Music, Book & Lyrics by Matt Zembrowski
Your Prescription for Laughter
The quiet town of Sister Harbor, Wisconsin is thrown into an uproar when their longtime physician, Doc Olsen, decides to retire. When Doc’s nephew, Dr. Jim Olsen, arrives from Milwaukee to take his place, it will take more than a spoonful of sugar to get the stout-hearted residents of Sister Harbor to swallow this new doctor’s dose of “modern” medicine. Full of zany characters, delightful tunes, and small town charm “Doctor! Doctor!” is your prescription for laughs this summer. Summer 2016 World Premiere
Produced in 2016 & 2017
Show Length = 90 minutes with no intermission
– WFRV, WeAreGreenBay.com, Warren Gerds
MATT ZEMBROWSKI (Composer-Playwright-Lyricist)
In 1995, an awkward 12 year old kid and his little brother found themselves being spirited away by a performance of "Bone Dance" at American Folklore Theater. Matt's love of theater and lifelong dream of writing a show produced by Northern Sky was born that day. Born and raised in Milwaukee, Matt attended Dominican High School and later UW-Milwaukee with a dream of having a life in the theater. In addition to working with several Milwaukee-area theater companies (including In Tandem Theater, Next Act Theater, Soulstice Theater and the Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove), Matt wrote music for and performed in "Sunsets and S'mores" for AFT/Northern Sky in 2009, joining his "little" brother Zach, who was a member of the technical staff that summer. "Doctor! Doctor!" is Matt's first fully produced full-length musical. Currently, he is the Theater Director and Choral Music Director at St. Thomas More High School in Milwaukee, and in July he will be saying "I do!" to the lovely and talented Lori Nappe, who has been a constant source of inspiration and support during the creation of this show. And though 20 years have passed, Matt is most likely still a little awkward.
Bob Thorp, Mayor of Sister Harbor............................Bill Theisen*
Mavis Gorski, general store operator.........................Kelly Doherty
Kathleen Norberg, town schoolteacher.....................Eva Nimmer
Hank Bumpkin....................................................Doug Mancheski*
Annie Norberg, little sister to Kathleen......................Laura Paruzynski
Doc Olsen..........................................................Fred 'Doc' Heide
Julie Hagen........................................................Rhonda Rae Busch
Jim Olsen.........................................................Chase Stoeger
*Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
MIKE FISCHER, Special to the Journal Sentinel – June 27, 2017
I included Matt Zembrowski’s “Doctor! Doctor!” in my annual list of Wisconsin’s best shows after watching the premiere production last summer; I stand by that assessment after watching the 2017 rendition, performed by a nearly identical cast.
The story of a doctor from Milwaukee descending on a fictionalized Door County town of misfits, “Doctor! Doctor!” is another exploration of whether and how we’re willing to welcome someone different into our often provincially closed-off lives. Often playful and always entertaining, it can also dig deep in exploring what one song proclaims: it’s hard to be lonely.
Heide is also on stage this summer playing another retiring “Doc” who’s quite sure there’s plenty of reason to keep living: in “Doctor! Doctor,” a sweetly sentimental subplot features the close relationship between Heide’s retiring Doc Olsen and his longtime assistant (Rhonda Rae Busch). Much of it is conducted long distance, as Doc takes a retirement trip during which he enjoys baseball games from Milwaukee to the Atlantic seaboard.
Baseball is an apt thematic metaphor for this show: in this greatest of American games as in the show’s fictional town of Sister Harbor, one can play as a unique individual like Doc Heide while nevertheless remaining an integral part of a team or town (or renowned theater company), reminding us that we’re ultimately in this together, even when we bat alone.
‘Doctor, Doctor!' brightens Door County
Warren Gerds - June 18, 2016
Northern Sky Theater’s new musical is like an ice cream sundae. It has wide appeal, many flavors and lots of blended subtleties.
“Doctor, Doctor!” is filled with the aura of Door County, 1938, small-town folks, hands-on doctoring, baseball, affection and multiple styles of music and humor.
As with all Northern Sky Theater shows, there is more than meets the eye in this show by Matt Zembrowski.
Friday night’s world premiere performance was met by a THRONG in the Peninsula State Park Amphitheater. The place holds 650 on wooden bench seating, and, of necessity, folding chairs were brought out to fill in remaining gaps.
That THRONG says something about Northern Sky Theater – the interest, the curiosity (for its new show), the acceptance.
“Wow,” artistic director Jeffrey Herbst said on greeting the THRONG. He said he marveled at the turnout. “It’s gratifying and fulfilling, and I feel very lucky to be in this position.”
After the performance, co-founder Fred “Doc” Heide noted the company’s place in American musical theater: Probably the only one creating new, homegrown, from scratch, musicals year after year, with the count around 50.
What happened between the little talks by Herbst and Heide was pretty darn good.
Zembrowski is a “from home” – Wisconsin-bred – creator. As a boy, he came to shows of Northern Sky (American Folklore Theatre at the time). He participated on stage and in writing in the past. Now, wearing all three creative hats, he’s got the Northern Sky way of things down to a T.
“Doctor, Doctor!” answers the question, What would happen if a beloved Door County doctor retires, and his nephew steps into his shoes? The first reaction is mistrust. And then stuff happens for the story to unfold nicely.
The show has multiple love stories. It has a secondary story that affirms a place for a young woman of spirit and smarts. And it tells jokes, with the show’s title being a tipoff to that: It’s the old vaudeville style that goes something like this: “Guy walks in and says, ‘Doctor, Doctor, I’ve got wind,’ and the doctor says, ‘Here’s a kite’.” The young doctor (Chase Stoeger) in the show is filled with those type of groaners that bring a smile.
Other running jokes: Mayor Bob Thorp (Bill Thiesen) can’t remember a thing. Hank Bumpkin (Doug Mancheski) stinks; people know he’s arriving well before he arrives. Hank Bumpkin and Mavis Gorski (Kelly Doherty) trash talk each other about sheepshead, the card game of skill (I was no good).
Running storylines: Retiring Doc Olsen (Fred “Doc” Heide) loves baseball, and during the show is on a trip to see such teams as the Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians and Pittsburgh Pirates – and has pennants for all. Doctoring is constantly present in older styles of Doc (Heide), new treatments of Jim (Stoeger) and the next generation of Annie (Rachael Zientek). Added are comic touches about small-town doctors being jacks of all trades in yanking teeth of a person or treating a pregnant cow on a farm.
Director and company assistant artistic director Molly Rhode and the astute cast collaborate to develop feisty characters all around. The performers act, sing and dance, often in ensemble ways. Zembowski has devised some tricky fare – triplets, with three characters singing different parts, with dancing to boot; duets of two styles; rapid-fire patterns. The performers spring to their roles.
Duet scenes have flair. “I’m Very Glad You Called” turns sweet as Doc Olsen (Heide) and longtime right hand in his doctor’s office Julie (Rhonda Rae Busch) speak by a telephone. “It’s Hard to Be Lonely” finds young Dr. Olsen (Stoeger) and the schoolmarm (Eva Nimmer) looking into their lives as doctor and teacher and then slipping into a dance bit on the rhythms of the song’s toe-tapping music.
Sometimes, bits of piano music trickle through scenes to add mood, color and tone to what’s happening.
Hearing is not a problem, even though the amphitheater is wide, deep and open. The performers use wireless headsets, and the theater has a quality system. I sat in the second to last row and found the sound clean and strong.
In the story, Door County doesn’t get off being totally idyllic: Young doctor: “It seems very nice.” Schoolmarm’s spunky sister: “Give it time.” Later, from the spunky sister: “It’s like everyone is stuck in this big, old ditch and doesn’t want to get out.”
In ways, the story is boy-meets-girl simplistic. But it’s something an audience can relate to – and it is presented in anything but simplistic ways. Northern Sky Theater productions have a subtle sophistication, like this: The guy in the worn straw hat, bib overalls, dusty boots and shank of hay in his teeth who OWNS everything he can see around him.
Scene changes are made swiftly with two main techniques. On the theater’s back wall are three large pieces of art that look like tapestries of such scenes as a Door County shoreline and a harbor. Two of the “tapestries” are layered. Peel one, and underneath are signs and such that would be seen in a town, and the scene becomes the fictional Sister Harbor. Peel another, and underneath are medical drawings of the human anatomy, and the scene becomes the office of Doc Olsen and then the young doctor. Long-distance telephone scenes with Doc Olsen and Julie are accomplished with telephone devices of the era and lighting.
Leaving the theater, what’s the impression? The show is love stories of multiple facets – people, place and desire to do something. Very affirming.
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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DOCTOR! DOCTOR! Cures Audiences with C&D – Charm & Delightful Songs
Peggy Sue Dunigan - June 30, 2016
Under the stars in Peninsula State Park for the 2016 season, Northern Sky Theater stages their latest World Premiere, Doctor! Doctor! Milwaukee's Matt Zembrowski, who grew up sitting in the state park audiences since he was 12, dreamed of writing a musical for the former American Folklore Theater, now Northern Sky, his entire life and this season fulfills that vision. Books, lyrics and music composed and written by Zembrowski, a considerable artistic feat, recommend the play as "a prescription for laughter," which the new musical delivered for opening week audiences. Northern Sky's talented acting troupe produce lighthearted laughter for an enthusiastic Door County crowd.
The production choreographed and directed by Molly Rhode, the company's Associate Artistic Director, centers around Sister Harbor's (aka, think Sister Bay), where Doc Olson decides to take a vacation after 30 years, and eventually retire. County doctors practicing in 1938, the country still recovering from the Great Depression, signed up to double as dentists and veterinarians in towns of merely 300 plus people while also dispensing the latest medicinal discoveries instead of local remedies.
When Albert Olson leaves on his "big city" trip to begin his retirement dreams, nephew Jim Olson enters Sister Harbor, fresh from medical school and training. Add into this small town story a forgetful mayor, the local general store manager, a lonely but pretty young school teacher, and her sister, a young women ready to soar into her own outside Door County. Upon Jim Olson's arrival, the entire village changes, noted in the song, "Something in the Air."
AFT co-founder Fred "Doc" Heide revels in the role of the older physician, Albert, while Chase Stoeger, who has perfected Northern Sky comedic timing, gives the younger Doctor Olson, handsome vibes. Kudos to returning Rhonda Rae Busch and Kelly Doherty, two distinguished actors and voices, in the roles of Julie Hagen, the doctor's assistant, and Mavis Gorski, the general store manager. One tender musical moment involves Heide and Busch, as Albert and Julie, singing "Your Chicken Soup, " a clever remedial love song. Included in the ensemble and a presence always welcome on any stage, Bill Theisen's Mayor Bob steals a few scenes and songs.
Eva Nimmer returns to Northern Sky and plays Kathleen, the attractive schoolteacher who loves her job, and sings a warm duet "It's Hard to Be Lonely" together with Stoeger, in the story's younger coupling. Debuting Racheal Zientek, a familiar face to Milwaukee audiences, appears ever so appealing in the role of Annie, Kathleen's sister ready to stretch her wings and fly far from Sister Harbor. The two share a wonderful sisterly moment in their duet, "Everything I Know," and siblings in the audience might reminisce their own growing up memories.
What would a Northern Sky production without crowd pleasing favorite Doug Mancheski play be like? Theatergoers standing in line before the show anxiously looked for his name in the playbill. In Doctor! Doctor! Mancheski inhabits Hank Bumpkin, (Is that really a name from the past?), someone who shows up at the new doctor's door and often believes he's dying. As a tribute to this talented actor, could someone please write an Northern Sky premiere, similar to Windjammer, where Mancheski might be the sophisticated man about town? While he does "get the girls," and comedy requires impeccable timing, only Mancheski could do this one scene in the show and make the crowd laugh, sincerely appreciating Mancheski for the gifted actor he is, in serious roles, would be another charm!
Whatever ails Door County audiences in summer 2016-Brexits, global warming and weather, Ephraim's rejuvenation from being a dry town, political elections and positions, or the stock market–Zembrowski's Doctor! Doctor!, and the sometimes utterly funky jokes that inspire the title provide a charming treatment for laughter and love in Peninsula Park.
Take this warmhearted show three times this summer, along with the other superb Northern Sky selections, and then discover rest and relaxation while experiencing the wonders of Door County. Be sure to place a dollar, a mere one dollar bill, in the hat when leaving the theater so Northern Sky and their marvelous theatrical community will continue to produce new musicals for generations to come. Know that perhaps only watching a Sister Bay sunset from the shoreline, or sitting under the heavens with a silver moon reflecting on the water, or seeing a show while the ancient pine trees hover the stage, can heal a soul quicker than the cast calling for doctor, doctor!
'Doctor! Doctor!' a musical prescription for town's fear of change
By Special to the Journal Sentinel - July 5, 2016 ,
Our first glimpse of Wisconsin's fictional Sister Harbor – the small Door County town in which "Doctor! Doctor!" unfolds – is as cozy and comfy as the setting in which this new musical by Matt Zembrowski plays out: Northern Sky Theater's idyllic outdoor stage, set under a canopy of trees and stars in Peninsula State Park.
But as is always true of Northern Sky shows – designed so that they're accessible to theatergoers of all ages while simultaneously incorporating more musically and thematically sophisticated material – such a straightforward diagnosis of what's up in "Doctor" would be premature.
As things get under way in the spring of 1938, the town's longstanding doctor (Doc Heide) has just taken down his shingle; there's warmth and affection as a town of 325 celebrates his retirement, sending him off on his first vacation in more than thirty years.
But that era of good feeling immediately gives way with the arrival of Doc's replacement: the young and nervous Jim Olsen (Chase Stoeger), Doc's nephew. There's latent aggression in the townspeople's vigorous welcome, as underscored by director and choreographer Molly Rhode's staging of "A Small Town," a number in which Jim's isolation is apparent even as he's surrounded.
General store operator Mavis Gorski (Kelly Doherty) sums up the problem when launching a sophisticated trio with a spot-on title: "I Don't Trust Him." Jim is an outsider, from the big bad city of Milwaukee. He has newfangled ideas about treatment. And he's not their beloved Doc. He represents change; they want more of the same.
But how good has the same old truly been, for Sister Harbor and all those who live there? On closer inspection, the eccentrics gathered here suggest a family-friendly version of the lonely souls profiled in "Winesburg, Ohio."
As presented through another fine performance from Doherty, Mavis is an incorrigible gossip who meddles in others' lives while her own curdles in disappointment; she's starved for love, but won't even acknowledge she's hungry.
Hank Bumpkin (Doug Mancheski) is a cranky farmer who never washes, refuses to be touched and is beset by a host of ailments suggesting how living alone is taking a toll on his body. The town mayor (Bill Theisen) is so chronically forgetful that he'll arrive at Jim's office unable to remember the ailment triggering his visit.
All of this gets milked a bit too hard for laughs, but there's nothing funny about what the mayor's memory problems suggest: In a town that's stuck in place and isolated from the outside world, there's no way to gauge the difference between yesterday and today, let alone measuring the distance to tomorrow. Memories grow fuzzy as time slips by, because every day is the same.
No wonder the Norberg sisters – 25-year-old Kathleen (Eva Nimmer) and 18-year-old Annie (Rachael Zientek) – come alive on Jim's arrival: Not yet fully entrenched in what Annie calls the "ditch" the town risks becoming, they more openly express the yearning for something different that all of these lonely hearts periodically feel.
The great awakening that ensues is glorious, whether it's being expressed in a stunning ensemble number like "Something in the Air"; Annie's wide-eyed realization that she might actually be given the chance to become a doctor (beautifully sung by Zientek); the lovely soft-shoe duet in which Jim and Kathleen fall in love; or the tender, long-distance phone calls between Doc and his longtime assistant (Rhonda Rae Busch).
As a result, we can more fully invest in the boosterish "A Small Town" by the time it gets reprised as the Finale. Jim's doctoring has freed Sister Harbor's residents to give full voice to their best selves.
IF YOU GO
"Doctor! Doctor!" continues through Aug. 26 at Northern Sky Theater in Peninsula State Park. For tickets, call 920-854-6117 or visit northernskytheater.com. Read more about this production at TapMilwaukee.com.
Setting the Stage: Scenic designer Lisa Schlenker once again proves less is more, enabling smooth transitions from Mavis' general store to Jim's office through tapestries affixed to the upstage wall; they depict conventional outdoor scenes of Door County life. When one of these three tapestries is removed, it reveals a pricing board of the sort one might find in a Depression-era general store; when a second is removed, it offers medical charts of the sort one might find in an old-fashioned doctor's office. Two properties – a general store counter and a doctor's examining table – further set the scene. When the show moves outside – as it most frequently does with Annie, reflecting her urge to break free – the tapestries can be affixed anew, thereby transporting us out of doors.
Matt Zembrowski: Milwaukee theatergoers will be familiar with Zembrowski, who has performed in (or served as music director for) shows in numerous Milwaukee houses. He's also been dreaming of watching his own show on stage in a Northern Sky production since seeing his first show on the Northern Sky stage at age 12. It was the popular "Bone Dance," which Zembrowski saw in August 1995, in a production by what was then known as American Folklore Theatre.
Writing in the most recent edition of Northern Sky's annual spring newsletter, Zembrowski still remembered that magical night, which he recalled being unseasonably cold. "I had no idea," he wrote, that "that show would lead to a life-long love affair with live theater, and this company."
A Jack of All Trades: In that same Northern Sky newsletter article, Zembrowski described coming across the idea for "Doctor!" when stumbling upon a newspaper article while waiting tables at Al Johnson's – a popular Door County restaurant – in 2012. It featured Dr. Joan Traver, a Sister Bay physician then about to retire who harkened back to days when doctors paid house calls on their patients. Jim's house calls entail services as a veterinarian as well as a physician; his office visitors expect him to be a dentist as well as a doctor.
The Big Picture: There's a lot of moving parts in Zembrowski's show. In addition to those described above, one is also treated to snapshots featuring a baseball-crazy Doc, as he visits different baseball parks while journeying east on his overdue vacation; a testy but charged friendship between Mavis and Hank; Hank's frequent (and repetitive) visits to Doc's offices; and an occasionally fractious but ultimately loving relationship between the Norberg sisters.
It mostly works in this 90-minute, intermission-free show, for some of the same reasons the aforementioned "Winesburg, Ohio" – or the classic profile of small town life in Sarah Orne Jewett's "The Country of the Pointed Firs" – also work: For all their differences, each of Zembrowski's briefly sketched characters help populate a large, thematically coherent canvas illustrating small town life, from its sun-dappled best to its inevitable pools of shadow.
Kelly Doherty and Rachael Zientek: There are no weak links in the "Doctor!" cast, but I confess to being particularly taken by Doherty (who made her Northern Sky debut last year) and Zientek (making her Northern Sky debut with this show). Milwaukee theatergoers will be familiar with both; having watched their emergence on various Milwaukee stages, one isn't remotely surprised to learn that both actors turn in fine work, here.
Doherty has a late moment I don't want to divulge, in which the sourpuss she's been playing during the entire show – to great comic effect – suddenly drops away, revealing the radiant and even funnier person who has been hiding in plain view from the beginning. Doherty is an extremely funny actor – something one can readily forget because her range includes so much more.
As I've said many times, Zientek has a wonderful voice. She's also proving increasingly adept at playing the sort of young woman who is somehow overlooked by everyone on stage and by absolutely no one in the audience. We can readily see what the benighted characters around her continually miss: a woman with a big heart and a ton to give, even as she fears being hurt by characters who don't take her seriously – and can't appreciate or love her as much as she loves them and the world. Zientek's voice embodies the disconnect between how much she feels and how little others see. It's alternately heartbreaking and inspiring.