Boxcar | Northern Sky Theater

Book & Lyrics by Laurie Flanigan Hegge
Music by James Valcq

Summer 2018 World Premiere

A tender story about an unlikely friendship

Set in Wisconsin in the 1930s, Boxcar tells the inspiring story of a young boy named Charlie who befriends two hobos camped out on the edge of his family’s property. As this tender story unfolds and soars, Boxcar explores the deep struggles of the era while celebrating the ultimate triumph that comes from one human being coming to the aid of another in tough times.

“Laurie was one of the authors of Loose Lips Sink Ships and James composed the music for Victory Farm,” said Artistic Director, Jeff Herbst. “It’s exciting to have these two accomplished artists collaborating for the first time on a Northern Sky world premiere.”

Show Length = 85 minutes with no intermission

Sponsored By:
Door County Medical Center, Main Street Market, On Deck Clothing Company, White Gull Inn

Boxcar is unusual – and an endearing sidetrack for Northern Skya gift to the audience in theatrical setup and sensitivity in composition.” – WFRV,, Warren Gerds, Critic-at-Large

Boxcar is a solid work with a vibrant cast…offering color of voice and vision to characters.” – WFRV,, Warren Gerds, Critic-at-Large


About the Writers
Cast of Characters

About the Writers

Laurie Flanigan Hegge headshotLAURIE FLANIGAN HEGGE (Playwright & Lyricist)
Laurie is an actor and playwright who spent many years as a company member at Northern Sky Theater, appearing in many beloved shows, including Loose Lips Sink Ships, which she co-wrote with Jacinda Duffin and James Kaplan, and See Jane Vote, another Kaplan collaboration. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband Jon Hegge and daughter Celia. Other writing credits include: Hormel Girls, Twenty Days to Find a Wife, Sweet Land, the Musical (catch it in Seattle at Taproot Theatre this summer), and Dirty Business, a new spy musical set to premiere at the History Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota in May 2019. She serves as the Twin Cities Regional Rep for the Dramatists Guild of America.


James Valcq headshotJAMES VALCQ (Composer & Orchestrator)
James is best known as the composer of the Off-Broadway musical The Spitfire Grill (Playwrights Horizons, 2001) which won the Richard Rodgers Production Award administered by the American Academy of Arts and Letters (Stephen Sondheim, chair) and received Best Musical nominations from the Outer Critics Circle and Drama League as well as two Drama Desk nominations. Written with collaborator Fred Alley, Spitfire has been produced almost 700 times across the United States, in Germany, South Korea, Japan, Australia, and London. Also Off-Broadway, James was the composer/author of Zombies from the Beyond, which opened to critical acclaim in 1995. Broadway credits as conductor and/or musician include Chicago and Flower Drum Song. James is the co-artistic director of Third Avenue Playhouse in Sturgeon Bay where his creations/adaptations have included Maid to Marry, I Love a Piano, Madame Sherry, and Velvet Gentleman.


Jason Hansen headshotJASON HANSEN (Orchestrator)
Jason has served as music director, composer, orchestrator, educator, and/or performer at Theater Latté Da, the Children’s Theater Company, Mixed Blood Theater, Guthrie Theater, History Theater, Theater Mu, Ten Thousand Things, Open Eye Figure Theater, the MN Fringe Festival, the Hennepin Theater Trust, and the Arkansas Repertory Theater. In the past three years, Jason has contributed to over ten world premieres. He also co-directs the senior rock ensemble Alive & Kickin and is a published composer and arranger continuing to develop new music for choir, cabaret and theater. He lives in St. Paul with his wife Alise and daughter Madeleine.

Cast of Characters

Gladys Benson (Woodrow's devoted wife)....................Molly Rhode*

Woodrow Benson (father and owner of the local savings and loan)....................Doug Mancheski*

Gordon (railroad stationmaster and telegraph operator)....................Alex Campea

Mack (Fred's fellow hobo and traveling companion)....................Doug Clemons

Fred (a weathered hobo down on his luck with an injured arm)....................Jeffrey Herbst*

Charlie Benson (Francis' younger brother, age 10)....................Ben Martin (understudy Cole Albertson)

Francis Benson (Charlie's older sister and reporter for the local paper)....................Nadja Simmonds


*Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.

Reviews / WFRV


Tale of 1930s America Deftly Told in ‘Boxcar' in Door County


Warren Gerds/Critic at Large - June 26, 2018


A story set in early 1930s workaday America will have a certain tone, certain colors. Not festive reds and yellows. More autumn tans just before the onset of winter. Perhaps that’s an odd way to describe a musical. But “Boxcar” is unusual – and an endearing sidetrack for Northern Sky Theater, where spunky musical comedy rules.


“Boxcar” mostly is a glimpse. The boxcar is a temporary home for a couple of wandering guys. The railroad car is parked on the edge of property owned by the town banker. Push and shove emerge about the presence of the men. They are a nuisance and threat to some, a temptation to a 10-year-old boy and... and... and... still humans to sensitive souls.


What is unusual about “Boxcar” as a musical theater entity is it subtly grows from a glimpse into a landscape mural. By the end, the creation of Laurie Flanigan Hegge and James Valcq says something about people who came before us who had to get by.


Also unusual for a Northern Sky Theater is the presence of a boy in a major role – singing, dancing, acting, bringing the story along. Benjamin Martin is age 10, from Jacksonport and dependable. “Boxcar” wouldn’t work without such a boy.


“Boxcar” is this season’s second world-premiere production for Northern Sky Theater. As is “Dairy Heirs,” “Boxcar” is a solid work with a vibrant cast (with some overlapping).


Snapshot for “Boxcar”: Fred (Jeffrey Herbst) and Mack (Doug Clemons) are encamped near the home of the Bensons mainly because Fred has an injured arm. Little Charlie (Benjamin Martin) noses around and becomes fascinated by the men. Charlie’s mother (Molly Rhode) represents kindness, Charlie’s banker father (Doug Mancheski) represents a coldness and Charlie’s older sister (Nadja Simmonds) represents a hard-boiled world through her job as a newspaper reporter.


Also in the picture is the railroad’s stationmaster/telegrapher, Gordon (Alex Campea), to whom I will give special mention because he is a wonderful character. To me, Gordon is Mr. America. When Gordon hears a train coming at a specific time, he knows where that train is going and he envisions that place through song. Along the way, Gordon takes the audience to a golden California, a vibrant New York City and the enriched Plains. Mr. America is a collage of our country through song feeding our imagination.


“Boxcar” is not a comedy, though there a laughs – with a notably big one for a tale about fan dancer Sally Rand. There’s a bit of historical cleverness in a reference to Trotsky. Mack: “I thought he was dead.” Fred: “He just plays dead. He doesn’t want to be bothered.”


“Boxcar” is a drama, though with beveled edges and lots of spicing through vibrant songs. Some of the drama comes from a long-distant ripple from the Great War. Some comes from a present, large ripple of the Crash.


In lyrics and music, the Hegge and Valcq palate is varied. Variations of the opening song, “On Time,” visits a number of times. It rides on the rhythm of a railroad train and the aura of simply going. “Open Air Navigation” bursts with adventure, with the performers adding excitement by climbing to the roof of the two-level boxcar set piece. “Black Bottle” digs into the depths of Fred. Through song, we learn the difference between being a hobo, a tramp and a bum. “Hobo’s Lullaby” is pure warmth of Fred – and a gift to the audience in theatrical setup and sensitivity in composition.


Directed skillfully by Jon Hegge, the cast takes to the material, offering color of voice and vision to characters. The players know they have good stuff to work with, and they treat it with care.


Monday night’s audience gave up a standing ovation. Perhaps that was for something different from Northern Sky Theater, perhaps for being reminded, perhaps for the romance of a fringe life style, perhaps for the aura of a colorful if hard era, perhaps for the sure ways of writing and performing, perhaps for being American, perhaps for being transported or perhaps for the whole shebang.


THE VENUE: Northern Sky Theater (the former American Folklore Theatre) performs in a scenic, 650-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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