Northern Sky Theater this summer is revisiting “No Bones About It,” an imaginative musical comedy the professional company premiered in 2015. The differences from year to year are not obvious, so I’ll start this review by quoting myself, with some adaptations.
From last year:
In a version of the famous balcony scene from William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the Romeo-like Ronny gazes upon the alluring figure of Juliet-like Julie in the window of a home on wheels and says something to the effect of “But, soft! What light through yonder trailer window breaks.” Ronny has tried to climb to yonder window, but – sizz, OUCH! – has touched a hot barbeque cooker (part of the story) that is in the way. After Ronny rapturously rhapsodizes about romance in song, Julie finally speaks, saying not “Ay me!” but “What the hey?”
Ronny and Julie are in feuding families – Capp (Capulet) and Montague (Montague) – whose dispute is carried out at the Verona International Ribfest, with Verona being in Wisconsin rather than Italy. Promoting the professional barbeque cook-off is a spice king, Larry Friar; think Friar Laurence from “Romeo and Juliet.”
Unlike in the original, Ronny and Julie don’t die in the end. There’s no swordplay along the way. Heck, there aren’t even eating utensils as folks attack barbequed pork ribs with their fingers. One bone of contention is the style of rib-making – sauce vs. dry rub – in this story.
Creators Dave Hudson and Paul Libman transform what can be the stilt of Shakespeare into a limber tale of today – so much today that hash tags, selfies, text messages, food blogs and other electronic-y gizmomotrometry are part of the story.
The music in songs fits the situations – bluesy, showbizzy, rocky, spiritual, lyrical and even disco – with the title song being catchy enough to take home with you, humming.
For the frisky cast, “No Bones About It” is a frolic.
The story is built around pairs, with Larry Friar (Bill Theisen) the go between: Competing restaurateurs, dry-rub proponent Adam Capp (Doug Mancheski) and sauce-favoring Karen Montague (Rhonda Rae Busch) and their children, Julie (Eva Nimmer) and Ronny (Chase Stoeger), with competing food bloggers as judges (Kelly Doherty and Alex Campea).
Typical of a Northern Sky Theater show, the audience learns a lot about the subject at hand. The show walks through the elements and processes of barbequing pork, from ingredients, to styles, to steps in a competition, to the methods of some judges in a modern world. Much is told through song; this is not a blackboard-and-book primer. Meantime, the pairs operate in stories of their own that overlap into the whole – just like Shakespeare would maneuver characters and stories.
“No Bones About It” includes a grand surprise. Hudson and Libman take a giant leap with dramatic license and end up lighting up the show in more ways than one. The show has been tooling along okay when, suddenly, it takes off with even brighter imagination and humor. (No spoilers here).
Creative: Book and lyrics – Dave Hudson; music – Paul Libman; additional musical arrangements – Colin Welford; directors/choreographers – Jeffrey Herbst, Pam Kriger; music director – Tim Lenihan; stage manager – Neen Rock; scenic designer – Lisa Schlenker; assistant scenic artist – Adam Stoner; lighting designer – David Alley; sound designer – Nic Trapani; costume designer – Karen Brown-Larimore; props designer – Kathleen Rock
Cast: Adam Capp, owner of Cappy’s Happy Pig – Doug Mancheski; Larry Friar, owner of Friar’s Spices – Bill Theisen; Karen Montague, owner of Monty’s Jurassic Pork – Rhonda Rae Busch; Ronny, Karen’s son – Chase Stoeger; Julie, Adam’s daughter – Eva Nimmer; Kelly, a foodie – Kelly Doherty; Ken, a foodie – Alex Campea; Young Larry – Adam Stoner
Orchestra: Conductor/keyboard – Tim Lenihan or Alissa Rhode; bass and guitar – Jay Kummer; percussion – Bruce Newbern
Running time: One hour, 14 minutes, with no intermission
Remaining performances: 8:30 p.m. Mondays (except July 4) and Thursdays to Aug. 25
Thoughts from Monday night’s performance:
At first, the audience listened, apparently not knowing what to make of the strange story – a barbeque competition…huh? As action and songs percolated along, interest grew. The audience started catching on and caught some little things, basically after a BIG THING happened: Ronny and Julie kissed. Oh, it’s a love story!
That this show is a variation on “Romeo and Juliet” is underplayed. Northern Sky Theater does not want to scare off potential patrons. The title, “Romeo and Juliet,” is mentioned in program notes. The title usually registers as a positive. William Shakespeare’s name does not appear. His name can be a negative at a theater that thrives on populist fare (easy to understand, lively, family minded, comical).
This year, the 400th since the death of Shakespeare, all kinds of special attention is being paid to the most important playwright in the English language. Among all the productions all over the world, “No Bones About It” is right up there in the most “out there” adaptations of a Shakespeare play.
Monday’s performance of “No Bones About It” followed that of “Doctor, Doctor!” Six of the performers in “Doctor, Doctor!” turned around in the matter of less than an hour and put on “No Bones About It.” Sometimes you may be hard pressed to remember what you had for breakfast, and these pros pulled off two productions on the same night without a hitch. The Northern Sky Theater casts and crews are really, really good.
“Prologue” – Company
“Ribfest” – Company
“Move On” – Karen, Adam, Ronny, Julie
“No Bones About It” – Adam, Karen
“We Love Food” – Kelly, Ken, Larry
“Variety is the Spice of Life” – Larry, Adam, Julie, Ronny, Karen
“Better Keep Away” – Ronny, Julie
“Gods of Smoke” – Company
“A Light Through Yonder Window” – Ronny, Julie
“Countdown Part 1” – Adam, Karen, Ronny, Julie
“Better Keep Away” (Reprise) – Adam, Karen
“Countdown Part 2” – Company
“Better Keep Away” (Reprise2) – Company
“No Bones About It” (Reprise) – Company
ALSO RUNNING: “Doctor, Doctor!” “Lumberjacks in Love,” “When Butter Churns to Gold”
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.
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