Frankfurter macaroni casseroles?

The Polish Diva from Milwaukee

Starring Terry Palasz
By Terry Palasz and Jane Muirhead
Directed by Lennie Watts
Musical direction by Frank Spitznagel
Don't Tell Mama
Non-union production (closed)
Review by Julie Halpern

Terry Palasz, a polka-dancing, mountain-climbing opera diva, shared her memories of her early life in America's Dairyland in a hilarious and often touching evening of comedy, dance, and mostly original music. Palasz's comic stage persona is a unique combination of a glamorous chanteuse and a good-time, beer-swigging gal who'd be right at home capping bottles with Laverne and Shirley at Shotz's brewery. Haunted by the specter of frankfurter macaroni casseroles, the ubiquitous Jello mold (a major food group of the region), and polka parties, Palasz embarked on an odyssey seeking artistic and spiritual fulfillment with the help of assorted eccentric relatives and friends.

"Fugitive From Milwaukee" and "Who Stole the Keeshka Polka" set the journey in motion, as Palasz recalls family parties with Polish relatives ("Everybody Eats When They Come to My House"), her failure to win the Miss Polish Milwaukee beauty pageant ("Hurt Someone's Feelings Today"), and her flight to Seattle and finally New York, where she begins to make peace with her Midwestern roots ("Always Something There to Remind Me/Something Better Than This"). As an artist, Palasz has traveled the world, which she recounts in an uproarious medley of cheesy ballads from the '60s and '70s including "Volare," "Sukiyaki," "Eres Tu," and "Dominique," with tacky costumes and accessories from each country. Palasz even pays homage to the Polish-American icon Bobby Vinton in "Melody of Love."

Accompanied by electric piano and - of course - the accordion, played by Walter Kuehr, Palasz never let the nonstop fun flag for a second, and the evening flew by. And yes, she really is an opera diva. Palasz sang an operatic and classical musical-theatre medley with a clear, strong, beautifully trained soprano voice.

The small stage of Don't Tell Mama was festooned with an array of Jello molds, and the ingenious use of flashing colored lights and mirror balls, courtesy of Bobby Neiland, was pure Las Vegas.

Box Score:

Writing: 2

Directing: 2

Acting: 2

Set: 2

Costumes: 2

Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2001 Julie Halpern