Cheeseheads, The Musical
Music by Paul Libman
Book & Lyrics by Dave Hudson
A modern day dairy-tale with a lotto heart! The most magical thing about the lottery is pondering what you’d do if you won…At Schnaybel’s Famous Cheese, the lotto is just the ticket to help the workers take their minds off how things are in Sheboygan. Their beloved founder has passed away and there are rumors the factory may shut down. With typical Wisconsin good humor, the workers carry on while keeping their fingers crossed that something better will come their way…A touching and joyful Wisconsin musical gouda luckfable!
Produced in 2009, 2010 & 2012
By Mike Fischer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Posted: July 23, 2010
Cheeseheads Rule the World
(Excerpted from the 3-show seasonal review. SEE FULL REVIEW)
In the current recession, our primal fears of yore have been replaced by a visceral fear of losing our jobs, while the stories we tell involve an insistence that we really do still matter in a seemingly indifferent world.
Cue the theme music for “Cheeseheads, the Musical,” which is back after last summer’s auspicious debut. It rounds out AFT’s three-play summer season.
Set in late 2008, “Cheeseheads” features the mythical Schnaybel Famous Cheese Co., a family-run operation from Sheboygan that has been sold to Conglomerated Cheese after the death of the Schnaybel patriarch.
With the arrival of Melanie (Rhode), a hotshot executive from Conglomerated sent in to raise productivity, the salad days seem gone forever, as the idiosyncrasies of the Schnaybel workforce yield to the ruthless efficiencies of a Conglomerated assembly line.
But not so fast. As AFT itself repeatedly reminds us, Wisconsin and its unique heritage have a way of overcoming all efforts to streamline their differences.
Normalize the quirky Doc Muenster (Doc Heide), with his homegrown cheese creations? Or the silent handyman Thursday (Becker), whose facial expressions say more than the thousand words he refuses to speak?
You might as well deny the obvious love of the proverbial girl next door (a charming Pamela Niespodziani) for Bobby (a delightfully clueless Stoeger) – or deny a born ham like Mancheski (playing the plant manager) a chance to bask in the limelight.
This is Wisconsin, gosh darn it, and its citizens won’t give up their traditions without a fight – particularly when we’re helped along by the likes of Paul Libman’s catchy tunes and Dave Hudson’s witty lyrics, which range from poignant to downright rousing.
No wonder that Melanie eventually waves the white flag and goes native. By play’s end, even the Flatlanders sitting around me were on their feet and cheering this improbable, wonderful and utterly cheesy story.
Posted: July 4th, 2009
American Folklore Theatre’s ‘Cheeseheads’ has earned its popularity
Play titles sell tickets. When the Milwaukee Repertory Theater produced Theresa Rebeck’s girl comedy “Bad Dates” a few seasons ago, the unknown show had the box office humming before the marketing campaign began.
You know something called “Cheeseheads, the Musical” would be a hit for the American Folklore Theatre in Door County this summer. How nice it is to report that “Cheeseheads” earns its popularity by being as good a production as the homespun troupe has ever put on its Peninsula State Park Stage.
The significance of the show’s success goes beyond the happy convergence of a well-made musical and production being well received by the public. “Cheeseheads” confirms that the AFT has creatively survived the sudden death in 2001 of its prolific writer and artistic catalyst, the beloved Fred Alley, and has a steady grip on its future.
That conclusion has been a long time in coming because of AFT’s unique niche in American theater. The company, in its 19th season, stages only original musicals that fit into an unusual format. Shows must be one act, have a Wisconsin connection, be completely family friendly and be mountable on the troupe’s outdoor stage.
Family friendly means more than simply the absence of four-letter words. Three generations must be amused.
Few composing teams write in that form, largely because it is difficult to interest other theater companies in staging follow-up productions. Much effort is not rewarded with much money.
But AFT artistic director Jeffrey Herbst has found a pair of Chicago-based theater artists, composer Paul Libman and lyricist-librettist Dave Hudson, who have exhibited an enduring interest in and ability to write for the troupe. “Cheeseheads” is their fourth AFT show, and Libman has also written the music for the company’s new fall production, a deer-hunting musical titled “Guys and Does.”
Just as James Kaplan wrote breezy songs with compelling hooks when he collaborated with Alley for AFT, Libman composes engaging pop scores that reflect and drive the comedic and dramatic arcs of the shows. “Cheeseheads” sweeps us along on a musical journey that may be predictable but is totally irresistible. Credit snappy writing, sharply drawn characters, genuine performances and Pam Kriger’s deft directorial touch.
The musical is set in the mythical Schnaybel’s Famous Cheese factory in Sheboygan. Founder Nathan Schnaybel ran an egalitarian family business that placed profits on a par with the welfare of his employees, but when he died the company was sold to a national firm.
Conglomerated Cheese operated its plants with impersonal efficiency, and needless to say, that wasn’t the Schnaybel way. The national headquarters left the Sheboygan branch alone for a while, but the story gets interesting when a Texan named Melanie shows up to whip the Wisconsin cheeseheads into line.
The story includes unrequited love, unlikely romance and that Badger State institution, co-workers pooling their money to buy lottery tickets.
He may live in Chicago, but librettist Hudson is darn good at finding the Wisconsin funny bone and slipping inside state jokes into the lyrics and dialogue. He is particularly adept with puns that are clever rather than obnoxious.
Sample: “What a friend we have in cheeses.”
The AFT cast fits the show to near perfection, with Doug Mancheski and Molly Rhode leading the way. We have seen all of Mancheski’s comic tics and tricks over the years, but they still amuse. An underlying sweetness in his work endears him to the audience.
In “Cheeseheads,” the AFT veteran plays a low-key plant manager who can’t imagine knuckling under to corporate conformity. His warmly reassuring presence lowers the toxicity of the topic: longtime employees losing their jobs.
Rhode plays Conglomerated Cheese honcho Melanie with just enough bravado to brandish some authority, but she is mostly onstage to win our hearts, which she does in spades. Pamela Niespodziani, Lee Becker, Chase Stoeger and Dan Klarer are all major contributors to the production’s success.
Artistic director Herbst knows it is unrealistic to expect Libman and Hudson to develop a new show every year. “It would be helpful for us to get a writer on board full time with the company, like we had with Fred (Alley),” he said over breakfast.
Trying out Twain
Two New York-based theater artists will get their first Door County exposure next summer when their musical adaptation of Mark Twain’s memoir “My Life on the Mississippi” is produced by AFT.
Peninsula State Park is celebrating its centennial this year, and the official friends of the park organization commissioned AFT to create a 75-minute concert, “Sunsets & S’mores,” observing the anniversary. Lee Becker, Frederick “Doc” Heide and Matt Zembrowski assembled a vintage AFT show, with plenty of cornball humor, camper anecdotes, interesting park factoids – German POWs bunked in the park while picking cherries during World War II – and music given a folky spin.
The song list includes such standards as “Shenandoah” and “Sentimental Journey,” and original material written by Zembrowski.
Fred Alley’s many friends will find something special in “Sunsets & S’mores.” His sweet “Gibraltar Town” is in the show, as are his niece and nephew, Amber Alley and Josh Alley.
The AFT faces a challenge at the end of the calendar year when its first and only managing director, Kaye Christman, retires after 12 seasons of running the business side of the company. During her tenure, the troupe’s annual budget has grown from $225,000 to $850,000. A search committee has been formed to find her successor.
Ticket information for AFT shows can be found at www.folkloretheatre.com. Tickets also can be purchased by phone at (920) 854-6117.
Damien Jaques’ blog: www.jsonline.com/blogs/actingout.
Door County Advocate
MARTY LASH – June 2009
AFT, Audience Have Fun With ‘Cheeseheads’
American Folklore Theatre has taken on a lot this season. It has two new shows this summer and yet another planned for the fall. For all concerned, it has been a monumental undertaking.
The company unveiled “Cheeseheads, The Musical” last year at a book reading at the house of Cynthia Stiehl. Even in its most early form, the show appeared to have promise, but one cannot tell until it’s really staged.
After a year of hard work and adjustments, the show is on the AFT stage. While dealing with people in Wisconsin, it is a departure from their Northwoods comedies.
This time, we are presented with a group of people working in Sheboygan. They lead fairly uncomplicated lives and are happily employed by Schnaybel’s Cheese Factory.
The show imagines the experiences of people who worked for that company and won a big Powerball lottery prize. There were a group of workers at the real-life Sargento cheese plant who won the lottery, but that is where the similarities end.
With the economy in freefall, we find out that a large conglomerate has bought out Schnaybel’s. They send in a woman, Melanie, to evaluate the situation.
The various workers include a guy name Gizmo who is fascinated by electronics; a hapless couple, Bobbie and Natalie, that have yet to find each other; and the goofy, irreverent Dan. We have Thursday, who stopped talking after the founder of Schnaybel’s died, and the head cheesemaker who, not surprisingly, is named Doc Muenster.
Melanie, at first, is a bit too serious for the workers and has a hard time fitting in. Eventually, though, she comes to appreciate them and even feel protective. She even has an inconsequential romance with Bobbie, who is really destined to be with Natalie, the girl next door.
As we would expect, the conglomerate wants to close the small company down. The workers play Lotto regularly and find out that they won the big prize — $200 million. They decide to buy the company and run it themselves. Nothing will keep these tenacious Schnaybel’s workers down.
All this silliness comes together in a show that is bright, witty and one of the company’s better new productions. It can hardly go wrong with the likes of Paul Libman and Dave Hudson, who wrote the show, and Fred “Doc” Heide, who appears in the musical as the head cheese-maker. The always funny Doug Mancheski plays Dan and once again brings his unique blend of infectious humor and effortless charisma to his part.
The show is rounded off with AFT regulars Dan Klarer as Gizmo, Chase Stoeger as Bobbie, Lee Becker as Thursday and Molly Rhode, quite wonderful as Melanie. Chicago newcomer Pamela Niespodziani has a nice turn playing Natalie. Director Pam Kriger nicely pulled it all together.
The ensemble is clearly having fun with this new show and makes sure we do, too.