and Marge. Chase Stoeger and Adam Zeph romp as Galactic Packers, with Doug Mancheski a gas as Coach. Eva Nimmer is the cheery, hopeful Peg Kiester.
Director Molly Rhode packs a lot of action into the show to go along with the bundles of jokes.
In keeping with the show, one family tailgated in the parking lot on opening night. Green Bay Packers wear is an everyday thing around here, but a jersey in the audience was a sign of confidence – “84 – Abbrederis” – for Packers draft pick Jared Abbrederis.
I’ve seen this show a number of times and am more and more impressed by all the wit and warmth in it with each viewing.
‘Packer Fans’ playbook scores laughs
MIKE FISCHER, Special to the Journal Sentinel – June 9, 2012
Review of “Packer Fans From Outer Space” produced by
the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts in Milwaukee, WI
A brat summit at the governor’s mansion is a nice start, but if our divided politicians really want to inaugurate a new era of good feeling, they should also arrange a group outing to “Packer Fans From Outer Space.”
Originally conceived for American Folklore Theatre by Doc Heide and Lee Becker, it has landed for an extended run at Vogel Hall, under Jenny Wanasek’s direction.
“Packer Fans” isn’t just the world’s first – and only – musical comedy crossing science fiction with football. Together with all the silliness the title suggests, it’s also a frequently touching show with a great message: In football and in life, it’s possible to compete hard while respecting your opponent. Even when it’s the Bears.
Set in Door County in 1953, “Packer Fans” revolves around apple farmer Harvey Kiester (Bill Theisen), who loves his Packers so much that he has painted the outhouse green and gold.
That doesn’t sit well with Marge (Rhonda Rae Busch), Harvey’s Chicago-born wife and a die-hard Bears fan. But it’s catnip for the Galactic Packers, three extraterrestrials cruising the universe.
Looking a lot like Coach Lombardi (Norman Moses) and two of his players (Paul Helm and Josh Krause), and accompanied by a talking football, these creatures from beyond are locked in a struggle to the death with the Space Bears (Ryan Cappleman and Thomas J. Novak).
Their spaceship touches down on Harvey’s farm because they’re convinced that only the “Big Kiester” can save them from becoming the hungry Space Bears’ next snack.
OK, so it’s not “King Lear.”
But in addition to a truckload of groaners and gender-bending sight gags, “Packer Fans” includes a poignant coming-of-age tale wrapped around a tender love story, both featuring the Kiesters’ wide-eyed daughter, Peggy (Beth Mulkerron).
Hoping to buck the odds confronting a 1950s farm girl, Peggy wants to become a scientist. Even more far-fetched, she preaches universal love at the height of the Cold War. With one of the finest performances I’ve seen her give, Mulkerron made a convert of me.
It helps that Mulkerron sings like an angel, which is par for the course with this musically talented cast. The wide-ranging score – which includes rousing anthems to Wisconsin and the Packers, beautiful ballads and a loving homage to vaudeville – deserves no less (music direction by Helm; nicely complementary choreography by Connie SaLoutos Furlan).
“Packer Fans” takes place on James Maronek’s quick-change set, where Harvey’s apple orchard unfolds to become a spaceship’s interior, while the outhouse door spins 180 degrees to become the spaceship’s entry portal – a reminder that the most unpleasantly narrow space can lead to broader perspectives, if we know how to look and keep an open mind.
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