FISH CREEK, Wis. (WFRV) – Northern Sky Theater’s all-original musicals deal with something about Wisconsin, even if just a tidbit.
“Love Stings,” one of this season’s new offerings, is off the bee-ten track as it imagines a bee farm in Door County in the early 1960s.
Love plays big in the story – seldom going honey-smoothly but ending sweetly.
A star theater in Milwaukee, Melody Top, has a key role. It was a real place. Established musical theater stars with age 40 in their rear-view mirror were the big draw in popular musicals that audiences savored.
In “Love Stings,” Molly Rhode, one of Northern Sky Theater’s mainstays, portrays one such star, Claire Fairweather. Claire brims with lofty self-glory as a queen of the stage.
Imagined for Claire by Richard Castle (book and lyrics) and Matthew Levine (music) is a secondary career in low-budget B-movies. B… bee – get it? It’s a masterful stroke of character creation.
Much of “Love Stings” is caricature. Showbiz meets a bee farm will do that. But it is delighting entertainment on the outdoor stage in Peninsula State Park Amphitheater.
Spirited director and choreographer Pam Kriger pumps dance/movement action into the overplayed scenario. One sequence includes B-movie over-the-top characters – Evil Stuntman from Planet X being one – in a fantastically costumed battle with the formidable Queen Bee (Claire) who, naturally, has super powers.
With all the players being excellent and energized, the story sweeps around fantasy and statements.
Bill Zapper (Doug Clemons) is a goody two-shoes who has turned his back on his family business of making pesticides with DDT. Bill loves Claire, who is so-so about him. The now-jobless Bill comes into a sudden inheritance of $1 million, having once rescued a bee-stung stranger. Bill imagines a glorious wedding with Claire at a Door County bee farm that suffered DDT devastation. Bill is eager to share his inheritance with the owners, one of whom is a lonesome woman who despises his true name. There’s more. The story is quite hocus-pocus.
Statements are of a variety. Bill is informed of the inheritance by an attorney. The attorney is a woman who is single. A point is this was not common in the 1960s. As the no-nonsense persona, Lachrisa Grandberry drives the point home.
Twice, a point is made about lying: “A lie is like a pesticide, nothing but poison.”
Other subtleties are bits of adult humor that Northern Sky Theater shows manage to sneak in.
The show name-drops like crazy. Milwaukee stuff: Going to Mader’s (a popular downtown Milwaukee restaurant) for champagne and schnitzel. Pulaski High School (rival of my South Division). Jay Joslin (theater critic of Milwaukee Sentinel morning newspaper). General stuff: Alan Funt and “Candid Camera” (popular TV show). John F. Kennedy (president at the time and revered by Bill) and subject of this big-audience-response line: “JFK would never cheat on Jackie.”
The show is stoked with all sorts of stuff.
+ There’s a flashy duet of sorts. A breathless Bill zips out an excited, speedy message to send to Claire by way of Western Union, with Lachrisa Grandberry as the operator repeating in warp speed – and then adding advice.
+ Hand puppets – oversized bees – sweep into song action at times.
+ A main song, “Honey Lasts Forever,” is a torchy-bluesy creation that features the flexible, strong voice of Doug Clemmons.
+ Among his characters, Alex Campea struts as the one-time class nerd now rich in the song “Loaded,” and eventually shows up at a wedding loaded, as in having too much to drink.
+ Zach Woods plays the fantasy to the hilt as Nutty Boyd – of the “Boyds and the bees” farm (groan) – as super-expressive fan of Queen Bee.
+ Claudia Dahlman radiates the determination of Elizabeth Boyd with a colorful personality and voice.
+ Molly Rhode sells Claire in show-biz ways. Like: Suddenly, there is a high-energy tap-dance routine with Claire/Molly Rhode the epitome of a queen of the stage.
Yes, “Love Stings” is off the bee-ten track but this road less traveled has very much to see and hear and escape into.
Running time: 97 minutes
Remaining performances: To Aug. 26: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday
Creative: Book and lyrics – Richard Castle; music – Matthew Levine; director and choreographer – Pam Kriger; music director and music supervisor – Alissa Rhode; orchestrator – Dennis Keith Johnson; stage manager – Shawn Galligan; assistant stage manager – Hayden Hoffman; costume designer – Karen Brown-Larimore; lighting designer – Jason Fassl; sound designers – Ben Werner and Derly Vela; scenic designer – Adam Stoner; props designer – Lisa Schlenker
Doc Dudley – Alex Campea
Claire Fairweather – Molly Rhode
Nutty Boyd – Zach Woods
Elizabeth Boyd – Claudia Dahlman (7.26 show) or Corrie Beula Kovacs
Jeri Nichols/Operator – Lachrisa Grandberry
Bill Zapper – Doug Clemons
Musicians: Alissa Rhode, Dennis Keith Johnson, Colin O’Day, with occasional assists from members of the cast
“Love Stings” – Elizabeth, Jeri, Nutty, Dudley
“Where There’s a Will” – Bill, Claire
“Where There’s a Will” (Reprise) – Bill, Jeri
“Buzz Off” – Elizabeth, Nutty, Dudley, Bill
“Everything I Need” – Bill, Elizabeth, Nutty
“Loaded” – Dudley, Claire
“Honey Is Love” – Elizabeth, Bill, Jeri, Dudley, Nutty
“Honey Is Love” (Reprise) – Bill, Jeri, Dudley, Nutty
“Answering Service” – Bill, Operator
“Bride to Be” – Bill, Claire, Nutty, Elizabeth, Dudley
“Queen Bee” – Company
“Honey Lasts Forever” – Bill
“Happy Wedding Song” – Company
“Finale” – Company
ALSO: “Fishing for the Moon” (outdoors), “Dad’s Season Tickets” (indoors).
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.