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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Dad’s Season Tickets’ is a winner-plus in Fish Creek

Critic At Large

Northern Sky Theater

Feuding sisters don football pads in the song “They Oughta Be Mine” in the Northern Sky Theater musical “Dad’s Season Tickets.” From left are Doug Mancheski, Kelly Doherty, Ray Jivoff, Jamie Mercado, Anna Cline and Chase Stoeger. (Len Villano)

FISH CREEK, Wis. (WFRV)

Special sports franchise.

Special season.

Special theatrical company.

Special musical.

World premiere.

New, specially designed theater.

A whole lot of happy wallowing is to be had surrounding the show “Dad’s Season Tickets” taking place for the next six weeks.

The musical is a terrific introduction to the new Barbara and Spencer Gould Theater on the new (with added touches continuing) Northern Sky Theater Creative Center on a wooded, 40-acre site outside of Fish Creek.

“Dad’s Season Tickets” celebrates Green Bay Packers fandom. The show is certainly Go Pack Go, but it is much more as a full-bodied story about family and feuding and frustrations.

“Dad’s Season Tickets” revels in the stuff that the outside world considers corny about Packers fans but people here who live the aura know it is warmly real and ours. What’s more, the show delves the difficulties of one family that is like most families. Everybody’s different, you know?

Right away, there’s tenderness. Frank, the father, speaks to a photograph on the living room wall. The photo is of his wife, gone three years now. Frank is just climbing out of mourning.

The father of the family, Frank (Ray Jivoff), looks forward to watching a Green Bay Packers game on TV in a scene from “Dad’s Season Tickets.” (Len Villano)

Action starts as Frank’s family gathers – three daughters and two sons-in-law – to enjoy watching a Packers game as the team heads for the playoffs in late 1996 behind Brett Favre and Reggie White. It’s a festive day, with Packers do-dads all over the living room and Christmas tree. The family holds ritual good-luck ceremony that includes a unison rhymed chant with a bobble-head doll, Little Bart (an homage to Bart Starr).

Frank – Dad – drops a shoe when he tells the kids he has scheduled an appointment to set up his will. That means someone will inherit his Packers season tickets, which can only be held by one person.

Immediately, one daughter claims the tickets. It was very interesting to experience the reaction of the audience at the performance I attended Monday: DEAD SILENCE – like holy cow, THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT – and how dare she?

Season tickets and how they are passed on are something of legend and mystique about the Packers, and “Dad’s Season Tickets” cleverly taps into that feeling of “holy grail” (the phrase is used in the show).

What creator Matt Zembrowski of West Allis does is a feat – writing the book, music and lyrics. Along with capturing the Green and Gold Forever feeling, Matt Zembrowski slips in understanding of classical literature, quandaries of sibling rivalry and hormonal bonks of pregnancy. One of my favorite parts is how one character is trusted for listening to both sides, for searching for truth, for telling a story on a path to being a journalist. I like how Matt Zembrowski makes journalism important.

Directors Jeff Herbst and Molly Rhode and their excellent cast leap into the buffet that Matt Zembrowski has laid before them.

Side note: This “buffet” includes game-day snacks such as bacon-wrapped cheese curds, spicy tuna nachos and… and… oh, my aching gut.

The characters and players are delicious.

Ray Jivoff is Frank, the father. He recalls going to his first Packers game as a child with his father, who worked for 38 years at Fort Howard paper mill. Frank loved/loves his wife dearly. He loves his children, but are they a pain right now. He lets loose a lament, “Why Did I Ever Have Children?” Still, Frank connects with each child and the two husbands. Nice guy. Regular guy.

Jamie Mercado is Cordy (Cordelia), who is still as home as she finishes high school. Universities are beckoning her – Northwestern, Michigan State, NYU, Alaska – and she will be moving on. Cordy is caught in the middle between sisters who have not seen eye to eye for her lifetime. She sings of them with sweet melancholy in “Two Sides to Every Story.”

Kelly Doherty portrays the eldest daughter, Rhonda. Rhonda likes to cook. She hasn’t been much on football, though she enjoys family get-togethers to watch Packers games. A line in one of Frank’s songs is, “Thank goodness for the Packers, who helped us put our troubles away.” Often, though, Rhonda throws imaginary knives at the next sister in line.

A daughter’s first game with her father at Lambeau Field holds deep meaning for Rhonda (Kelly Doherty) and Frank (Ray Jivoff) in a scene from “Dad’s Season Tickets.” (Len Villano)

Anna Cline portrays Gabby, the middle sister. Having gone to Packers home games with her father from childhood on, Gabby has green and gold running through her veins. Gabby is seven-plus months pregnant, leading to all sorts of side action for her character. Anna Cline plays up the infamous pregnancy quirks colorfully – the snippy tongue, the mutant-food munchies, the duck waddle. Anna Cline breathes fire when Gabby lets loose on her husband in “You Think You Know a Person.”

Chase Stoeger portrays Gabby’s husband, Edgar. Along with playing with the fire of Gabby’s pregnancy, Edgar is notable when he walks in the door wearing a purple coat and for his elevated quotations as an English teacher. A pithy one: “Things done well and with care exempt themselves from fear.”

Doug Mancheski portrays Rhonda’s husband, Ralph. Like Edgar, Ralph is a guy who loves his wife. On game days, Ralph wears the No. 7 jersey of Don Majkowski – “Majik” was his nickname for his magic touch. Ralph has worn the jersey since Majik was injured and replaced by Brett Favre (I attended that game with my daughter!) four years earlier in the story, Sept. 20, 1992. Ralph and Rhonda are part of a great song – a showstopper, “Football is Like Love” – about teaching the rules of football to a novice. The song is full of comic lessons and playful information. Doug Mancheski also unleashes a nifty word/body-action riff that Monday brought the house down, prompting a spontaneous strut by the master of mirth.

All this is done with a live orchestra, playing in the upper reaches of what is sometimes Lambeau Field in the story. Everything melds – the singing, the music, the flow.

In this show, nobody is stupid. Nobody is an oaf. Even in the farcical sections, nobody is a fool – just people with differences and misunderstandings.

This is a fabulous show that none other than Northern Sky Theater can do with the same meaning, heart and humor.

***

Creative: Music, book and lyrics – Matt Zembrowski, inspired by William Shakespeare’s “King Lear;” directors and choreographers – Jeff Herbst and Molly Rhode; music director and arrangements – Alissa Rhode; stage manager – Neen Rock; scenic designer – Lisa Schlenker; scenic artists – Carri Dahl and Adam Stoner; lighting designer – David Alley; sound designer – Nic Trapani; costume designer – Amy Horst; props designer – Kathleen Rock; announcer – Lee Becker; artistic director – Jeff Herbst; managing director – Dave Maier

Cast:

Frank Kosinski, patriarch of the Kosinski family – Ray Jivoff

Rhonda Kafura, Frank’s eldest daughter – Kelly Doherty

Gabby Nimwitz, Frank’s middle daughter – Anna Cline

Cordy Kosinski, Frank’s youngest daughter – Jamie Mercado

Ralph Kafura, Rhonda’s husband – Doug Mancheski

Edgar Nimwitz, Gabby’s husband – Chase Stoeger

Musicians: Conductor/keyboard – Alissa Rhode; percussion – Colin O’Day; bass and guitar Dennis Keith Johnson

Running time: 2½ hours

Remaining performances: To Oct. 26 – 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 3 and 7 p.m. Saturdays, except 3 p.m. Sept. 26 and Oct. 14

Info: northernskytheater.com

***

Musical selections

Act I

“When You Live in Green Bay” – Company

“When the Packers Play” – Frank and Company

“Game Day at Our House” – Company

“Football is Like Love” – Ralph, Rhonda and Company

“A Family Once More” – Frank

“You Think You Know a Person” – Gabby

“Two Sides to Every Story” – Cordy

“December 25th” – Company

“They Oughta Be Mine” – Gabby, Rhonda and Company

Act II

“What Do You Do with a Bye Week?” – Company

“Football is Like Love” (Reprise) – Rhonda, Ralph and Company

“Rhonda Sees Lambeau” – Rhonda

“Frank Remembers” – Frank

“My True Colors” – Edgar, Gabby and Company

“Why Did I Have Children?” – Frank

“Here We Are” – Rhonda, Gabby and Cordy

“I Love You More Than Football” – Company

***

NEXT: “Home for the Holidays,” Dec. 27-31.

VENUE: Barbara and Spencer Gould Theater is located in the Northern Sky Theater Creative Center, 9058 Door County Road A near Fish Creek. The 248-seat theater carries two themes – wooded Wisconsin and a carryover of Northern Sky Theater’s summer home in Peninsula State Park Amphitheater. Height factors in. As do tall pine trees in and around the stage of the amphitheater, the knotty pine wall to the audience’s left reaches three stories. To the right, the woodsy outside is brought in through 28-foot high windows (in two sections) that are shuttered by huge wood shutters during performances. Color schemes are gray and taupe – gray in the seat cushions and aisle carpeting and taupe in the wooden seat backs and arms, with the wood walls, stage front and shutters finished to taupe. The stage curtain is midnight blue, as are acoustical clouds on the ceiling. The stage floor is unique to the region, arcing in from the rear of the theater along the side walls to the front. In the shoulders of the main stage, space is open for scenes to take place (with set pieces) in addition to action on the main stage. The space was designed by Peter Tan of the Madison-based Strang, Inc.

THE PEOPLE: Barbara and Spencer Gould are longtime Door County philanthropists. They have been residents since 1988, after years of residing in St. Louis and being summer residents.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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