By Audra Baakari Boyle
Opening night of “Lombardi” was a thrilling and exciting event, not only for our company members but for the audience as well. Patrons arrived early to enjoy the nice late-summer weather to picnic and stroll the grounds donning their green and gold. There was no doubt what play they were here to see, as far as the eye could see green and gold beads, scarves, hats, shirts, jerseys and even one sweater that proclaimed – “Ice Bowl, 1967” dotted the Players landscape.
Prior to opening curtain Artistic Director Greg Vinkler addressed the audience and thanked them for being so supportive of the Players 77th season, because without an audience Peninsula Players wouldn’t exist!
Greg then introduced two guests, Susan Lombardi, the daughter of Vince Lombardi, and the original Packer Golden Girls, Mary Jane Sorgel. Both ladies met with Neil Friedman who plays Vince numerous times before the show and commented on how much Neil resembles Vince. And then, “Lombardi” took the stage with as much vigor and vinegar as the coach himself embodied.
The cast tackled the script with gusto, and the audience cheered for them, including a standing ovation at the end. Susan loved the show. She thought the Players production was better than the Broadway show and that Neil and Carmen Roman, who plays her mother Marie, were perfect.
But this was not the first time the Packers and the Peninsula Players crossed paths. Scenic designer James Maronek shared this tale:
PACKERS AT PLAYERS–AGAIN
The Green Bay Packers will be on the boards of the Peninsula Players in the forthcoming production of “Lombardi.” But this will not be the first time they have scored a visit to the 77-year-old institution. In the early 1940s, they spent New Year’s Eve in a tiny log cabin which still exists on the Players property. It was then the home of Caroline Fisher, co-founder of the theater, who knew “everybody,” including the fabled team, so the story goes.
This anecdote was related by Heloise Rathbone, daughter of Caroline and granddaughter of famed actor Basil Rathbone, as told to her by her mother. The reasoning was simple: what else would the Green Bay Packers be doing in the dead of winter? Celebrating New Year’s Eve at one of Wisconsin’s most beautiful winter sites, entertained by a glamorous Hollywood starlet, of course. So about 20 of them accepted the invitation, and were bunked on every available horizontal surface in the little cabin.
Heat was provided by a central, wood-burning stove, which somehow became neglected in the course of the festivities (details of which are lost to history). The stove went cold in the middle of the night and by morning, the indoor temperature matched the freezing outdoors. Despite their valor on the field, not one Packer had the fortitude to rise up and stoke the stove. Each implored the other to remember the team spirit, from under the covers. Finally, it was the starlet who braved the icy floorboards and restored the heat.
Carolyn Fisher will be remembered for her friendship with everyone she met on the Peninsula and for her starring roles on stage, but she has been forgotten as the wood-stoking quarterback who saved the Green Bay Packers from certain sub-zero defeat. And from that time on, the team has thrived on the “frozen tundra.”
Thanks Jim and Heloise for sharing, but don’t get Vince started on “frozen tundra.” You’ll have to come see the show to understand that joke.
For tickets visit our website at www.peninsulaplayers.com or call the box office at 920-868-3287. I look forward to seeing you by the bay, where the curtain rises and the pre-show bonfire burns brightly when weather permits.