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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Lipstick Optional’ brims with Door County company’s creativity

Critic At Large

Northern Sky Theater

FISH CREEK, Wis. (WFRV) – A collage is an outburst of images.

There can be a musical/theatrical collage too – an outburst of images along with music/song acting/singing/movement.

A prime example of the latter is “Lipstick Optional: Celebrating the Women of Northern Sky.”

The video presentation is a collection of scenes of shows that recollect a slice of what is Northern Sky Theater.

The show premiered Saturday night as a pay-to-view event as part of the professional company’s pandemic-driven virtual programming.

The site northernskytheater.com has a variety of options. Extra effort fills “Lipstick Optional: Celebrating the Women of Northern Sky.”

Guided by associate artistic director Molly Rhode, the video explores a huge range of creativity found in 19 scenes from 16 productions spanning 1993 to 2019.

On one hand, what’s seen and heard is not slick – coming from various stages of technologies and sources of recording.

On the other hand, what’s seen and heard is astounding – so much imagination, so much thought and care, so much talent, so much heart in pursuit of telling an original story year after year.

Matter of fact, Northern Sky Theater would not have lasted if it weren’t good.

The public more than likes the company, and why that is so is told in “Lipstick Optional.”

The chosen footage spans the shades of womanhood not necessarily in song only. Some parts include a scene with characters shaping a story that becomes the reason for a song to be sung – with greater meaning than just stand-and-sing.

The styles of music cover the waterfront, from ballads to blues, romance to raucous, fiery to tender.

One sequence is simply a quick Irish instrumental ditty.

Another is a hilarious story involving leukemia, a made-up saint, a toilet and a young woman with a woodsy accent.

It’s not mentioned in the special, but Wisconsin is somehow in the shows created by Northern Sky Theater.

Here is the alphabetical lineup: “Bing! The Cherry Musical,” “Bob Dumkee’s Farm,” “Dad’s Season Tickets,” “Dairy Heirs,” “Doctor! Doctor!” “Fishing for the Moon,” “Loose Lips Sink Ships,” “Lumberjacks in Love,” “Marlarkey!” “Northern Lights,” “Oklahoma in Wisconsin,” “Our Night in Frog Station,” “Victory Farm,” “We Like It Where?” “When Butter Churns to Gold” and “Windjammers.”

Beautiful singing abounds – beauty being in the voice or in the expression of a song’s meaning.

And there are some barnburners in intensity and shear dynamic style.

The scenes depict women in a spectrum of roles, most of a kind of nobleness.

“Lipstick Optional” is not many things – slick being one – but it is a sweet revelation of a whole lot of talent.

Saturday night, a talkback followed the presentation with many of the performers and creators taking part from many locations. Here is one story gleaned from the conversations because it fits the evening’s theme:

Laurie Flanigan Hegge was performing in one of the shows. On a path on the theater grounds, she met Fred Alley, co-founder, writer, singer and inspiration to many, and asked, “Why don’t you write a show with women in it?” His response, “Why don’t you?” – not as a wisecrack but as an encouragement, as if adding, “You can do it.” Encouraged, she started on an unexpected path to a writing career. Laurie Flanigan Hegge has co-written “Loose Lips Sink Ships,” “See Jane Vote” and “Boxcar” for Northern Sky Theater among her eight musicals.

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