FISH CREEK â€“ The things about Wisconsin we didn't learn in school, the American Folklore Theatre tells us with music, humor and poignance.
For instance, the state hosted about 20,000 foreign prisoners of war during WWII, and most were German. Supervised POW projects ranged from Bayfield to Sturtevant, and some captured enemy combatants were even housed at State Fair Park.
The prisoners provided farm labor in a region whose workforce was depleted by the war effort. That is the context for "Victory Farm," this season's new American Folklore Theatre musical being staged outdoors in Peninsula State Park.
Three German POWs are assigned to a Door County cherry orchard in danger of having its crop spoil on the trees. The owner's husband has died in the war, and she initially resists accepting help from the enemy.
But the Germans, each quite different, are decent fellows with no malice in their hearts, and she grudgingly allows them to assist with the harvest. Homesickness and a love affair between a local and a prisoner predictably follows.
"Victory Farm" is totally reliant on its characters to engage us, with the POW's given the most texture and depth. The show's actor-singers must deliver, and AFT's cast rises to the task.
Dan Klarer charms and sparkles as a German baker brimming with optimism despite his prisoner status. Klarer exudes a gentle warmth that is irresistible.
Chad Luberger is equally effective as a sensitive teenage POW susceptible to puppy love. Veteran Milwaukee actor Steve Koehler draws the most complex character, a brooding older German soldier. We are initially wary of him, but Koehler's success at giving us a look inside the man leads to our understanding him.
Among the other actors, Allie Babich is the classic ingenue, singing like a lark and playing her role with seemingly effortless grace.
James Valcq's savvy score serves the story with its mix of poignant, romantic and rousing numbers, and it fits the AFT tradition of favoring blended harmonies. Emilie Coulson and Katie Dahl, who began attending AFT performances as kids, wrote the book and lyrics.
Jon Hegge directed and choreographed the single-act show.
"Victory Farm" is being staged in rotating repertory with "Belgians in Heaven" and "Cheeseheads, the Musical" this summer.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Damien Jaques
Published July 12, 2012
When Heatherlee Muehlius' new food truck hit the streets a month ago, she most likely became the best educated restaurateur on wheels in Milwaukee. Known as Hattie, Muehlius has a culinary degree from Moraine Park Technical College in Fond du Lac, and bachelor and master's degrees in education. For most of the year she is an English as a second language specialist in the Milwaukee Public Schools, but this summer she has become the owner and operator of Hattie's Truck.
Published July 12, 2012
Having spent the last 32 years watching theatrical characters make their exits, you would expect me to know how to get off my own stage. I'm retiring from journalism this week. No more deadlines and fewer opening nights. As of tomorrow, I am just another guy in the audience with an opinion, but right now I am trying to sum up more than three decades of being a theater critic in Milwaukee.
Published July 9, 2012
In a tourist destination containing restaurants with breezy patios, festive summer plantings and sparkling water views, it is easy to overlook the Greenwood Supper Club. Located in the interior of the Door County peninsula, at the intersection of County Roads A and F, the low profile business has none of those. But Door County regulars know the Greenwood isn't just another restaurant.
Published July 5, 2012
The performing arts have been steadily expanding in Door County during the past 20 years, and two organizations are operating with new management this summer. Door Shakespeare had an abrupt change of leadership during the winter. Sturgeon Bay's Third Avenue Playhouse now has a professional stage company being run by two theater artists with Broadway on their resumes.
Published July 2, 2012
Joel Bremer describes his thriving Door County business as "half the day, half the year." That fits with his Good Eggs breakfast restaurant being, in his opinion, more of a lifestyle achievement than a corporate triumph. "Keep it real, keep it simple," has been the motto since Good Eggs opened 11 years ago. That means omelet-filled burritos, ordered and delivered at a counter and served in a plastic basket daily from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., May through October.
Published June 28, 2012
Heavy metal Shakespeare. Loud, fast and violent. That is the style the Optimist Theatre is giving us with its free outdoor production of "Macbeth" that opened last week on the Alverno College campus. The approach may work with "Titus Andronicus," but it misses the points in "Macbeth."
Published June 25, 2012
When Brian Ward opened Ward's House of Prime, he had no intention of presiding over a nationally publicized eating competition. The veteran general manager simply wanted his own upscale restaurant with a beefy flair. But this is Milwaukee, the land of large appetites, and the affable Ward finds himself in the middle of something big. Like serving a hunk of prime rib weighing more than 10 pounds to a single customer.
Published June 21, 2012
We certainly go to the theater to be entertained, and the lord knows, we need our diversions from politics and the news these days. But the juice that energizes theater, keeping it vital and fresh, is found in plays that enthusiastically engage tough issues. Our local stage groups have shown admirable awareness of the world around them in programing their 2012-13 seasons. It will be a year of substance.
Published June 18, 2012
With a resume that includes Broadway, major national theaters and the Skylight Music Theatre, Madison native Tari Kelly has a thriving career. She opens in the title role of "Thoroughly Modern Millie" at the legendary St. Louis Muny tonight.
Published June 18, 2012
The Sunday brunch at Pandl's in Bayside attracted thousands of diners over four decades, but few knew the nine Pandl children were peeling the shrimp and working the pancake griddle for their colorful father, George. The baby of the family, Julie Pandl, wrote a warm and funny recollection, "Memoir of the Sunday Brunch," and self-published it last year. Algonquin Books recently acquired it and will republish the memoir in November.