Collected by James Kaplan and Fred Alley
Stories and Songs of the Seasons of Life
Compiled and arranged by the legendary writing team of Fred Alley and James Kaplan, Harvest Moon was a collection of songs celebrating the changing seasons, including “Shine On, Harvest Moon,” Paul Simon’s “April, Come She Will,” and Joni Mitchell’s “River.” The revue also featured stories and jokes from its four performers: AFT cofounder Fred Alley, composer James Kaplan, actor/musician Jeff Mills, and then-unknown singer-songwriter Alice Peacock.
Door County Advocate
HEIDI HODGES – September 1995
Seasons change, but not the Folklore Theatre’s quality
If there is one complaint about the American Folklore Theatre’s autumn show “Harvest Moon,” it’s that it is too short.
As far as the audience was concerned, the four players—Fred Alley, James Kaplan, Jeff Mills and Alice Peacock—could have come back to play a dozen more encores. After receiving a standing ovation at the early Saturday show at the Gibraltar Town Hall, it was apparent that the audience did not want to let the moment go.
The show, a little more than an hour long, follows the seasons through songs and stories starting from autumn. Everyone will recognize at least some of the tunes ranging from Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Come On, Come On” to Greg Brown’s “Early.” In between were some toe-tappers, some sweet, romantic songs and a few nostalgic tunes that in some cases held the assembled audience spellbound and, in others, insighted [sic] them to sing along in harmony.
One of the “sing-along” songs, Alley’s rendition of “Shine On Harvest Moon,” complete with a recreation of his youth when he would sing along with the album in front of the bathroom mirror, cracked everyone up. But not as much as Alley and Mill’s [sic] duet on “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” which had an unusual twist that brought the house down. (I won’t give away the gag.)
The humorous was interspersed with touching moments like Peacock’s recalling of a surreal Christmas Eve in warm and sunny California, far away from her family in Luck, Wisconsin. She followed her story with Joni Mitchell’s “River.”
Peacock’s solos brought an audible comment from the audience: “That was better than the original artist.”
Usually the AFT autumn shows are an acoustic affair with guitars being the instrument of choice, but this year, Kaplan’s pian oand accordion playing brought a whole new dimension.
Besides playing and singing harmony on many songs, Kaplan tells the story of a romantic summer adventure he had at the ripe old age of 13.
The seasons slip by quickly. Late summer and early autumn songs remind us that not only is our summer nearly over, so is the show. The final song (appropriately “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”) was hardly sung when the audience rose to their feet for an encore. Sort of a metaphoric Indian Summer.
Probably the nicest thing about the AFT fall series is the intimacy with the audience, something noted by Alley at the beginning of the show. As the cold winds howl outdoors though [sic] the dark autumn evening, we’re all safe inside, being warmed by the show.
To top off the evening, after the show Alley, Peacock, Mills and Kaplan mingle with the departing audience. A nice touch for such a popular group.
Green Bay Press-Gazette
WARREN GERDS – September 1995
“Harvest Moon” thrives on folksy, personal charms
FISH CREEK – American Folklore Theatre’s summer charms again overlap into fall in Harvest Moon, the troupe’s fourth Town Hall Series show.
Unlike the company’s summer musicals at Peninsula State Park, Harvest Moon is made up of borrowed rather than original material.
All 15 songs in the newly made collection say something, usually about a season and often about feelings surrounding that season Playing mostly in town and village halls in Door County for the next six weeks, the show relies on low-veneer appeal. It’s folksy.
Last year’s series played to almost 4,000 people. This year’s also should be popular because the cast of four sustains the American Folklore standard.
Fred Alley, James Kaplan, Jeff Mills and Alice Peacock blend well in voice. They support each other nicely on guitar or keyboards, though Kaplan’s accordion playing is ASL—Accordion as a Second Language.
At its best, Harvest Moon is extremely personal. Two songs in which Alley is featured are gems of that nature.
On opening night Friday, Alley poured his heart and his beautiful tenor into the evergreen September Song and raised a mist in his eyes because of emotion. “My dad used to sing that song to woo my mother,” he said.
On a lighter note, Alley re-creates a scene in a bathroom as a youth. With a hair brush as microphone, he would sing into the mirror to a 78 rpm recording of Shine On Harvest Moon. In the show, he sounds like that old, old recording—a fascinating effect.
Peacock is touching as she introduces Joni Mitchell’s River. Peacock tells of working as a waitress two Christmas Eves ago in Los Angeles, far from her family in Luck, and thinking, as the song says, “I wish I had a river that I could skate away on.”
Other songs range through eras, styles and composers. Among the impact tunes are Tom Waits’ Martha (featuring Mills), Joni Mitchell’s The Circle Game (Peacock), Frank Loesser’s Baby, It’s Cold Outside (a cute skit by Alley and Mills), Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues (the ensemble in a rock romp) and Why Walk When You Can Fly (the ensemble in harmony like a soft pillow).
This is an “unplugged” kind of intimate show.
It lasts slightly more than an hour by the clock—and much longer by the heart.
ERIK ERIKSSON – October 1995
Music through the Door
Last Sunday evening brought the end of still another American Folklore Theatre season. With a final performance of their endearing collection of songs and stories, “Harvest Moon,” the fall foursome bid farewell to their most ambitious and most successful season yet. It was impossible to resist a smile when thinking back over this year of riches.
First, a word about “Harvest Moon” itself. The quartet who undertook this potpourri assembled by producer Fred Alley and general manager/composer James Kaplan included, in addition to those two gentelemen, Jeff Mills from “Bone Dance” and Door Shakespeare and Alice Peacock (love tha name!). Alice is a lovely and compelling performer, who returned after five years absence. The show was both comfortably traditional and stimulatingly contemporary.
Alley has developed into a splendid actor, able to play romantic or rustic, youth or ancient. Even his silent moments in “Frog Station” earlier this year spoke volumes. His finely honed narrative skills—allied to his lyric voice at its very best—gave us a “September Song” as well sung as I ever expect to hear it. Kaplan’s accompaniments were always just right, whether on keyboard or accordion. Jeff Mills is another gifted actor who can really sing—no fudging here, it’s a genuine voice and Mills [sic] use of it has an impact and immediacy well beyond the ordinary. “Summertime Blues” all but left vapor trails. Peacock had many wonderful moments, especially with such material as “The Circle Game” and “Come On, Come On.”
The essence of AFT lies in the troop’s unfailing ability to speak directly to each audience member. For all the side-splitting humor, each show somehow ennobles the human condition and AFT players seem to feel this too, for they continue to exhibit a remarkable loyalty. For us, it is unceasing serendipity that so much talent and creativity come together over and over again.