Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Northern Sky finds ‘Strings Attached’ worth repeating

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Northern Sky Theater_ _Strings Attached__-7254422177243707654

PHOTO: Eve Nimmer and Chase Stoeger perform a scene in Northern Sky Theater’s 2014 version of “Strings Attached.” They’re back this season. Len Villano photo

FISH CREEK, Wis. (WFRV) – Completing the roster for the 25th season of shows in the amphitheater at Peninsula State Park is Northern Sky Theater’s “Strings Attached,” a returnee from last season and, in a way, a returnee from numerous seasons of theaters around the world. Reason: Creators Dave Hudson and Colin Welford borrow from centuries-old comedies in the story of twins separated as infants.

It’s a frolicsome tale and production with broad audience appeal for the preposterousness of it all.

“Strings Attached” of 2015 is different than “Strings Attached” of 2014 in one performer and more nuanced performances – in the way a stew tastes better on the second day as the flavors develop more character.

Another difference: The troupe was American Folklore Theatre in 2014. It is now Northern Sky Theater, a slightly varied version of its predecessor.

***

Creative: Book and lyrics – Dave Hudson; music and additional lyrics – Colin Welford; orchestrations – Colin Welford; co-directors – Pam Kriger, Jeffrey Herbst; music director – Tim Lenihan; scenic designer – Lisa Schlenker; assistant scenic artist – Adam Stoner; costume designer – Karen Brown-Larimore; lighting designer – David Alley; props designer – Kathleen Rock.

Cast: Andy – Alex Campea; Frank – Doug Mancheski; Kaye – Rhonda Rae Busch; Bob – Doc Heide; Hawaiian Hal – Chase Stoeger; Leia – Eva Nimmer; Wisconsin Hal – Chad Luberger; Lana – Molly Rhode.

Running time: One hour, 30 minutes.

Info: www.northernskytheater.com

Songs

“Prologue – My Boy” – Bob

“Big Things” – Company

“Welcome Song” – Frank, Kaye, Andy

“Tongue-tied” – Hawaiian Hal, Lana

“Unexpected Music” – LeiaWisconsin Hal

“The Hotel Code” – Frank, Kaye, Andy

“Room Service” – Frank, Kaye, Andy

“Suddenly” – Leia, Lana

“Beside Myself” – Hawaiian HalWisconsin Hal

“My Boy” (Reprise) –  Bob, Hawaiian HalWisconsin Hal

“Strings Attached” – Company

***

Since the show is largely the same as last season, my review is largely the same as last season.

Identical twin brothers are in a sailing mishap as infants. They’re separated. They’re saved, separately. They live separate lives. Each is involved in making musical instruments. One, Hal, is artistic; he’s inclined to design. The other one, also Hal, is business minded. Hal and Hal know of each other’s company – one makes ukuleles and is based in Hawaii, the other makes banjos and is based in Wisconsin – and they think a merger will be a good thing. One Hal brings his girlfriend and father, the other Hal brings his girlfriend to confer in Wisconsin at The Next to Last Chance Resort. Each Hal is dressed exactly like the other Hal – jeans and a flaming-red Hawaiian shirt. Each Hal falls for the other Hal’s girlfriend. Hal and Hal are never in the same place together, confusing the bejeepers out of the hotel staff that sticks to its Code to hear, see and speak no gossipy stuff. The girlfriends are smitten by the suddenly “new” Hal they’re with. Each Hal breaks off his relationship with his girlfriend for his new-found soul mate. The girlfriends are confused by the on/off, on/off, on/off way they feel about Hal. Everybody’s confused. Mayhem builds and builds and builds until everybody is scampering around at a breakneck pace trying to figure out who’s what to whom and why.

Timing is everything. The limber cast has it down, door slam and surprised look by door slam and surprised look.

“Strings Attached” features a hybrid style of performance. The show has roots in classic mistaken-identities stories (think William Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors”), in fast-action farce, in music theater loopiness – with the troupe’s necessity of placing the story in Wisconsin. Aside from the use of the names “Wisconsin” and “Hawaii” as places, this show doesn’t bother much with fact or reality. It’s a playing with a style, a devil of a style to pull off. Once pieces are in place, it’s pretty much all-out action, laced with songs that are interlocked with the story and characters’ feelings.

Musically, the show is… hmm, different for today. There is a warm ballad, “My Boy,” that the father sings that is the essence of the story. Sometimes, the musical style is that of perky jazz-pop harmonics that have the feel of, excuse me, a 1950s TV commercial for toothpaste. Or whatever. There is a strong sense of the clock being turned back. Cleverness is infused in many songs as individual characters sing his or her take on a specific lyric – like everybody in “Big Things,” the lovers in “Tongue-Tied,” the Hals in “Beside Myself” and the hotel staff in “Welcome Song,” which is especially jolly when a staffer sings only his or her part of the song alone. The scene for “Unexpected Music” includes a sweet illusion: Did you know you could draw a ukulele, add a new design to the instrument and then play the strings in the drawing and have sound come from the drawing? Nice.

The cast is quite game for the speedy action, songs infused with dancing and vocal harmonics and the general light-hearted aura of the show. A highlight is a mirror-image song with movement by the twins that brings the story to a head.

Chase Stoeger and Chad Luberger are the twin brothers, with Doc Heide as their father. Eva Nimmer and Molly Rhode are the twins’ girlfriends. Playing the befuddled hotel staff are Alex Campea (new to the cast this season), Doug Mancheski and Rhonda Rae Busch. Stirring the performers to bright liveliness are co-directors Jeffrey Herbst and Pam Kriger.

A few stray thoughts: Campea seems to add a bit more zing to the show with his ability to light up his character’s many moments of shock and awe. In the offseason, Doc Heide became a full professor in his other life (which continues to amaze) in academia/teaching/research. On stage in many capacities and now as associate artistic director of Northern Sky, Molly Rhode is what amounts to be a full professor. In “Strings Attached,” Rhode gets to perform opposite her real-life husband, Chase Stoeger, and they get to be love struck by each other in performance after performance – which would seem a lovely perk of their being in this show.

ALSO RUNNING: “When Butter Churns to Gold” and “No Bones About It.”

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.

Because I review performances that range from amateur to professional, and because production budgets range tremendously, I no longer use star ratings. You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air segments on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

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

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