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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Love: It’s Not Just for Lumberjacks’ brims with humanity

Critic At Large

Northern Sky Theater

Fred Alley and Suzanne Graff in a scene from “Our Night in Frog Station” that is part of the compilation “Love: It’s Not Just for Lumberjacks.” (Northern Sky Theater)

FISH CREEK, WI (WFRV) – An old man seated holding a cane asks of a woman fussing to make him comfy, “Can you hear me Ella?”

The man has something to say in song.

“Here I am, caught between a day not ready to be done and one not ready to begin,” he sings gently.

What a thought.

Where can its origins lie?

It is not “just a song.”

A co-creator of the song is the singer, who had a way with matters profound.

The words ripple with layers of meanings.

On the surface, the words are about the singer. He is telling Ella goodbye. “It’s time for me to go,” he sings.

Other layers of meanings can apply to so many situations in the world today. Think COVID-19 and vaccines. “Caught between” hangs in thoughts like leaves on a tree in a fall wind.

On the day that the singer, Fred Alley, would go at age 38, he would be putting final touches on a gem of a musical – in a sense, caught between not ready to be done and not ready to begin.

Enough of the visceral:

The song “Can You Hear Me Ella?” is one of 32 in a collection built on a theme suited to Valentine’s Day. The collection premiered Sunday night, Feb. 14, as “Love: It’s Not Just for Lumberjacks.” The presentation of Northern Sky Theater of Door County may be accessed anytime through May. Information on this production and others in the theater’s winter virtual series is at northernskytheater.com.

Fred Alley was one of the founders of, and continued inspiration for, the company that creates only original musicals.

All the material in “Love: It’s Not Just for Lumberjacks” was created new by or for the company.

All the songs – and some enacted scenes – fit a story an individual show tells, which always has a Wisconsin connection.

The 32 songs from 16 shows span from 1993 to 2019. The collection was compiled by Molly Rhode, Northern Sky Theater associate artistic director, and her husband/performer, Chase Stoeger.

The couple hosted an online talkback Sunday night in which many members of the company relived memorable moments. Included was Jeff Herbst, artistic director, revealing how the astounding, comical “Dream Ballet” of the popular “Guys and Does” was basically pulled from vapors. Image a buck and a doe going through mating ritual from start to finish, only it’s two guys dressed as deer who are romping. That’s imagination-plus = humor galore.

In the showcase are these shows, with many of their featured songs:

+ “Lumberjacks in Love” – “Lumberjacks in Love,” “Stupid, Stupid Love,” “It Would Be Enough for Me,” “Bachelor’s Prayer.”

+ “Windjammers” – “Sail Away.”

+ “Loose Lips Sink Ships” – “SOS, I’m in Love,” “When You’re Around,” “You Can Count on Me.”

+ “The Passage” – “If Things Were How They Should Be.”

+ “Oklahoma in Wisconsin” – “By the Time the Song is Over.”

+ “Bing! The Cherry Musical” – “Love Rocks.”

+ “Our Night in Frog Station” – “Can You Hear Me, Ella?” “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Dorian the Historian.”

+ “No Bones About It” – “A Light Through Yonder Window.”

+ “Northern Lights” – “Babies Born in Early Spring.”

+ “Belgians in Heaven” – “If You Stay.”

+ “Guys & Does” – “Dream Ballet” (dance).

+ “Dairy Heirs” – “Fireworks.”

+ “Doctor! Doctor!” – “It’s Hard to be Lonely.”

+ “Packer Fans from Outer Space” – “Everybody’s Just a Little Crackers.”

+ “Dad’s Season Tickets” – “I Love You More Than Football.”

+ “Victory Farm” – “When I Look at You.”

The songs are loving, tender, comical, yearning, goofy, melancholy, sad, joyous, exciting and points between in that thing called love.

Again, all are original to the theater.

The quality of the videos varies visually and aurally, but each is infectious. Northern Sky Theater has lasted because of its cosmic draw to an array of audiences, including families who are camping in a Wisconsin state park.

“Love: It’s Not Just for Lumberjacks” is a reminder of the versatility of company in creating and performing new material. The showcase proves the shows have enduring appeal. It took a crummy coronavirus to bring that to new light.

Tickets for Northern Sky Theater’s winter season supports the theater’s “Rekindle Campaign,” an effort to safeguard the company – which is still “caught between” – against an uncertain 2021 performance season.

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

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