LAKESHORE REGIONAL NEWS: Door County, Kewaunee County, Manitowoc County, and Sheboygan County

Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Door County company sets five shows in two theaters

Critic At Large

Northern Sky Theater

Peninsula State Park Amphitheater, top, and Gould Theater are the venues of Northern Sky Theater.

FISH CREEK, Wis. (WFRV) – The professional Northern Sky Theater is springing back into action.

The COVID-19 pandemic choked off the Door County company’s live, in-person performances in 2020.

According to a press release: The season includes five shows. Three are new pieces, and two classic hits, including the show that is the first book musical Northern Sky Theater produced.

“In crafting a season that could employ as many theater professionals as possible and still prioritize COVID-19 safety, Northern Sky decided to draw on its roots as a company that built itself around stories, songs and heart rather than lavish production values,” the release says.

Northern Sky Theatre will present three shows outdoors in Peninsula State Park: “The Fisherman’s Daughters” (a preview production in advance of the show’s fully-staged future premiere), “Tongue ’n’ Cheek” (a hit from 1991, the company’s first book musical), and “Whatever Happened to Karl Janko? (a world premiere mystery musical written with COVID-19 safety in mind).

Indoors at the Gould Theater, the company will present “Not Even Remotely” (a virtual/in-person hybrid world premiere musical, also written with pandemic protocols in mind) and “Naked Radio” (the 2017 hit comedy originally set to be remounted in the company’s scuttled 2020 season).

A virtual run of “Not Even Remotely” will serve as a precursor to the season’s other shows, which are fully in-person.

Rather than presenting shows in rotating repertory as the company usually does, Northern Sky Theater will run each show by itself four to six weeks at a time. That is to minimize the number of people working together at any given time.

Tickets are not yet available for sale. Though the exact date is still unknown, Northern Sky Theater expects tickets will go on sale sometime in mid to late May.

+ “The Fisherman’s Daughters” by Katie Dahl runs June 14-July 10. It tells the story of two sisters in 1908 Fish Creek who must reckon with their differences when Wisconsin’s governor decides to turn their homestead into part of Peninsula State Park. 

+ “Tongue ’n’ Cheek” by Fred Alley and James Kaplan runs July 12-Aug. 7. The old-time radio comedy is about about a long-suffering farm wife, her work-averse husband, a snake oil salesman and the young woman he tries to woo.

+ “Whatever Happened to Karl Janko?” by Matt Zembrowski runs Aug. 9-Sept. 18). The musical mystery comedy is inspired by a real-life unsolved mystery in small-town Wisconsin. 

+ “Not Even Remotely” by Richard Carsey and Stephen Kovacs runs July 12-Aug. 7 in the Gould Theater and virtually May 30-June 3). It’s the story of two actors who try to mount an extravagant musical version of “Frankenstein” over Zoom.

+ “Naked Radio” by Dave Hudson and Paul Libman runs Aug. 23-Nov. 6). It’s the story of two local disc jockeys forced to punt when a snowstorm knocks out their station’s pre-programmed feed.

All performances will take place at 7:30, every night except Sunday.

“These are just stellar stories,” artistic director Jeff Herbst says in the release. “They’re stories we know would connect to people anytime, but especially at this time when we’ve all been starved for live theater.”

Associate artistic director Molly Rhode says that maximum company employment was a paramount consideration in choosing the season.

“So many of our longtime company members have been out of work for this entire pandemic,” Rhode says. “We wanted to hire as many of them as we could. We weren’t able to bring everyone back as we would have preferred, but this season will allow us to involve over 40 artists, which makes us so happy.”

To ensure COVID-19 safety, the shows in Peninsula State Park will be performed with minimal movement, to reduce close contact between actors. These shows will also forego traditional scenery to minimize pre- and post-show backstage traffic. Shows in the Gould (where scenery can remain up at all times) will be presented with full scenery and full costumes and (due to different performer constraints) will be presented in typical, fully staged style.

Rhode says, “This presentational style is just what the authors intended for ‘Tongue ’n’ Cheek,’ which is written like an old-time radio play, and ‘Whatever Happened to Karl Janko,’ which was written specifically for COVID safety protocols. ‘Not Even Remotely’ was also written with pandemic challenges in mind.

“Before COVID hit, ‘The Fisherman’s Daughters’ was originally slated to premiere in 2021 as a fully staged musical. We still plan to premiere the fully realized version of that show in a couple of years, but in the meantime, we wanted folks to be able to hear this wonderful story. A story about the creation of Peninsula State Park feels like a perfect way for us to return to the amphitheater in that very park after a year away.”

For COVID-19 safety reasons, tickets for these productions will only be available in advance; no tickets will be sold at the theater night-of. Both venues will operate at reduced capacity, and all seating will be assigned and socially distanced. Until further notice, all patrons, volunteers and staff – except actors – will be required to wear masks at both venues.

“This season will look a little different than most,” Herbst says, “but these stories will be full of the same joy and laughter that Northern Sky shows always are. We’re a company that built itself on stories and songs, told simply and straightforwardly. That’s what we’ve been doing for decades – it’s what our predecessor troupe the Heritage Ensemble did all the time. And it’s what we’re going to do again this year. We can’t wait.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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