Old-time radio voices take the stage

Frost Heaves’ holiday variety show tuned to small-town concerns

  • Frost Heaves Players, clockwise from front, Ken Sheldon Beth Signoretti, Dave Nelson and Kathy Manfre, with her dog Perdita, who is not in the show.<br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Frost Heaves Players, clockwise from front, Ken Sheldon Beth Signoretti, Dave Nelson and Kathy Manfre, with her dog Perdita, who is not in the show.
    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • Ken Sheldon, left, Beth Signoretti and Dave Nelson prepare for this weekend's Frost Heaves Christmas show.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Ken Sheldon, left, Beth Signoretti and Dave Nelson prepare for this weekend's Frost Heaves Christmas show.

    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • Frost Heaves preview<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Frost Heaves preview

    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • Frost Heaves preview<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Frost Heaves preview

    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • Frost Heaves Players, clockwise from front, Ken Sheldon Beth Signoretti, Dave Nelson and Kathy Manfre, with her dog Perdita, who is not in the show.<br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Ken Sheldon, left, Beth Signoretti and Dave Nelson prepare for this weekend's Frost Heaves Christmas show.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Frost Heaves preview<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Frost Heaves preview<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

PETERBOROUGH — They’re back for one more Christmas. And they don’t plan to stop any time soon.

When the Frost Heaves Players and the Speed Bumps Band put on their holiday show this weekend and on Dec. 15, they’ll be celebrating five years together, a milestone none of them anticipated when Ken Sheldon first recruited a group of friends to put on a show.

Sheldon, a musician and writer who lives in Hancock, had been writing stories about the fictional New Hampshire town of Frost Heaves for years. He’d thought about putting them together into some type of variety show like those once heard on the radio — with music, commercials, skits and, of course, a talented host with a strong radio voice. His wife, Christine, finally told him it was time to put up or shut up. So he started making calls, and one of the first was to Kathy Manfre.

“We’d been in ‘Our Town’ together at Peterborough Players,” Manfre recalled as the actors gathered last week for a rehearsal. “He asked me about being in this show. I said, ‘Oh yeah, sure.’ I didn’t think he was serious.”

Now Manfre, an accomplished singer and actress from Peterborough, has a regular gig as a Frost Heaves player. She always seems to get the part when the script calls for a crotchety grandmother, a bossy housewife or a hardboiled cop. That’s because she’s such a versatile actress, according to Sheldon.

“Kathy can handle any role,” said Sheldon. “And she’s a fantastic singer.”

The other vocalist in the first show was Liz Wright, who lived in Peterborough at the time but now calls Pennsylvania home. She’ll be returning for this year’s Christmas show to join Manfre and Beth Signoretti, both of Peterborough, to make a trio of female singers.

“Ken hired me when Liz left,” Signoretti said. “My friend, Wendy Almeida, had given him my name. He showed up at my house, knocked on my door and said ‘Sing this.’ So I did. I didn’t know who he was.”

Signoretti, a professionally trained singer who had performed with the Granite State Opera, passed the audition. And Sheldon says she brought unexpected talent to the show.

“I didn’t know what a truly funny comic actress she was,” he said. “I never appreciate it until I see the videos of our shows. Then I know why people are laughing.”

The other male member of the Frost Heaves Players, Dave Nelson of Dublin, joined the cast in the second season.

“I knew Ken was involved, so I knew the humor would be something I could relate to. We’re each other’s evil twins,” said Nelson, who is a painter and a graphic artist.

“Dave has a wacky sense of humor,” Sheldon added. “I knew he could do this. I knew he could do all kinds of characters’ voices.”

“My favorite is his French accent,” added Signoretti.”

Sheldon himself takes on the role of Fred Marple, the unofficial spokesman for the town of Frost Heaves, for much of the show. The character opens each show by shuffling across the front of the Peterborough Players theater to instruct the audience on fire safety procedure and turning off those new-fangled cell phones. He always returns later for a monologue about events in town that is invariably a highlight of the show.

Sheldon also picks up the guitar to join the band for a few classic rock numbers, usually from the 1960s, which generally evoke memories from the Frost Heaves audience. He’s also liable to step into another character, doing a sequence of songs in the voice of the cartoon immortal Elmer Fudd.

Sheldon created Fred Marple for the first Frost Heaves show, and the character has taken on a life of his own, as Sheldon appears regularly as Fred Marple for one-man shows before a variety of audiences.

“Some of them get the humor,” he said.

“The longer he does it, the easier it gets for the old codger,” said Nelson.

Sheldon plans to keep doing the Frost Heaves shows “for as long as people keep coming.”

This year’s Christmas show will feature the show’s regular band, the Speed Bumps, along with a guest musician, banjo player Jack O’Brien of Jaffrey.

“He’s a fantastic musician who can play any string instrument,” Sheldon says.

The show will also feature new Christmas tree light hats, custom-made for Frost Heaves by Signoretti, who’s also the co-owner of Buttercup Embroidery in Peterborough. Skits include a visit to the retirement home for classic toys and to a holiday support group where Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and others will share their frustrations.

The “Life’s Little Mystery Theatre” segment will tackle the dilemma of how and why things happen to go on your “permanent record.”

“Who keeps those records? And where are they kept?” Sheldon asked.

The band and the cast will also team up for a “Song on the Spot,” probably based on favorite Christmas memories from the audience. “Songs on the Spot” are just that, written during intermission based on the audience’s favorite suggestion and performed immediately after the break.

Sheldon promises that ideas are not planted and each song is really created through a group effort in just a few minutes.

“First we decide on a chorus,” he said. “Then we come up with a feel for the music — is it rock, or country? We all throw out ideas. It’s very involved and you don’t have much time.”

“They’d be a lot better if we did,” Nelson added.

Their favorite holiday “Song on the Spot” was when they asked the audience to suggest weird Christmas presents and ended up writing “Colonoscopy Christmas” in honor of the gift certificate someone received. They can’t predict what they’ll get to work with this year, but a one-of-a-kind creation will be offered at each performance.

This year’s Christmas show will be on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. and Dec. 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the Peterborough Players. Tickets are $15, and are available at the Toadstool Bookshop and Steele’s in Peterborough, Rousseau’s Music in Jaffrey, online at frostheaves.com, at the door, or by calling 525-3391.

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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