Book and Lyrics by Emilie Coulson and Katie Dahl
Music by James Valcq
A tale of family, forgiveness, and the fruits of our labor.
Victory Farm is a story with roots deep in the soil of a Door County cherry orchard. It’s 1944. With a war raging overseas and a labor shortage on the homefront, Edna and her daughter Dottie aren’t sure how their farm will make it through – until help arrives in the most unexpected way. Written with humor and tenderness, Victory Farm is an uplifting tale of family, forgiveness, and the fruits of our labor. Produced: Summer 2012 & Fall 2013
Inside AFT's New Show: "Victory Farm"
An inside look at the process of creating AFT's
original musical, "Victory Farm." Interviews with AFT principals,
the "Victory Farm" writers, actor Doug Mancheski,
plus rehearsal and performance footage.
Cherry picking with German POWs in Door County
DAMIEN JAQUES - July 9, 2012
FISH CREEK – 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.
‘Victory Farm’ a Stirring New Musical
MIKE FISCHER, Special to the Journal Sentinel - July 2, 2012
FISH CREEK — More than 350,000 German POWs came to the United States during World War II, including some 2,000 that wound up working in Door County, where they saved the cherry harvest on numerous labor-starved family farms. That’s the backdrop for “Victory Farm,” the wonderful new musical in which writers Emilie Coulson and Katie Dahl (book and lyrics) have collaborated with composer James Valcq (“The Spitfire Grill”). Directed and choreographed by Jon Hegge, it headlines American Folklore Theatre’s 2012 summer season.
As “Farm” begins, three German POWs are riding the rails toward their next assignment. Coulson and Dahl take their time introducing them, a smart move that challenges the audience to begin the same emotional journey that still awaits this play’s Wisconsin natives: Seeing the Germans as ordinary people rather than fearing them as a faceless and monolithic enemy.
Ten minutes into the show, it’s already clear that for all they may have in common, these three Germans are also very different from one another.
Wolfgang is stolid, gloomy and industrious - although Steve Koehler gives us glimpse of the swift currents running beneath the seemingly implacable surface, particularly when his rich baritone conveys his deep love for his homeland.
Dan Klarer doesn’t have Koehler’s vocal chops, but he gives a winning performance as Josef, a pudgy Berlin baker and incorrigible optimist who radiates good cheer as Wolfgang’s comic foil. Chad Luberger keeps pace as Karl, a shy and sensitive teen struggling with English - until he begins taking informal lessons from the equally young and impressionable Dottie, who has grown up on the farm to which the three men are assigned.
With her sweet soprano voice and fresh-scrubbed appearance, Allie Babich looks and sounds like the ingénue that Dottie is, and Babich has the good sense to recognize she therefore doesn’t need to overdo the wide-eyed innocence that she naturally embodies.
Having recently lost her husband to the war, Edna has little use for the Germans sent to help her harvest - and even less for the budding romance between Dottie and Karl. Fearful of change and unhappy that her daughter is growing up, she is the American version of Wolfgang, who is equally stern with Karl.
As the POWs’ guard, the reliably comic Doug Mancheski is the American version of Josef: Good-natured, easy-going and inclined to see the humor in life - even during wartime.
There is plenty of humor in this show, much of which plays with variations on the theme of what gets lost in translation; in the performance I attended, the audience particularly loved “Sweaty Pies,” which showcased the vaudevillian side of Hegge’s consistently first-rate and wide-ranging choreography.
But what really makes “Victory Farm” sing is its stirring and emotionally satisfying score, which features moving love songs, a poignant tribute to the meaning of home and through-sung numbers like “Hand Over Hand,” in which Valcq’s harmonies mesh seamlessly with the advancing story.
That story is also about discovering how we might learn to sing together while honoring what makes us unique. This being AFT, it’s no surprise that music is important to these characters, giving them - as it gives us - a common language.
American Folklore Theatre has winner in ‘Victory Farm’
WARREN GERDS - June 15, 2012
FISH CREEK — German prisoners of war were put to work across the United States during World War II because of the American labor shortage. Some of those POWs wound up in Door County, and three, as of its world premiere Thursday night, ended up in fictional form in a musical of the popular American Folklore Theatre.
"Victory Farm" is immediately captivating.
Karl, Josef and Wolfgang are aboard a train leaving Iowa. For his diary, Josef counts the cornfields as they pass. He gets stuck after 99. He doesn't know English for the next number, so he writes 90-10.
The guys are nonthreatening and likable. You're pulled into what lies ahead for them in Door County. Under the eye of a kindly guard, they harvest cherries for a woman whose husband was killed in the war. The widow and her college-minded daughter are barely making do.
The cast, directed by Jon Hegge, charms and moves — the prisoners are played by Dan Klarer (Josef), Steve Koehler (Wolfgang) and Chad Luberger (Karl), with Molly Rhode as the widow, Edna; Allie Babich as her daughter, Dottie; and Doug Mancheski as the guard, Jack.
Babich has a ringing voice, starting with her song of wonder, "Will I Fly."
"Sweaty Pies" is a rollicking hoot as the prisoners kick up an amazing dance about something that sounds awful. Eventually, they learn the correct word to replace "sweaty."
Some moments grab the heart. "What is the Color" connects all humans and is a beautiful piece by the performers and the authors.
What transpires wonderfully on stage has a wonderful story behind it.
The show is by Emilie Coulson and Katie Dahl (book and lyrics) and James Valcq (music and orchestrations). Coulson and Dahl grew up coming to American Folklore Theatre shows as girls. Now they've written a show for it. Valcq collaborated on the award-winning "The Spitfire Grill" with AFT co-founder Fred Alley. Fred "Doc" Heide, another founder, plays in the orchestra of "Victory Farm."
This familiarity breeds the opposite of contempt. "Victory Farm" is smart and sensitive, tells folks things they might not know, ripples with humor and is laced with Valcq's knowledge of how to write for the voice, including tricky duets and other layered singing.
Don't let that "folklore" fool you: The material is sophisticated without putting on airs.
The remarkable theater with large pine trees in and around its stage is no secret. This year, AFT received the inaugural Wisconsin Department of Tourism award for arts, culture and heritage.
Along with "Victory Farm," AFT's summer includes return productions of "Belgians in Heaven" and "Cheeseheads the Musical." You can't go wrong seeing any one of them.