American Folklore Theatre

American Folklore Theatre

The American Folklore Theatre (AFT) is a professional theater company that creates, develops, and produces musicals and plays based on the populist culture and heritage of the United States.[1] Located in Door County, Wisconsin, the company began in 1970 as The Heritage Ensemble, performing on the stage of the 800 seat outdoor theater in Peninsula State Park.[2] In 1991, American Folklore Theatre was co-founded by Fred Alley, Frederick Heide, and Gerald Pelrine.


AFT's productions

This list of past productions includes musicals such as Loose Lips Sink Ships and Belgians in Heaven, concerts, and anthology productions such as Tales of the Midnight Sun which combine story-telling with song.[3]


  • Mule for Breakfast Again (premiered 1990)
  • Tongue 'n Cheek (premiered 1991)
  • Fishing for the Moon (premiered 1992) book and lyrics by Fred Alley with music by James Kaplan
  • Northern Lights (premiered 1993) tells the story of the farmers who moved to Northern Wisconsin expecting to find rich farmland and instead found land filled with tree stumps and stones. The main characters are William, a farmer; Ginny, his pregnant and unmarried sister; Eloise, a tough farm wife; Clayton, her estranged husband and a land salesman; their daughter Lizzy; and Cody, the local guide who falls in love with Ginny. The book and lyrics are by Fred Alley with music by James Kaplan.[4]
  • The Passage (premiered 1994) created by Fred Alley and James Valcq.
  • Lumberjacks in Love (premiered 1996) is a musical comedy about four lumberjacks living in the Haywire Lumber Camp in Northern Wisconsin. The camp has a "no women allowed" policy, which complicates matters when the men think a mail-order bride is arriving and also find out that a boy already living in the camp is a girl in disguise. The music is by James Kaplan with a book by Fred Alley and James Kaplan.[5]
  • Belgians in Heaven (premiered 1994), described by the company as "The World's Only Metaphysical Cheese Curd Musical", was one of the American Folklore Theatre's first productions. The book is by Frederick Heide and Lee Becker with music by Heide and James Kaplan. It ran at the AFT in 1994, 1995 and 1998 and then had a hiatus following the death of the theatre's co-founder, Fred Alley.[6] However, it had another run at the 2006 Heartland Festival and was again performed at the AFT in 2006 and 2007.[7][8] A comedy about discovering the meaning of life, Belgians in Heaven proposes a different look at the theory of reincarnation. The plot follows the lives of hardworking Roger Dewarzeger and his lazy brother Leo Dewarzeger. Roger and Leo start the play off hating and not appreciating each other. But with the help of Angelique, a clumsy guardian angel and an invisible chicken named Mildred the brothers are able to work out their issues for the better. It is Angelique’s job to help Leo grow up and to have his soul that has just been hanging out in heaven be reborn into the present Leo. Through this transformation Leo is able to appreciate Roger, and Roger learns that he needs to loosen up and just enjoy the cheese curds.[8]
  • Guys on Ice (premiered 1998) is set in Wisconsin. Conceived and researched by Fred Alley and Frederick Heide, the comedy follows two friends, Marvin and Lyod, through a day in the life of an ice fisherman. The book and lyrics were written by Fred Alley and the music composed by James Kaplan.[9]
  • Loose Lips Sink Ships (premiered 2001) is a musical with book and lyrics by Jacinda Duffin and Laurie Flanigan and music by James Kaplan. Set in Wisconsin's Sturgeon Bay shipyard during World War II, the musical follows a group of young men who enlist in the armed forces following the attack on Pearl Harbor and their friends, sisters and fiancees. Two of the main characters, Roxie and Ann, give up their normal lives to help the war efforts by working in the shipyard. At first, the women are reluctant to leave their homes, but by the end when the men return home from the war, the women do not want to give up their jobs. Loose Lips Sinks Ships is a story about the sacrifices that women made during the war and how much those sacrifices changed them.[10][11]
  • Bob Dumkee's Farm (premiered 2001)
  • Packer Fans From Outer Space (premiered 2002) is inspired by UFO sightings in Door County, Wisconsin in the spring of 1952 and the 1953 tie game between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears (two American football teams). The book was by Frederick Heide and Lee Becker with music by Frederick Heide and additional music by James Kaplan.[12] Described by the AFT in 2002 as its largest production to date, it had a three-location set, costumes that light up, and a talking football.[13] The plot centers on Harvey Keister, a Doors County fruit farmer and huge fan of his local team, the Green Bay Packers. He is sought out by aliens from the planet "Packer" who ask his help to save their planet from the evil "Space Bears". A twist to this story is that Harvey’s wife, Marge, is a huge Chicago Bears fan. The show was performed again in 2003 at the Meyer Theater in Green Bay, Wisconsin and again in 2005 at the University of Wisconsin's Heartland Festival.[14]. The show has had numerous community theatre productions including by the Racine Theatre Guild, Watertown Players, Wausau Community Theatre, and Rice Lake Community Theatre.
  • The Spitfire Grill (premiered 2001 at the Duke Theatre in New York City; first performed at the AFT in 2002)
  • Muskie Love (premiered 2004)
  • See Jane Vote (premiered 2006) created by Laurie Flanigan and James Kaplan.
  • A Cabin with a View (premiered 2007)
  • Main-Traveled Roads (premiered 2007)
  • Guys and Does (premiered 2009) has book and lyrics by Frederick Heide and Lee Becker, with music by two-time Richard Rodgers Award-winning composer Paul Libman. The show, which promises "more bang for the buck", centers on two small-town papermill workers, Fritz and Duane, who travel north to Fritz' cabin for a hunting trip. Duane, a local nerd who is dating Fritz's daughter, hopes to persuade Fritz to give his blessing on marriage. They meet a swaggering big-game hunter from Texas, Joe Jimmy Ray Bob Johnson III, and later a magical talking white buck named Staghart of the Goldenhorns, who begs their assistance in helping him create an heir. The show sold out its initial run at the Ephraim Village Hall and has since played at the Door Community Auditorium, the Overture Center in Madison, WI, and the Oconomowoc Center for the Arts.
  • Cheeseheads the Musical (premiered 2009)
  • Our Night in Frog Station (premiered 1995) created by Fred Alley, Fred Heide and James Kaplan.
  • Life on the Mississippi (premiered 2010)


  • Song of the Island Seas (premiered in 1970)
  • Moon of the Long Nights (premiered 1991)
  • And If Elected (premiered 1992)
  • Bone Dance (premiered 1995)
  • Malarkey (premiered 1993)
  • Goodnight Irene (premiered circa 1994)
  • Harvest Moon (premiered 1995)
  • The Mountains Call My Name (premiered 1996) Stories and songs based on the life of John Muir
  • Fool Me Once (premiered 1999)
  • A Kettle of Fish (premiered 2000)
  • Ya Ya You Betcha (premiered 2003)
  • When Dogs Could Talk (premiered in 2004) Anthology based on Moon of the Long Nights
  • Sunsets and S'mores (premiered 2009)
  • Tales of the Midnight 511 (premiered ??)


  • A Little Folk Music (premiered 1998)
  • Beneath the Northern Sky: An Evening of Fred Alley's Songs (premiered 2002) is a tribute to the AFT's founder Fred Alley and features songs from Loose Lips Sink Ships, Guys On Ice, and [The Spitfire Grill as well songs from Fred Alley's three CDs. It was assembled by James Kaplan and Jeffery Herbst.[15]
  • Sweet Baby James: The Songs of James Taylor (premiered 2002)
  • Moonlight and Marshmallows (premiered 2000)
  • Home For the Holidays with AFT (premiered ??)
  • Sometimes a Song: The Music of Dan Fogelberg (premiered ??)
  • Old Friends: The Music of Paul Simon (premiered 1997)
  • Eric and Andy: Live in Fish Creek (premiered ??)
  • Fish and Whistle: The Songs of John Prine (premiered 2006)

Notable members

  • Fred Alley - lyricist and librettist, co-founder
  • Jennifer Korbee - singer, actress
  • Suzanne Graff - actress
  • James Valcq - composer, lyricist, and librettist


External links

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