FISH CREEK, Wis. (WFRV) – Northern Sky Theater has presented 76 world premieres since its start. Another world premiere of sorts took place Wednesday on stage at Peninsula State Park Amphitheater.
What happened was literally a wild cameo appearance that was perfectly timed.
The musical “Fishing for the Moon” reached a climactic point with a love-smitten guy poetically expressing his true love to the woman of his desire.
On a walkway at the rear of the set at that moment, up popped a raccoon, looking curious.
Because of the timing, its presence seemed like a cute addition to the show, which is filled with goofy humor.
The raccoon looked a figure in life-like movie animation.
The raccoon glanced left and then right, saw hundreds of eyes peering at it, and suddenly scampered off stage as fast as it could – its showbiz days gone in a flash.
This happened to the rear the actors, who continued unawares.
Amazing as this was, the raccoon did not upstage two other elements of interest – what happens on stage and the creation of the show.
“Fishing for the Moon” is set in Wisconsin two years after the end of the Civil War. Despite what might be a first impression, the tone of the musical is lighthearted.
A young woman, Lucy (Hannah Kato), pines for a missing soldier, Gary, who she holds dear because of his attraction to the scent of her Parisian soap.
Gary’s father, Union Col. Tucker Riley Olson (Jeff Herbst), is around the bend and still fighting the war. His troupe now is his herd of cows. He misses Gary all right, but mostly he misses his prize bull, Bo, that his wife, Shirlene (Lachrissa Grandberry), sold to keep things going during the war. The colonel is really gone on Bo and yearns to have him back, in part because of Bo’s adept ways with “relationships.”
Also on hand are a fellow, Rufus Smith (Hayden Hoffman) who is trying to pass eighth grade and endear himself to Caroline (Claudia Dahlman), the schoolmarm who is holding out until Rufus passes his final: Describe Julius Caesar’s ambition in at least 5,000 words.
Along comes Southern gentleman Peter Rutherford Hall (Alex Campea) from Georgia, announcing that he wants to shoot the colonel.
The show is thick with humor, including puns, like: Something happened to Gary at the Battle of Slippery Slope. Peter’s observation is, yes, “A lot of guys fell on slippery slope.”
The colonel has his own take on his exciting memories of the war, extolling the virtues of “the smell of cannon fire, the roar of army beans.”
With such stuff, the acting is comically broad.
Tender touches are woven in, such as Shirlene’s reflections on her life with the colonel in “Where Does Love Go?”
The cast is nimble and full of vigor under the knowing and careful guidance of director Jeff Herbst, also the company’s artistic director.
Two. The creation was by Fred Alley and James Kaplan, who performs on keyboard in this production, as he did when the show premiered 30 years ago.
“Fishing for the Moon” was produced in 1992, 1999 and 2008 when the company was American Folklore Theatre.
Fred Alley died in 2001. This show was the first time he and James Kaplan collaborated. Other beloved shows followed, “Guys on Ice” being the leading classic.
Fred Alley’s hand at cleverness is all over “Fishing for the Moon.” He had a way with words and wordplay, playing with the mind and heart and all sorts of subtle nuances with humor. A sense given off by this production – reaching over 30 years – is Fred Alley had fun writing it. That speaks to the skill of Jeff Herbst and the cast.
Fred Alley and James Kaplan also teamed for tricky things, a sophistication. That is immediately apparent in the first song, “By the Stream.” Hayden Hoffman and Alex Campea burst through a kind of intense duet of different thoughts unleashed atop one another.
Versatile voices, clever dance sequences and appealing looks in the set and costuming factor into the solid aura of the show.
It seems the raccoon just had to see what the crowd was reacting to – check out what all the commotion was about. It was the doggonedest thing.
Running time: One hour, 14 minutes (no intermission)
Remaining performances: To Aug. 27: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays
Creative: Playwrights: Book and lyrics – Fred Alley; music – James Kaplan; director – Jeff Herbst; assistant director – Doug Clemons; music director – James Kaplan; associate music director – Karen Mal; choreographers – Pam Kriger, Jeff Herbst, Doug Clemons; stage manager – Shawn Galligan; assistant stage manager – Zach Woods; lighting designer – Bryce Fowler; sound designers – Ben Werner, Darly Vela; costume designer – Karen Brown-Larimore; scenic designer – Stewart Dawson; props designer – Lisa Schlenker; artistic director – Jeff Herbst; associate artistic director – Molly Rhode; managing director – Dave Maier
Rufus Smith – Hayden Hoffman
Peter Rutherford Hall – Alex Campea
Lucy – Hannah Kato
Tucker Riley Olson – Jeff Herbst
Shirlene Olson – Lachrisa Grandberry
Caroline – Claudia Dahlman
Musicians: James Kaplan, Karen Mal, Colin O’Day
“By the Stream” – Rufus and Peter
“Girl Back Home” – Lucy and Peter
“Shirley, Gary, and Bo – Tuck and Lucy
“Guy Meets Girl” – Rufus
“I Didn’t Feel a Thing” – Caroline and Peter
“Why Ask Why?” – Shirlene, Caroline and Lucy
“Where Does Love Go?” – Shirlene
“With You When You Go” – Peter
“Everybody Loves a Clown” – Caroline
“Knowing What We Know Now” – Tuck and Shirlene
“A Proclaimation” – Peter and Company
“Fishing for the Moon” – Company
ALSO: “Love Stings” (outdoors), “Dad’s Season Tickets” (indoors).
THE VENUE: Northern Sky Theater (the former American Folklore Theatre) performs in a scenic, 800-seat amphitheater in Peninsula State Park near Fish Creek in Door County. Seating is on wood benches. The stage is about 25 feet by 45 feet and of irregular shape because two tall white pine trees grow in the middle of the stage. Other pines ring the fringes of the stage. “The stage deck, unlike all of the stage walls, is made from recycled plastic,” said Northern Sky Theater artistic director Jeffrey Herbst. “It’s water impermeable. The deck has held up really, really well. The rest of the stage, anything that’s vertical is cedar that has to be stained and treated and washed and kept. We went with that kind of material was partly because we wanted something that wouldn’t warp and because when it rains on that material, it actually becomes less slick. With cedar, when we had it as decking in the past, as soon as you had water on it, it was like an ice skating rink.” The amphitheater is tucked in a forest and accessed by winding roads.