Written by AFT co-founder Fred Alley, Tongue ‘n Cheek tells the story of the perpetually lazy George Sutter and his long-suffering wife, Naomi. Performers stand, old-time-radio-style, at microphones to tell the story of cows being milked, love being lost and found, and ailments being cured. Performed first in 1991 (the first full-length book musical Fred Alley ever wrote) and revived in 1997, Tongue ‘n Cheek contains the song “We’ll Waltz ‘Til the Last Cow Comes Home,” an old favorite amongst AFT audiences. Think Garrison Keillor meets AFT. (2W, 3M)
Door County Advocate
August 10, 1991
‘Tongue ‘n Cheek’ tickling audiences
When it comes to spinning yarns and telling tall tales the American Folklore Theatre can outdo both Paul Bunyan fans and Garrison Keillor.
‘Tongue in Cheek,” one of two original shows the cast performs this season, is packed with one liners and subtle jokes sprinkled liberally with folk songs and tradition.
Staged Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at the amphitheatre at Peninsula State Park, ‘Tongue in Cheek’ has been drawing big crowds regularly throughout the season.
Fred Alley is the creator, assistant director and one of the stars of ‘Tongue in Cheek’ which tells the story (albeit exaggerated) of the reversal of roles by Naomi and George Sutter, a happy (sometimes) Wisconsin farm couple facing some tough times (most of the time) and poor health (occasionally). The sparring between Alley as George and the talented Suzanne Graff as the long suffering Naomi keeps the audience chuckling throughout the evening.
The show’s director Jeffrey Herbst is also narrator of ‘Tongue and Cheek’ and artfully sets the mood for the courting of Doc Johnson (longtime Folklore theatre cast member Frederick Heide) and Lorna Thronson (as portrayed by the saucy and determined Deborah Alden). Timing is everything in this performance and the cast has its cues down perfectly.
The standing-room-only crowds this week listened intently and laughed heartily as the narrator told about the Wisconsin winters “that are so cold a man’s shadow might freeze to the barn” and Wisconsin fish “that are so big their pictures weigh 12 pounds” and Wisconsin mosquitos that “got so much of your blood you begin to think of them as relatives.”
The American Folklore Theatre emerged last season after nearly two decades as the Heritage Ensemble. Both “Tongue in Cheek” and the other presentation “Moon of the Long Nights” showcase the talents of the American Folklore Theatre as the cast moves from primarily folk musicians with an emphasis on serious theatre.
The musical numbers, taken from Folk Songs out of Wisconsin, remain popoular with the audience. The male trio singing about Miss Fogerty’s Christmas cake was a hoot as was the Heide-Herbst duet about “dear ol’ Dave, the mule.”
One of the more popular songs is the kaffee-klatch, gossip number featuring the entire cast and everyone seemed to love Alden’s “I never will marry.”
While George’s cooking is the brunt of many jokes (his meat is so tough you couldn’t stick a fork in its gravy), Doc Johnson’s folk medicine remedies are also carefully scrutinized throughout the performance.
The show ends with a ditty about the “moon shining through the pines” which is exactly what the audience experiences as it leaves the outdoor theatre after the night’s performance.
Those visiting the American Folklore Theatre for the first time will want to know that the dress is warm (most evenings) and casual and the amphitheatre is accessible to wheelchairs and strollers.
Performances continue through Aug. 24 at 8 p.m. nightly. Playing Monday, Wednesday and Friday is “Moon of the Long Nights,” a tale of the Wisconsin Indians, created by Frederick Heide.