Belgians In Heaven
Book and Lyrics by
Frederick Heide & Lee Becker
Story by Frederick Heide
Music by Frederick Heide & James Kaplan
The world’s only metaphysical cheese curd musical returns for the 9th season — AFT’s longest-running musical comedy! Belgiansfollows the antics of bachelor farmers and brothers, Roger and Leo Dewarzeger. Angelique, a clumsy guardian angel, and Mildred, the invisible chicken, help Roger and Leo discover the meaning of life and save the universe. An audience favorite!
Produced in 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2006, 2007 & 2012 (2W, 4M)
AFT Sneak Peek Video: Lee Becker “Mildred”
Lee Becker, AFT Company Member and accomplished improvisational actor talks about what it’s like to play a chicken. Well, not just any chicken, an invisible, talking, chicken.
A WISCONSIN WONDER!
“Very funny…loopy…disarming…quirky…Audiences guffaw at songs such as ‘Cheese Curds, Booyah, and Beer.'”
“A popular laugh-fest with a profound metaphysical theme at its heart.”
“An around the bend show with a moral….comical with an amiable tone.”
~Warren Gerds, Green Bay Press Gazette
MIKE FISCHER, Special to the Journal Sentinel – July 2, 2012
“Belgians in Heaven,” a collaboration of Lee Becker, Frederick Heide and James Kaplan that is now back on AFT’s stage for a record-breaking ninth time, is also about overcoming the differences that divide us and learning to appreciate what we share.
Brothers Leo and Roger, Belgian farmers living in southern Door County, have been fighting their own personal world war for longer than they’ve been alive – literally, in a show that suggests we’re all repeatedly reincarnated, giving us bonus time during which we can work on our fractious relationships.
And I do mean fractious.
The dour and narrowly practical Roger (Heide) is all work and no play; he is also shy and perpetually tongue-tied, which doesn’t do much for getting across his feelings for the widowed Josephine (Rhode).
Lazy Leo (Mancheski) is a farmer in name only; as he reveals in the catchy “Cheesecurds, Booyah, and Beer,” his life revolves around food and drink, as supplemented by conversations with Mildred the talking chicken, whose every cluck is faithfully and uncannily rendered by Becker.
Eventually Roger reaches the breaking point, angrily banishing Leo from the family homestead.
Only after both men have traveled far beyond the reaches of this world – including a trip to heaven featuring St. Peter as a harried superhero (Jeffrey Herbst, who also directs) and an impossibly clumsy angel-in-training (Pamela Niespodziani) – do they learn a new-found appreciation for each other.
Much like its continually referenced booyah stew, “Belgians” mixes together a bit of everything, veering suddenly from cornpone humor to the beautiful and deep “Time is Like an Angel’s Dream,” a poetic meditation on death, time and immortality.
But while the ingredients in this confection don’t always come together, many of its individual morsels are delectable, with special kudos going to Mancheski for his portrait of a slouch. The merry glint in Mancheski’s eyes invites the audience in on the fun, and even for a Midwestern audience with a solid work ethic, it’s hard to resist his charismatic appeal.
Ditto “Belgians” as a whole.
Much like a good variety show, it has a bit of something for everyone, and its roughhewn structure is both part of its charm and integral to its underlying message: We’ll do better by each other and ourselves once we accept that there are many paths to heaven, which will be a much more interesting place if it makes room for the imperfection we encounter in getting there.
My own trip to AFT was less than perfect, because I couldn’t squeeze in a look at the troupe’s final summer offering: the third staging in the past four years of the wildly popular “Cheeseheads, the Musical.” I liked the 2010 version, and most of the cast I saw then is back for this summer’s production.
Door County Advocate
HEIDE HODGES – August 2006
Imaginations running wild
If you haven’t had a chance to see the American Folk lore Theatre’s “Belgians in Heaven,” do yourself a favor and go. With only a couple of performances left, you don’t have much time. It’s too late to procrastinate.
The show has become somewhat of a cult hit in these arts, with people coming back over and over to the quaint, quirky production. Quirky, yes, but more importantly: full of heart.
The show’s original cast featured the late Fred Alley in the role Leo Dewarzeger – a somewhat lazy, beer-drinking, cheese-curd-chowing Belgian farmer who perpetually infuriates his hard-working brother Roger. This year, for the first time, the popular Doug Mancheski takes on the role of Leo.
Add to the mix a pet chicken, St. Peter and a few comely Belgian women, and you’ve got yourself a comedy that entertains all ages. It’s a rare show that speaks to all those levels – adults as well as young children. Even if the kids don’t’ entirely understand the premise, they will understand much of the humor. Laughing together as a family? Priceless.
Sometimes it’s hard to find family-oriented entertainment that doesn’t bore either the parents or the youth, but with Belgians, you’ve got a winner.
But more importantly, after you’ve watched the show, you have a song that will haunt you for the rest of your life – “Cheese Curds, Booyah and Beer.” Perhaps you’ll find yourself singing the catchy tune while vacuuming or washing the dishes – it’ll become a permanent part of you psyche. I’ve even heard my 4-year old singing a refrain in the back seat during a car ride.
Don’t miss out! Join the rest of us who are part of the “Belgians in Heaven” club! It’ll make a believer out of you..
A Chicken, An Angel, and Another Round for Belgians in Heaven
By Emilie Coulson
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday night this summer, hundreds of people approach American Folklore Theatre in Peninsula State Park anticipating a performance by their favorite talking chicken as if she is an old friend. Later, as they leave the park, they call out into the night: “Cheese curds, booyah and beer, that’s what I like to hear!” You may wonder could explain this behavior if you are unfamiliar with a favorite in the AFT lineup, the play Belgians in Heaven. I have had the fortune to sit down with Doc Heide and Lee Becker, two of the show’s creators, to ask them a few questions about this phenomenon that Belgians has become.
My questions for Doc and Lee begin with where did something like Belgians originate, “the heartwarming story,” as Doc would say, “of two farmers, an angel and a talking chicken?” How does this play about two brothers who cannot get along, one of them uptight and awkward, the other lazy and charming except under the influence of an evil chicken, manage to charm thousands, and continue to do so after so many years? Wild as it may sound, the characters are deeply rooted in Doc’s past and the show’s creation in the small world of AFT’s early years. Doc still remembers the exact moment the idea came to him, in the spring of 1993 in California.
At the time doc was resting his damaged vocal chords, and his good friend and co-founder of AFT, Fred Alley, happened to be answering Doc’s phone for him. At one point Fred looked at Doc, receiver in hand, “with steam coming out of his ears, like an angry little kid,” and yet because Doc couldn’t say anything, the two just stared, caught in conflict. On a run through the Berkley hills following this silent standoff, Doc plotted out the future play, thinking, “What if Fred and I have been created throughout eternity to work out our karma?” Both he and Fred exhibited sides of the lazy farmer Leo and the uptight farmer Roger, so Doc was incredibly familiar with the dynamic. “I myself have both characters in me,” he laughs, “I am incredibly efficient and able to work like Roger so I can then get back to what I really want to do, which is live like Leo, and eat cheese curds, booyah, and beer.”
That same year in California, Fred Alley was getting to know a guy he worked with at the stereo store Ralph’s. Enter James Kaplan, who fell into place as the composer for Doc’s new show idea, and who has since then created the beautiful, and sometimes frighteningly catchy, music behind almost every one of AFT’s plays. And the creation of Belgians marked the entrance of another AFT regular, Lee Becker, who was recruited for the part of Mildred, the talking chicken. Before the opening season of the play in the summer of 1994, Lee was part of a reading of Belgians in New York. he relied on his skills as an improv actor to convince the company of his chicken-like sounds with startling precision, and has since then continued to return to AFT. “The crucible upon which my life changed,” he remembers, “was couch that I helped moved across New York with Karen Mal,” who would play the role of the ungraceful but lovely angel, Angelique, for many years. Perched on the couch on a truck bed in Manhattan, she persuaded Lee to join AFT and now he says, “I guess I followed an angel to Door County.”
After the first summer of 1994, AFT presented Belgians in Heaven every summer except for one, at least in some capacity, through the 2000 season. Every year it managed to pack the house. After learning the humble beginnings of the play, you can understand why it has such mass appeal. Doc insists that the show is “dorky” and “simple” upon first examination. After all, Belgians was the first book musical that he attempted to write. However, Doc attributes some of the show’s charm to his lack of experience in and knowledge of the genre. “Belgians remains fresh because its ideas are ones you wouldn’t find in most musicals.” And, furthermore, as funny as the farmhand Henry’s attempts at reconciliation between the two Belgian farmers is, the simple characters do discover truths from which all people can learn. As Lee explains, “Each one of us is responsible for saving our own corner of humanity,” and this is exactly what the characters of Belgians ultimately accomplish, and in doing so have a bigger impact on their world.
This summer is the first presentation of Belgians since the death of Fred Alley, who had always played the role of Leo. Both Doc and Lee explain that there is “something wonderfully affirming about doing the show” with the memory of Fred and with the talented, loving company that remains at AFT. And now with one of the crowd’s most beloved performers, Doug Mancheski, as Leo, Belgians is again working its magic. There are a few additions, a few changes. “It was always in need of a rewrite,” Doc says, “but the Leo in me kept saying it was good enough.” Now Lee, who for so many years had the best seat in the house for watching the show, as he sat n the edge of the stage to cluck through Mildred’s lines, has also contributed to the show’s new version. With new songs and new dialogue, the hilarity and sweet message of Belgians shines through stronger than ever this season.
So whether you have seen Belgians in Heaven three, four or fifteen times, or if you have never seen it, you need to find your way to the amphitheatre in Peninsula State Park in the next few weeks. You cannot miss this play in which Mildred the chicken stars in a brand-new song, and which still manages to convey a parable for brotherly love, never more appropriate and necessary than in our current world.