The Fish Whisperer | Northern Sky Theater
The Fish Whisperer hz logo

Book by Scott Guy
Music by Dan Wessels & Ron Barnett
Lyrics by Robin Share
Additional Lyrics by Scott Guy
Developed in association with New Musicals, Inc.

2023 World Premiere

Something’s fishy in the town of Shewauga.

When the fish stop biting in the small Wisconsin town of Shewauga, a mysterious outsider named Hannah Hill offers to get them biting again—but only if the residents pay her $10,000!  To the locals, this all sounds a bit fishy. Is she a con artist or a genuine talent? Brimming with hope and romance, The Fish Whisperer is a world premiere musical that will hook you with sweet melodies and laughs!

The Fish Whisperer is part of World Premiere Wisconsin, a statewide new works festival taking place from March 1 – June 30, presented by the Ten Chimneys Foundation. Northern Sky Theater is proud to be a lead producer within a coalition of Wisconsin theaters celebrating new plays and musicals to raise awareness nation-wide that Wisconsin has a thriving and diverse theater ecosystem. Northern Sky will be hosting the festival’s finale party in June during the run of The Fish Whisperer.

World Premiere Wisconsin

2023 Cast includes James Carrington, Doug Clemons, Kelly Doherty, Lachrisa Grandberry, Jamie Mercado, Doc Heide, Jeff Herbst

Show Length approximately 75 minutes, no intermission

Showing: June 14 – August 25, 2023
Mondays at 8:30pm, Wednesdays and Fridays at 7:30pm
At the Park Amphitheater

Sponsored by: Main Street Market, On Deck Clothing Company, The White Gull Inn | Season Sponsors: Door County Medical Center, The Cordon Family Foundation, Tony & Judy Licata

About the Writers
Cast of Characters
Designers, Directors & More

About the Writers

Playwright & Lyricist
Scott is a writer and producer in both theatre and television. He has six Emmy nominations, and over 100 produced television scripts for Warner Bros., FOX-TV, Disney, Discovery Channel, PBS, etc. Scott is currently writing episodes for two musical webseries: Tales from a Darkening Wood and The Last Folksinger of Frog Hollow. Scott is the executive director of New Musicals Inc. where he supervises development of new musicals, including the upcoming So Proudly We Hailed, based on true stories of veterans, and Queen Mab’s Alarmingly Mandatory Bridal Shower.

Ron is a composer living in Los Angeles where he is director of music at Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church, Glendale, and a member of New Musicals Inc., North Hollywood. Full length musicals: Around the World in 80 Days (Julianne Homokay, book and lyrics, 2007 Fulton Theatre, Lancaster, PA), A Christmas Carol (Barry Kornhauser, book, published by Dramatic Publishing Company), Manson’s Girls (book and lyrics by Scott Guy) and When Butter Churns to Gold, (Peter Welkin, book/Randi Wolfe, lyrics, 2015 Northern Sky Theater. Choral music published by MorningStar and GIA.

Dan is a Los Angeles-based composer and music director. Theater: Thrones! The Musical Parody (co-composer - Edinburgh Fringe, Adelaide Fringe, Sydney Opera House), 50 Shades: The Musical Parody (co-composer - Off-Broadway, US Tour), #DateMe (co-composer - Off-Broadway, Second City Hollywood), Love, Factually (composer - Kennedy Center), Baby Wants Candy (music director - Upright Citizens Brigade), TV: Frequency Bandits (composer - Project Alpha), Improvising (NYTVF award recipient). FILM: Let’s Kill Our Boyfriends (48-Hour Film Project LA, Audience Award), GLARE (48-Hour Film Project LA, Audience Award).

Robin is happy to be part of The Fish Whisperer debut this summer at Northern Sky. A native Angeleno, Robin and composer/lyricist Clay Zambo first collaborated on Windjammers in 2011, and Robin has been in love with Door County ever since. Among Robin’s other plays and musicals are Shot Through the Heart with Underscore Theatre in Chicago in 2022, Hollywood Forever, which debuted at the Hollywood Fringe Festival in 2017, the political satire Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington, and One Day in L.A., the nationally broadcasted look at the L.A. riots created with her performance troupe L.A. Youth Ensemble. In May 2019, Robin staged the choral oratorio Considering Matthew Shepard for the Metropolitan Master Chorale. Robin is an associate in the Dramatists Guild, Stage Directors and Choreographers, and New Musicals, Inc.

Cast of Characters


Amos, the Mayor: Jeff Herbst*
Karen, the Mayor’s daughter: Jamie Mercado
Gunnar, from the DNR: Doc Heide
Benjamin, B&B co-owner: James Carrington*
Bobby, B&B co-owner: Doug Clemons
Myrna, City Treasurer: Kelly Doherty*
Hannah Waters, the fish whisperer: Lachrisa Grandberry*

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

Alissa Rhode | Dennis Keith Johnson | Bill Knipfer
Christie Chiles Twillie (July 28 - August 10)

Designers, Directors & More

The Fish Whisperer 2023 Creative Team

Director: Molly Rhode 

Music Director & Music Supervisor: Alissa Rhode

Orchestrator: Dennis Keith Johnson

Stage Manager: Shawn Galligan*

Asst. Stage Manager: Lindsey Wigand

Costume Designer: Karen Brown-Larimore

Lighting Designer: Jason Fassl**

Sound Designer: Ben Werner

Scenic & Props Designer: Lisa Schlenker**

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

**Member of United Scenic Artists Local 829


The (Al)lure of a New Musical: Northern Sky Hopes to Hook Audience with THE FISH WHISPERER

Mike Fischer, for World Premiere Wisconsin - June 12, 2023

In the small Wisconsin town of Shewauga, the fish aren’t biting – which means the tourists aren’t coming. For a town that depends on an annual influx of such outsiders, that spells disaster.

Can a stranger named Hannah Waters – calling herself a fish whisperer and confident she can lure the fish back – save a town that seems incapable of saving itself? And will the town fork over Hannah’s $10,000 fee to make it happen?

That’s the set-up in The Fish Whisperer, making its debut under Molly Rhode’s direction this Wednesday courtesy of Northern Sky Theater, a company which has always practiced what World Premiere Wisconsin preaches; every show one sees at Northern Sky begins its life as a new musical, commissioned by the company and debuting before a Northern Sky audience.

When longtime Northern Sky Artistic Director Jeff Herbst first saw the treatment for this fish story – with a book by Scott Guy, music by Dan Wessels and Ron Barnett, and lyrics by Robin Share and Guy – he was immediately hooked.

Getting Unstuck

“Scott described it to me as The Music Man meets 110 in the Shade and The Rainmaker, Herbst said to me during a recent phone conversation. “All of the characters living in this town are stuck. When a stranger comes to town, it allows them to unstick themselves.”

Those townies include Myrna (Kelly Doherty) and Gunnar (Doc Heide), whose potential relationship has been stymied by her fear of being vulnerable and his inability to commit.

B&B co-owners Bobby (Doug Clemons) and Benjamin (James Carrington) – the former too impulsive, the latter overly cautious – are confronting the additional challenge posed by Bobby’s phone addiction.

And then there’s town mayor Amos (Herbst) and his daughter Karen (Jamie Mercado), both struggling to move forward following the loss of Christine, Amos’ wife and Karen’s mother.

Drowning in sorrow, Amos and Karen are the most reluctant to take Hannah’s bait, in a show that’s about far more than catching fish and trawling for laughs.

That’s par for the course with Northern Sky, which consistently creates new musicals that manage to appeal to kids and adults alike, through easily accessible and comic stories that quietly plumb great depths.

As I wrote a decade ago in reviewing a production of Muskie Love – another fish story – Northern Sky shows “manage to hook everyone, without feeding us chum or resorting to the lowest common denominator to be catching.”

“I can’t think of another theater company that’s anything like it,” I added, while noting that “the magic cast by” this amazing company “is no fish story.”

In less than 80 minutes – Northern Sky shows almost invariably clock in at fewer than 90 and are usually intermission-free – The Fish Whisperer takes on climate change. Social media addiction. Xenophobia. The decline of proactive and responsible government. Our increasing inability to talk to each other. And, in the wake of the losses we suffered during the pandemic, grief.

“As simple as our shows can seem, we always hope they reach a deeper level,” Herbst said. “As with everything at Northern Sky, my hope is that there’s an organic nature to the big issues being introduced. It’s a balancing act.”

Consuming Grief

“Molly and I have talked a lot about what the important themes in this show are,” Herbst said. “Perhaps the biggest – and one we haven’t dealt with as much at Northern Sky – is grief and the loss of a loved one,” he continued. “It’s a serious theme, but it’s also addressed here in typical Northern Sly fashion, through musical comedy.”

Cue the dance music for Hannah (Lachrisa Grandberry), whose $10,000 fee covers the cost of teaching the townies how to connect with their inner fish, through a Celtic-inflected dance that will “let the fish know who you are . . . deep inside.”

Getting back in touch with themselves, Hannah suggests, will allow the townspeople to open themselves up to each other and reconnect with the surrounding world. Her mantra: “Inner fish, outer growth.”

That means being vulnerable. It means putting down one’s phone (Herbst noted that it’s “amazing to watch, around Door County with all its beauty, how many people are more interested in their screens”). It means listening. Loving. And also learning to let go.

That’s hardest for Herbst’s Amos.

“I’m playing the character who’s potentially most affected by Hannah,” Herbst said. “Amos’ entire mode is to deflect, diminish, and debunk. That’s his active, engaged self.”

Can Hannah’s magic restore Amos to himself?

The Sound of Music

“Hannah’s magic is her ability to sing,” Herbst said (I’m tempted to say the same of the perfectly cast Grandberry, whose glorious voice is reason enough to see this show).

“She expresses herself through a language that transcends,” Herbst continued. “She taps into another way of communicating, through song. It doesn’t just affect Amos. It affects me, as an actor on stage. I get sucked into the beauty of singing it.”

The singing by Herbst and his castmates will unfold through a wide-ranging score, which begins with an homage to the celebrated “Rock Island” opening to The Music Man, exhibits Celtic influences, and has what Herbst describes as “a beautiful lyrical quality.” Such a combination of clever pastiche and soulful yearning is vintage Northern Sky.

So is this company’s uncanny ability to grasp what makes musicals sing.

“As is so often the case with musical theater, the world of Shewauga has a hyper-reality, even though its characters are also grounded,” Herbst said.

“They’re characters you believe in and can root for, even if the situations in which they find themselves are surreal,” Herbst continued. “But that doesn’t stop them from facing and dealing with real-life issues.”

Fearful of what those real-life issues might entail, it’s easy to grasp why Shewauga is initially tempted to turn its back, folding in on itself and hunkering down; such a response to change and uncertainty currently afflicts all of America. Wary of what’s “different and foreign,” one song tells us, we’re apt to reject incoming ideas and people, until we “live more and more in fear.”

Hannah insists we can do better. Will we heed her plea and hear her song? Gathered together under the stars in Northern Sky’s pristine Peninsula Park amphitheater, might the spell she casts save more than Shewauga? Might we – dare we – hope that her message can save us all?

Northern Sky Opens Season with “The Fish Whisperer”

By Sam Watson, Peninsula Pulse

Fishing poles are among Northern Sky Theater’s most often-used props, according to artistic director Jeff Herbst.

That’s because the theater company has presented a long list of fish-themed shows since 1992, including Fishing on the Moon, Muskie Love, The Fisherman’s Daughter and Guys on Ice. This year, The Fish Whisperer joined the lineup when it made its world premiere June 14. 

Northern Sky’s fishy focus isn’t intentional, Herbst said, and most of the theater members don’t even fish. But “being on a peninsula, surrounded by water, it just makes sense.”

The Fish Whisperer follows the residents of Shewauga, a small Wisconsin fishing town where the fish have stopped biting. The townspeople are left feeling stuck until a mysterious stranger appears and promises a solution to their problem – for a small fee of $10,000. 

The setting of the play is easy for Door County audiences to relate to, as is the theme of being roused after a period of inertia – especially right now, Herbst said.

“Coming out of the pandemic, it feels sort of appropriate,” he said. 

In addition to serving as Northern Sky’s artistic director, Herbst will star in the upcoming musical as Amos, Shewauga’s mayor. Juggling the two roles isn’t easy, but it’s easier than the balancing act he used to do when he acted in productions that he also directed, Herbst said.

“I would pull myself out to direct, and therefore I wasn’t really in it as an actor,” he said. “And if I was in it as an actor, then I wasn’t able to pull myself out to be the overseer. It’s a luxury to be directed by someone else and just concentrate on my role.”

A World Premiere

The Fish Whisperer is part of World Premiere Wisconsin, a statewide festival running March 1 – June 30 that celebrates new plays and musicals. The inaugural program came from Jennifer Uphoff Gray, artistic director of Madison’s Forward Theater, who approached Molly Rhode, Northern Sky’s associate artistic director, to gauge the company’s interest.

Joining World Premiere Wisconsin was a no-brainer for Northern Sky, Herbst said.

“We didn’t even have to have a meeting on whether we would consider joining because [original productions] are all we do,” he said. 

Northern Sky joined Forward Theater and the Milwaukee Repertory Theater as one of the three lead producers of the festival. Other local theater companies are involved in World Premiere Wisconsin, too: Sturgeon Bay’s Third Avenue PlayWorks premiered I Carry Your Heart with Me May 10-29, and Peninsula Players Theatre is premiering A Rock Sails By June 13 – July 2.

As a theater festival, World Premiere Wisconsin has an unusually wide reach, Herbst said.

“There are certainly new-work festivals that happen throughout the country, but they’re usually only one particular theater company and maybe another co-producing company,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything on this scale. It’s very exciting.” 

But hosting world premieres is nothing new for Northern Sky: That has been its focus since its inception.

“One of the first times I was able to direct something that wasn’t a world premiere, it was so easy,” Herbst said. “Someone else had already figured out that everything worked.”

Hope Dies Last: Reflections on WPW Plays at Waukesha Civic, Peninsula Players, and Northern Sky

by Mike Fischer, for World Premiere Wisconsin - June 23, 2023


Like Lynn, Amos Stillman is grieving the loss of a spouse when we first meet him in The Fish Whisperer (book by Scott Guy; music by Dan Wessels and Ron Barnett; lyrics by Robin Share, with additional lyrics by Guy). Under Molly Rhode’s direction, The Fish Whisperer is the WPW entry from Door County’s Northern Sky Theater.

But despite his revealing name, Amos (Jeff Herbst) isn’t the only one who’s stuck in the fictional vacation destination of Shewauga, Wisconsin; as I’d noted in my preview of The Fish Whisperer for this blog, the entire town has fallen asleep.

Shewauga’s residents go through the motions of living and loving; even Amos pastes a fake smile on his face. But there’s no heart in it, and they’re growing restless and bored – with their town, with each other, and with life itself. As with the townies we meet in Green Lake, they’re devolving into comic grotesques, fighting among themselves and suspicious of outsiders.

Worst of all for a town that lives and dies on tourist dollars, the fish aren’t biting, signaling Shewauga’s alienation from the natural world, in a show where the damage wrought by climate change is a strong and consistent undercurrent.

It’s therefore no surprise to learn that Amos hasn’t fished since his wife Christine died; catch-and-release fishing had been the couple’s favorite pastime. Without Christine by his side, Amos sees no point to being near or on the water, communing with nature and talking to the fish.

Lisa Schlenker’s scenic design captures the mood. More than a dozen hung panels depict various scenes of fishing life, including an angler’s hat, rod, and tackle as well as a pier and the shimmering water (art by Carri Dahl). But those panels are separated from each other, like pieces of an unfinished jigsaw puzzle – or like Shewauga’s residents themselves – that can’t come together to form a satisfying whole.


As in both Green Lake and A Rock Sails By, it takes an outsider to shake things up and restore a community to itself; it arrives at Northern Sky as Hannah Waters (Lachrisa Grandberry), a self-styled Fish Whisperer and environmentalist.

Speaking with the commanding authority of a biblical prophet, Hannah tells the townies that they’ll never overcome their grief or get right with each other unless they first heal their fractured relationship with Nature, including all creatures great and small.

Viewed from one angle, Hannah’s prescription for Shewauga – learning a fish dance through which the townies won’t just channel their inner fish but also speak to the fish in the water – can sound goofy. But it’s also textbook Wendell Berry: we’ll never make things right with the world unless we learn to speak its language and thereby strengthen our connections with its occupants.

Our collective grief, Hannah suggests, is a result of our isolation; as she explains in one especially rousing song, we need to reconnect by becoming one with the “fishes” and one with the water, one with the turtle and the heron and the otter.

Hannah’s prescribed cure had worked for Hannah herself. Like Amos, she is grieving, having lost her brother Matthew; she tells the townies that she misses him “every day of the year.”

When Amos finally takes the bait – joining his daughter (Jamie Mercado) as well as Hannah in talking to the fish, through a poignant song that snuck up on me and made me cry – he realizes that in doing so “I’ve made a start/To clear my head and heal my heart.”

Got an appetite for something adventurous? Don’t want to miss a single WPW production? Sign-up for the World Premiere Wisconsin Passport.

It’s FREE! All it takes is an email and a phone number, and the pass will be sent directly to your phone. No downloads or apps are required! When you arrive for any WPW show, check in using the unique four-digit PIN code posted in the lobby or program.

Those who check in at eleven or more WPW productions will be entered into the biggest sweepstakes of them all: a pair of tickets to the first show of the 2023-2024 season for EVERY Festival Theater!

Get your pass today by visiting