FISH CREEK, Wis. (WFRV)
“Windjammers’ is a vivid musical at the popular Northern Sky Theater, home of original shows that speak of life in this region.
Door County has the longest shoreline in any county in the United States, and off its shores ships have sailed for centuries. This show takes you aboard a fictional vessel, the 96-foot schooner Windjammer, for a topsy turvy sailing season in 1876.
You experience storms, lore and romance. Along the way, you learn about gear and the knowhow that it takes to navigate by compass, stars and a bit of courage.
The production teams a writer (Robin Share) from Los Angeles, a composer (Clay Zambo) from the New York area and the creative smarts of Northern Sky Theater artistic director Jeffrey Herbst as director and associate artistic director Molly Rhode as choreographer.
In the story, the bookish Boyo (Hayden Hoffman) has signed on for eight months of sailing with the cargo ship Windjammer. New at the helm is Capt. Jackie Gallagher (Doug Clemons). In the crew are the jolly, girl-in-every-port Nathaniel (Chase Stoeger) and the crusty, beery Fred (Doug Mancheski). Boyo leaves behind his widowed, upbeat mother, Millicent (Lachrisa Grandberry). Crossing the captain’s path is sweet and lovely schoolteacher Nancy (Jamie Mercado). As bubbly admirers of sailors – among other roles – are Mari Duckler and Mikayla Locke.
The production calls on a high level of performance skills, and this cast answers in songs and characterizations. A four-piece orchestra carefully sets the pace and moods.
“Windjammers” operates with sophistication. Some examples:
+ The song “Squall” tosses the cast all over. As the men wrestle with reluctant sails and lines on the heels of a boisterous shanty (nautical type of song), the women portray a high-pitched wind in voice and by waving silken cloths. You get a sense of a dangerous burst of energy, a squall.
+ The stage serves as a vessel. Included are three sails, rigging and equipment you learn the names of as they come into play. The scenic design by Lisa Schlenker creates a picture of a ship of 143 years ago.
+ The creators place characters in unique situations. As we see Boyo writing letters home, his mother appears with him. They converse. The captain and Nancy write back and forth in another example of the effective theatrical device. They also appear in give-and-take conversation. In one scene, Nancy leans over Boyo’s shoulder to re-write the letter she has written to the captain as Boyo reads the letter to the captain, who can neither read nor write.
+ Composer Zambo creates duets and other vocal combinations of elevated forms of musical theater. Songs, such as “Prologue” and “Fitting Out,” are not just one-two-three and done songs but rolling revelations of character and story bits. Zambo’s score feels good to the ear.
The character of Fred may be too drunk too often for some people’s liking. That harsh edge is part of a dramatic aura that is stronger in “Windjammers” than most Northern Sky Theater shows. Fred’s drunkenness drives a rugged element in the story, however.
There is humor. Sailors’ superstitions are fun – no bathing with soap, no sailing on Fridays, no whistling on board, never saying 13 (say “twelve and one”) – for they are all bad luck. Nathaniel is a merry character. He says, “I’d rather have too many sweethearts than none,” and then gathers up gift baking treats from woman after woman (whose names he never gets right except at the end) in port after port.
Danger visits. One storm produces a rescue. Another storm produces a sinking of another vessel with all hands lost.
Songs touch many emotions. “Lake Michigan” is thoughtful and mournful; in separate solos, Boyo finds wonder in the lake while Fred feels lost. “Windward Bound” sweeps along on the sheer power of so much of sailing on large vessels. “Shipping News” joyfully tells us all there is to know about what is happening on the Great Lakes – notably, where vessels are, and where they are headed.
If “Windjammers” fascinates you, check out www.boatnerd.com to find out about ships on the Great Lakes today. Click on “Vessel Passage,” and you will be amazed.
“Windjammers” is of this region. It mentions places on Wisconsin shores and around the Great Lakes that have meaning. In the story, Cana Island Lighthouse north of Baileys Harbor is relatively new – about six years old in 1876. Today, you can climb the lighthouse’s spiral staircase, stand next to its light and peer out on Lake Michigan. After seeing this show, you can imagine the Windjammer out there, its sails puffed in the wind.
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The above is a repeat of my review of “Windjammers” from the show’s premiere run in 2013, with some changes. The company was known as American Folklore Theatre at the time. Chase Stoeger and Doug Mancheski repeat their same roles as in the original production. Other players portray the other roles, retaining his or her character’s color and zest – and handsome or beautiful solos by Doug Clemons, Hayden Hoffman and Jamie Mercado.
++ This is another Northern Sky Theater show that is conscious of the changing status of women in society over time. In this story, Nancy calls on the captain to speak for her in a business situation because she has no father or brother to intervene.
++ In a vast majority of cases in life at large, we hear songs that are a compact 2½ or three minutes turning on a few kernels of thought. In “Windjammers,” straightforward solos are in the minority. Instead, there are songs like “Sail Away,” with the captain and Nancy in one song, from two perspectives – and they stand together on stage while in the story they are miles apart. Musical theater can be delicious.
++ The show has depth in Fred, the veteran of the lakes. “I could have been made a captain,” he boasts. In that, Fred is the woulda shoulda coulda person whose hardheadedness gets in the way. Fred also creates a meaningful image as stands at the wheel with Boyo and looks on the moon casting light toward them across the water. Fred says, “They say the souls of all the lost sailors are within that beam.” Powerful.
++ Step back, and the Windjammer is a boat in a forest. The vessel “sails” on the stage in the amphitheater in Peninsula State Park.
++ The musical “Windjammers” more than floats. In a way, its interlocking elements put “Windjammers” in a league of its own among the colorful array of Northern Sky Theater shows.
On a personal note, many moments in the show remind me of my experiences with Capt. Gary W. Schmidt, with whom I wrote “Real, Honest Sailing with a Great Lakes Captain.” Based on his more than 40 years as a captain of vessels hauling everything from stone for roadways to iron ore, the book tells – in his voice – of the fullness of the sailing life today. In its eighth printing, the book is available in Green Bay at the Neville Public Museum and Bosse’s and Sturgeon Bay at Door County Maritime Museum.
Creative: Book – Robin Share; music – Clay Zambo; lyrics – Robin Share, Clay Zambo; director – Jeff Herbst; original staging and choreography – Molly Rhode; orchestrations – Clay Zambo; music director – Clay Zambo; stage manager – Neen Rock; scenic designer – Lisa Schlenker; costume designer – Karen Brown-Larimore; props designer – Kathleen Rock; lighting and sound designer – David Alley
Nathaniel (Nate) – Chase Stoeger
Fred – Doug Mancheski
Jackie – Doug Clemons
Edwina, Nora, Lucy – Mari Duckler
Tilly, Harriet, Mary – Mikayla Locke
Boyo – Hayden Hoffman
Millicent – Lachrisa Grandberry
Nancy – Jamie Mercado
Orchestra: Conductor, keyboard – Alissa Rhode; bass, guitar – Dennis Johnson; keyboard – Patty McKinnon; percussion – Colin O’Day
Running time: 92 minutes (no intermission)
Remaining performances: To Aug. 22: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, 8:30 p.m. Thursdays, in rotation with “We Like It Where?” and “Dairy Heirs”
Prologue – Nathaniel, Fred, Jackie
“Fitting Out” – Company
“Sail Away” – Jackie, Nancy
“It Just Makes Sense” – Nathaniel, Fred Boyo
“Shipping News 1” – Women
“Lake Michigan” – Fred
“The Same Boy” – Boyo
“Shipping News 2” – Edwina, Tilly
“Squall” – Company
“Somehow” – Jackie
“Shipping News 3” – Nancy
“Captain Crooner” – Nathaniel, Fred, Boyo, Mary, Nora
“Lake Michigan 2” – Fred
“Sail Away” (Reprise) – Nancy, Jackie
“Windward Bound” – Jackie, Fred, Nathaniel, Boyo, Nancy
“Storm” – Company
“Lake Michigan 3” – Jackie, Fred, Nathaniel, Boyo, Nancy
“Windward Bound Finale” – Company
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.