“Dairy Heirs” sounds like a cute title for a quaint story about Wisconsin folks who ache to keep the family farm going. It is… and then again, it is much more.
Take the first song, “Home.” The show jumps right into singing by one person. Then another sings “Home,” then another, then another, then another – each with a different meaning on what home means to him or her. Eventually, five people are singing “Home” in five ways – at once.
The “much more” of this musical starts right out of the gate with “Home.”
“Diary Heirs” is one of two new Northern Sky Theater shows on this year’s summer season that continues to Aug. 25 at Peninsula State Park amphitheater.
“Dairy Heirs” premiered Tuesday night in front of a full house of with-it listeners. (There’s a joke in the show about a fly and a cow that the audience caught the catchline to exactly one mile away).
The story of “Dairy Heirs” is about family and change and the country mouse and the city mouse and sibling rivalry and love and loneliness and puns – tons and tons of fun-on-the-run puns – set on a dairy farm in Door County.
As opposed to some Northern Sky Theater shows in recent years, “Dairy Heirs” has a “from here” feel to it. The authors – Joel Kopischke, Eva Nimmer and Alissa Rhode – kind of breathe Northern Sky Theater, and Nimmer performs in the show.
The on-stage performers are invested in the show just by its nature. The performers act and sing on stage and often play musical instruments; all cast members play instruments off stage, too. Toss in bits of dance, and you’ve got six busy people who make even tricky little things (like a little cow bell routine) look simple. This is a solid company.
The story setup: The patriarch of the family has died young (58) of a heart attack, basically working himself to death on the family farm. The son, Gabe (Doug Clemons), has returned from Hollywood well after the funeral to figure out the farm’s future with his sister, Elsie (Eva Nimmer). Gabe wants nothing to do with the farm, Elsie wants everything to do with the farm. Sticky point: The farm has been left to Gabe; he must decide.
Meantime… Gabe’s manager/kinda girlfriend (Lachrisa Grandberry) keeps texting him with Hollywoody things to attend to, Gabe’s old girl-next-door high school flame (Molly Rhode) flickers into the picture and the farm’s two farmhands (Alex Campea and Chase Stoeger) try to figure their future, too.
Again, all of this seems simple but is not.
Alissa Rhode’s agreeable score fits right in. In turns, it is perky and catchy, heated and laced with yearning. Made collaboratively, the song “News & Booze & Music” three times moves the story forward, unloads a heap of puns on a theme and rings with family fun musicality (sung/played by the actors).
True cosmic-cology comes in the farmhand twins with two standing jokes. One, the main one, is the two believe they are identical twins and think they do things “Exactly Alike” (a song), but neither looks anything like his brother nor has the same likes. As the “twins,” Campea (JT) and Stoeger (TJ) unleash high-level singing/movement routines that dazzle in their trickiness. The other standing joke, unspoken, is that these visual/lifestyle opposites are truly (and cosmically) identical twins.
There’s lots of lovely singing and fun singing and, with the presence of Grandberry, lifting of bluesy/spiritual-ly/gospel-ly singing (that roused Tuesday’s crowd).
This and that:
+ “Dairy Heirs” includes two adult jokes (that will go over kids’ heads) referring to Hollywood personalities.
+ A custom cheese made by farmhand JT is a play on a word. Combining provolone and pepper jack, it is Projack, which has a mellowing effect like a medication with a similar name.
+ The growing-up lives of Gabe and Elsie are revealed as they open box upon box of memorabilia their father kept – toys and such. The song “Daddy’s Favorite” is rich in memories and sentiment, with the contents illustrating very much about the kids and their father. (There’s even a spoken pun that goes with the scene: The father was like Muhammed Ali. Both were boxers).
+ Northern Sky Theater’s stage is somewhat handcuffing because it has so few moveable elements. The tall pines growing through the stage can’t be shifted from show to show. For “Dairy Heirs,” pieces that suggest a farm are placed on the walls, with a decorative piece at the top having a Scandinavian aura common in Door County. Added, too, are a silo in the background and a barn door (more puns/jokes there, too).
+ JT’s milk-to-cheese cow of the story is cleverly devised Holstein on wheels. It is functional/funny and even comes with a cowbell – ding, ding!
+ In the thick of all the wit in the show is a routine in which Elsie and Gabe express a love of where they live with a blind eye (and nose). Elsie: “The manure so pure brings a tear to my eye.” Gabe: “The rows of cars in traffic can be peaceful and serene.”
+ Opening night included an appearance by Alice in Dairyland, Kaitlyn Riley of Crawford County. Riley spoke to the audience beforehand with a kind of jaw-dropping enthusiasm for the Wisconsin dairy industry and the state’s 600 – SIX HUNDRED! – varieties of cheese (though no Projack until “Dairy Heirs).”
+ This is a solidly made and played show.
Creative: Book – Joel Kopischke, Eva Nimmer; music – Alissa Rhode; lyrics and story – Joel Kopischke; directors and choreographers – Kelly Doherty, Molly Rhode; music director and orchestrator – Alissa Rhode; stage manager – Neen Rock; scenic designer – Lisa Schlenker; assistant scenic artists – Carri Dahl and Adam Stoner; costume designer – Karen Brown-Larimore; lighting designer – Bryce Foster; props designer – Kathleen Rock; sound designer – Nic Trapani; percussion consultant – Rich Higdon
Cast: Gabe Frederiks, co-heir to the family farm – Doug Clemons; Elsie Frederiks, co-heir and Gabe’s younger sister – Eva Nimmer; JT Blatschke, “twin” farmhand – Alex Campea; TJ Blatschke, “twin” farmhand – Chase Stoeger; Linda Gustafsson, next door neighbor – Molly Rhode; Rita Spicer, Gabe’s Hollywood manager – Larchrisa Grandberry
Orchestra: Conductor/keyboard – Tim Lenihan; musicians – Alex Campea, Doug Clemons, Lachrisa Grandberry, Eva Nimmer, Molly Rhode, Chase Stoeger
Running time: One hour, 40 minutes (no intermission)
Remaining performances: To Aug. 25: 6 p.m. Mondays, 8 p.m. Tuesdays, 8:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Saturdays
“Home” – Gabe, Elsie, JT, TJ, Linda
“Simple Joys” – Elsie, Gabe
“Exactly Alike” – JT, TJ
“Left Behind” – Linda
“News & Booze & Music” – TJ, JT, Linda, Elsie
“Waiter, There’s a Fly” – TJ
“Dairy Heirs” – TJ, Elsie, JT, Linda
“Daddy’s Favorite” – Elsie, Gabe
“The Big Cheese” – JT
“What Do You Do” – Elsie, Linda
“Old News” – Gabe, Linda
“News & Booze & Music” (Reprise) – TJ, JT, Linda, Elsie
“Have You Met Mrs. Jones” – TJ
“The Barn Door” – JT
“Exactly Alike” (Reprise) – TJ, JT
“Grow a Pear” – Rita, Elsie
“Sing Your Own Song” – Gabe
“The Barn Door” (Reprise) – JT
“Fireworks” – Rita, JT
“Simple Joys” (Reprise) – TJ
“News & Booze & Music” (Reprise) – TJ, JT, Linda, Elsie, Gabe
“No Place That I’d Rather Be” – Company
ALSO IN ROTATION: “Boxcar” and “Lumberjacks in Love” sing-along version.
THE VENUE: Northern Sky Theater (the former American Folklore Theatre) performs in a scenic, 800-seat amphitheater in
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