Book and Lyrics by Frederick Heide & Lee Becker
Story by Frederick Heide
Music by Frederick Heide & James Kaplan
With the help of a bumbling angel and a talking chicken, two bickering Wisconsin farmers find the meaning of life and save the world in this much-beloved show the Green Bay Press-Gazette called “a popular laugh fest with a profound metaphysical theme at its heart.”
The audiences just keep coming back to this one-of-a-kind cult classic. In fact, one out of every three people who see Belgians is a returning devotee. A truly uplifting show, full of good honest laughs, memorable music, lovable characters, hilarious Wisconsin dialects, quotable lines, and surprising depth, it delights ages 3 to 93. And with more than 70,000 tickets sold, Belgians In Heaven is a proven crowd-pleaser.
Breakdown: 3 male / 2 female / 1 male or female
Breakdown: 1 Keyboard / 1 Drum Set / 1 Bass
Belgians In Heaven – Plot Summary
After a funny opening number describing the lifestyle of the farmers of Belgian heritage who live in Northeast Wisconsin (Belgians in Heaven), the scene shifts to the kitchen of the Dewarzeger brothers. Leo wants only to eat cheese curds, drink beer, and engage in conversation with his pet chicken Mildred. Roger doesn’t believe a chicken can talk and repeatedly chides Leo to get him to work, but Leo claims he can’t because he has a heart problem. Henry, their mentally challenged handyman, listens intently to both brothers and seems to be able to anticipate their needs as if by magic. Roger can’t stand Mildred and sends Leo off to feed her.
When Roger complains that Leo drives him nuts, Henry suggests they might be together for a purpose. Roger counters that if life really had a purpose, he’d be married to the widowed Josephine. But that seems hopeless, since she’s about to go to Belgium to care for her sick father. When Henry says that life’s purpose will become clear when we get to heaven, Roger sings Heaven is For Dreamers.
After Roger and Leo exit, Leo shows his paintings to Mildred, believing he must have been a painter “in another life”. Roger returns, livid that Leo hasn’t fed Mildred. Josephine knocks. She’s clearly attracted to Roger, who’s paralyzed with social anxiety. She seeks directions to The Chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes to say a prayer for her ill father, and Leo suggests a roundabout route to avoid a cemetery. After Roger bungles this social opportunity and Josephine leaves miffed, Roger chides Leo about his fear of ghosts.
After Roger exits to stir a batch of homemade beer, Leo describes to Henry how he considers himself a “philosophicator” (Cheese Curds, Booyah, and Beer) whom Roger will never understand. Roger returns wearing only his red long johns, having gotten soaked from beer. When he discovers that this happened because Leo let Mildred feed herself, Roger angrily banishes Leo from the farm.
Roger, down at the dock to wash off his beer-soaked jeans, discovers Mildred drunk. Trying to catch her, he drowns. When Leo arrives and asks what happened, Mildred sings The Death of Roger in chicken brawks.
The scene shifts to Heaven, where Angelique (Roger and Leo’s guardian angel) clumsily fails her Angel Exam. Saint Peter (who looks suspiciously like Henry) enters seeking her help. The Heavenly Council is about to vote to demolish Earth to make room for a new theme park—-Six Flags Over Purgatory—-unless they see a major show of love! She must get Roger and Leo to love each other immediately. But first she must go to the Isle of Limbo to convince George (a previous incarnation of Leo) to return to Earth as Leo. They’re interrupted by the arrival of Roger at the Pearly Gates (Ya-Hey-lujah Chorus). To soothe Roger, who’s distraught because he’ll now never marry Josephine, Saint Peter snaps his fingers and Marie (a previous incarnation of Josephine) appears. To comfort the profoundly confused Roger, Saint Peter explains that Heaven is outside of Time and sings Time Is Like An Angel’s Dream. Saint Peter suggests that Marie show Roger around Heaven, and dispatches Angelique to Limbo.
George, in Limbo, shows his paintings to his pet seagull Verna. When Angelique and Saint Peter try to get him to return to Earth, he refuses, saying that every reincarnation he’s paired with some guy who drives him nuts (Don’t Make Me Go Back). But Angelique convinces George to meet Roger (Do Not Fear, Only Believe). Marie shows Roger around Heaven and invites him to Stay in Heaven With Me. When Roger says he needs to go back to Earth to care for his brother Leo, she asks if there’s someone he likes. He says yes, but that he gets nervous around her. Marie says he must tell this woman (who of course is a later incarnation of her!) that he likes her, and has him practice on her. Saint Peter and Angelique appear with George. When Saint Peter explains that Roger is his eternal soul mate, George decides he will return to Earth after all. Next Roger gets ready to go. Because his jeans are gone, Angelique gives him a gossamer raiment to wear, and bids him a sweet farewell.
On Earth, Leo and Henry hold a funeral for Roger on the dock. When Roger climbs out of the water wearing his heavenly raiment, Leo mistakes him for a ghost and runs away. Roger tells Henry about his adventures in the next life, and asks him what he should do to fix things with Leo. When Henry suggests prayer, Roger heads to the Chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes, arriving just prior to Josephine, who has come to pray for her Dad (remember this from the first scene?). Roger, having been schooled by Marie, is able to tell Josephine the words she’s been waiting to hear: “I like youse a lot” (Stay in Heaven Reprise). They kiss and leave to go down to the bay.
Leo, sitting by the bay, reads an occult book of instructions on how to banish ghosts. Roger, Josephine and Henry enter (along with Angelique, invisible to those onstage). When Roger enthusiastically announces to Leo that “we’re supposed to be together for eternity”, Leo clutches his heart and falls over. His soul, traveling toward Heaven, meets Angelique (Time is Like An Angel’s Dream Reprise), who tells him he can come to Heaven now or return to Earth and love his brother Roger. He decides to return. On Earth, Roger weeps over Leo’s body, asking him to please come back to life. Leo does, startling everyone. When Roger offers to get him whatever he wants, Leo begins asking for beer, fried cabbage, etc. Roger gets irate. Finally, Leo offers to help pick the cabbage. Action freezes. A heavenly voice announces that, thanks to this show of love, Earth will be spared and Angelique will become a fully licensed guardian. End with all singing last verses of Belgians in Heaven Finale.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Leo Dewarzeger – an overweight farmer who’d prefer to do as little as possible except eat cheese, drink beer, and contemplate the Big Questions
Roger Dewarzeger – Leo’s brother, a workaholic Belgian farmer, perpetually annoyed that Leo refuses to work.
Henry – the Dewarzegersʼ mentally slow but profoundly compassionate helping hand
Mildred – Leoʼs pet talking chicken (see Author’s Notes). Could be Male or Female.
Josephine Delvaux – a widowed farmer attracted to Roger
Angelique – Roger and Leo’s clumsy guardian angel
Saint Peter – the official greeter in Heaven (played by the same actor as Henry)
Marie Jaqmot – a “pre-incarnate soul” who will one day become Josephine (and is played by the same actress)
George – a pre-incarnate version of Leo who fancies himself a painter (played by same actor as Leo)
Verna – George’s pet seagull
Heavenly Announcer – a disembodied voice in Heaven
The same actor can play Mildred, Verna, and Heavenly Announcer.
A farm in rural Northeastern Wisconsin – Roger and Leoʼs minimalist kitchen. Pier by the bay. Heaven with Jacob’s Ladder.
A ways back
LIST OF SONGS
Belgians in Heaven – We meet Roger and Leo, our two dysfunctional Belgian-American brothers. Then the full cast comically describes farming life in northeast Wisconsin.
Heaven Is for Dreamers – Roger tries to convince Henry that heaven is just an illusion, while Henry maintains his belief in the afterlife.
Cheese Curds, Booyah and Beer – Leo proclaims his personal philosophy, which is to work as little as humanly possible. This song, harmonized by Henry, is by far the most popular in the show.
The Death of Roger – In hyperbolic style, Mildred uses chicken dialect to claim that she tried to save Roger from drowning, but failed. Leo “translates” her brawks and enacts the saga of Roger’s passing.
Ya-hey-lu-jah Chorus – A short funny parody of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”, using Wisconsin dialect.
Time is Like an Angelʼs Dream – In a beautiful song, Saint Peter explains to Roger how Heaven exists in Eternity and that Time as we know it on Earth is illusory.
Donʼt Make Me Go Back – George sings this boisterous number describing how each of his previous Earthly incarnations turned out disastrously.
Do Not Fear, Only Believe – Angelique sings this lovely song about the power of love to George to convince him to return to Earth.
Stay in Heaven with Me – Marie describes the delightful life she and Roger could have if he decided to remain in Heaven with her.
Stay in Heaven with Me Reprise – Back on Earth, Roger finally gets up the courage to tell Josephine that he likes her.
Time Is Like an Angelʼs Dream Reprise – Angelique sings this to Leo as his soul leaves his body.
Belgians in Heaven Reprise – The characters comically summarize what will happen after the end of the play.
Belgians in Heaven should be played with a very minimal set, ideally in primary colors.
The Dewarzeger kitchen interior consists of Leo’s rocking chair, a simple, easily movable table, and another kitchen chair. A freestanding screen door is used to enter/exit this space, and is rigged with a mechanism that allows it to open and close on its own when Mildred opens the door. The actor playing Mildred/Heavenly Announcer can do this surreptitiously by pulling one end of a heavy-test fishing line that runs through eyelets in the stage.
This actor sits on a stool, in front of a microphone stand and next to a small table or counter, containing the various props that are occasionally tossed into the scene.
In addition to the interior kitchen, an exterior playing space downstage and to one side is needed for “down by de bay” scenes. Once the kitchen furniture is removed, the main playing space is also be used for outside action.
Scenes in Heaven use the same screen door (which opens magically whenever anyone needs it), and a movable bench for sitting.
The scene in the Chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes also uses the same door, and a wooden kneeler can be brought on for Roger’s prayer.
Beyond this, additional playing levels, as well as minimal set dressing can be added, but care should be taken this does not become too literal or cluttered.
- Worn metal bucket with multiple large, brown-glass beer bottles, stopped with corks.
- Small cloth bag for cheese curds (which can be squished circus peanuts or actual cheese curds)
- Multiple rags for polishing boots (Henry)
- Wooden paddle for stirring beer
- Chicken Plucker (this is a hinged wooden box, about the size of a small microwave. Simple handle screwed into top, with a large crank on one end)
- Paintings for Leo (very rudimentary images of a brown bottle, a big cheese curd and a solid black canvas)
- Burlap chicken mash bag
- Picnic basket
- Belgian Pie (with creamy top)
- Mason Jar of Chicken Booyah
- Spoon and fake egg (egg race)
- Hobo’s bindle (Leo)
- Coffee Cup
- Small Accordion (button box)
- Paintings for George (more elaborate than Leo’s – the Mona Lisa, with her head turned into a wedge of smiling wedge of cheese, a Starry Night with beer bottles instead of buildings, and a solid white canvas.)
- Heavenly Robe. Could be a gossamer nighty (Roger)
- Oversized Antiquated Book (Leo)
Belgians in Heaven takes place in Wisconsin’s Door County, which has the largest rural population of Belgian immigrants in the US. Although the show contains a number of references to local details, its story is universal and indeed contains archetypes that can be traced back at least to Commedia del Arte. Although much of the comedy is broad, it is important to honor the heart of the piece and present the characters as fully fleshed out.
A few local references that might be helpful to know about:
Booyah is a type of Belgian chicken soup.
Cheese curds are delicious orange morsels created in the cheese-making process. Many bars and restaurants in Wisconsin serve them raw or deep-fried.
It is quite common for Belgian-Americans in Wisconsin to make homemade beer in vats, as Roger is doing in the show. Traditionally the family (including children) drank it both with and between meals.
The Belgian region of Door County contains dozens of wayside chapels, large enough only to accommodate one or two people, which were frequently built by families on their farmland to honor various saints. The Chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes is one of these.
The character of Mildred the Chicken is presented using a device we learned from our friend and mentor Paul Sills, founding director of Chicago’s Second City. An actor sits onstage at a microphone and voices Mildred’s various squawcks, while the actors on stage interact with space as if there is a real chicken there, picking her up, swatting at her, and so on. Soon the audience begins to “see” Mildred in their mind’s eye. Paul invented this convention and used it effectively on Broadway in his hit show Story Theatre. By no means should you put an actor in a chicken suit. The same effect is used for Verna the Seagull.
The script is mostly in the dialect of Wisconsin’s Belgian farmers. Rather than pronouncing “th” in a word like “the”, it is typically pronounced as a “d” sound. “You” is often “youse.” The “o” sound in a word like “don’t” is often extended and nasal. This means that the expression “I don’t know” (which occurs frequently in the show) is often hilariously rendered as an elongated “I doe know.” And so on.
“Every year it manages to pack the house. The hilarity and sweet message of Belgians in Heaven shine through. You cannot miss this play!”
– Emilie Coulson, Peninsula Pulse
“If you haven’t had a chance to see Belgians in Heaven, do yourself a favor and go. The show has become a cult hit, with people coming back over and over to the quaint, quirky production. Quirky, yes, but more importantly: full of heart. It’s the rare show that speaks to adults as well as young children. Belgians in Heaven…will make a believer out of you.”
– Heidi Hodges, Door County Advocate
“Very funny….loopy….disarming….quirky…comical with an amiable tone. Audiences guffaw at songs such as ‘Cheese Curds, Booyah, and Beer’. Belgians is a popular laugh-fest with a profound metaphysical theme at its heart. An around-the-bend show with a moral.”
– Warren Gerds, Green Bay Press-Gazette
“Belgians in Heaven… is about overcoming the differences that divide us and learning to appreciate what we share. Belgians mixes together a bit of everything, from cornpone humor to the beautiful and deep ‘Time is Like an Angel’s Dream,’ a poetic meditation on death, time and immortality. Much like a good variety show, it has something for everyone. Delectable!”
– Mike Fischer, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
Belgians In Heaven – General Pricing Info
Producing organization shall pay to Northern Sky a flat fee for the Run equal to the cost of a full price adult ticket multiplied by the number of performances of the Run multiplied by the number of seats in the Theater multiplied by .08.
Northern Sky shall be paid a royalty of Ten Percent (10%) of gross weekly box office receipts (“GWBOR”) from the production of the Musical during the Run.
Transfer agreements will be issued upon receipt of licensing application and any applicable deposit or flat fee payment.
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