Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Northern Sky tickles ribs in takeoff on a classic

Northern Sky Theater_ _No Bones About It__-3016929010026331083

PHOTO: Chase Stoeger and Eva Nimmer are love birds at a barbeque fest in Northern Sky Theater’s production of the new “No Bones About It.” Len Villano photo

FISH CREEK, Wis. (WFRV) – In a 2015 version of the famous balcony scene from “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 2015 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, which is that of:

“No Bones About It,” a world premiere musical comedy presentation of Northern Sky Theater, with performances continuing through Aug. 28 in the amphitheater of Peninsula State Park north of Fish Creek.


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 – Jordan Horne.

Running Time: One hour, 15 minutes, no intermission.

Info: www.northernskytheater.com.


“Prologue” – Company

“Ribfest” – Company

“No Bones About It” – Adam, Karen

“Move On” – Karen, Adam, Ronny, Julie

“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


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).

Now that Northern Sky Theater has completed its offering of two new shows for this season, it becomes clearer what the name change from American Folklore Theatre means. While shows still have an element of Wisconsin in them, that element is more of a by-the-way than having the story hidebound/iron grip about something from/in Wisconsin in its history, fact or fiction. Perhaps the Wisconsin factor will surface in future new shows, but it no longer seems a focal factor. (Not complaining, just saying).

ALSO RUNNING: “When Butter Churns to Gold” and “Strings Attached.”

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 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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