Fishing for the Moon | Northern Sky Theater

Book and Lyrics by Fred Alley
Music by James Kaplan

Will confusing calamities ensue when a Southern gentleman rides north, seeking a crazy Union officer who thinks his cows are soldiers? You betcha! Set in rural Wisconsin after the Civil War, this lighthearted romantic comedy features a harebrained cast of characters. Shirlene, the officer’s weary wife, has made his life forever miserable by selling his prize bull while he was off at war. Meanwhile, the local school teacher rebuffs the smooth talk of a persistent raconteur while an earnest young woman tries to awaken her true love from amnesia with the smell of Parisian soap. Fishing for the Moon was produced in 2008, 1999, 1992 & 2022, and was the first collaboration between Fred Alley and James Kaplan, the team that created AFT hits Lumberjacks in Love and Guys on Ice.

Sponsored by: The Cordon Family Foundation, Anonymous Donor in honor or Door County Land Trust, Harbor Fish Market & Grille, Parkwood Lodge | Season Sponsor: Door County Medical Center

About the Writers
Cast of Characters
About the Writers

Co-Founder & Playwright
Fred Alley collaborated on over 20 original shows at AFT. He wrote the book and lyrics for Lumberjacks in Love and Fishing for the Moon, and was a contributor to Bone Dance. Fred also wrote perennial favorites Guys on Ice and The Bachelors with composer James Kaplan. Fred’s work has been celebrated throughout the country and in particular at both Madison and Milwaukee Repertory Theatres. The Spitfire Grill, which he wrote with composer James Valcq, earned them the Richard Rodgers Award and has been produced over 600 times from Off-Broadway to Europe and East Asia. Fred was also an accomplished performer and created many memorable characters, including Moonlight in Lumberjacks in Love, Lloyd in Guys on Ice, and Leo in Belgians in Heaven. Fred’s ability to help us laugh at ourselves, through his characters, makes his shows entertaining and timeless.

Composer & Music Director
James is delighted to be back in the park to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Fishing for the Moon, the first show he wrote with Fred Alley. With collaborator Laurie Flanigan Hegge, he created Northern Sky’s See Jane Vote. In addition to the opening and closing songs in Tongue ’n Cheek, his shows written with Fred Alley include Northern Lights, Lumberjacks in Love, The Bachelors, and Guys on Ice, all directed by Jeff Herbst. James collaborated with Jacinda Duffin and Laurie Flanigan Hegge to create Loose Lips Sink Ships. James conceived and created musical arrangements for the Northern Sky revues Beneath the Northern Sky, Goodnight Irene, Harvest Moon, Old Friends, Fish and Whistle, and Sweet Baby James. His music also appeared in Belgians in Heaven, Packer Fans from Outer Space, Ya Ya You Betcha, Fool Me Once and the original 1995 Bone Dance. He is grateful to have this opportunity to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Fishing for the Moon with fellow veterans Jeff Herbst and Karen Mal. James is delighted to once again be a resident of Door County. He’d like to thank Kay, DavidSarah, and all of the Spoons.

Cast of Characters


Rufus Smith………………..Hayden Hoffman
Peter Rutherford Hall………………..Alex Campea
Lucy………………..Hannah Kato
Tucker Riley Olson………………..Jeff Herbst*
Shirlene Olson………………..Lachrisa Grandberry*
Caroline……………….Claudia Dahlman

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

Musicians: James Kaplan | Karen Mal | Colin O’Day

Understudies: Erin Kopit, Zachary Thomas Woods


Fishing for the Moon Reels You In

Fishing for the Moon has made a 30th-anniversary return to the Northern Sky Theater’s outdoor amphitheater in Peninsula State Park. 

It debuted in the same place in 1992, and this season’s rendition includes veterans from the original cast: Composer and co-writer James Kaplan and Karen Mal are in the orchestra, and Jeff Herbst directs and portrays a Civil War colonel, Tucker Riley Olson. 

The story takes place a few years after the Civil War in a small town in Wisconsin and follows Rufus Smith (Hayden Hoffman), a lovable though slightly daft citizen who knows everybody in the area. When Peter Rutherford Hall (Alex Campea) comes to town looking to “shoot” Col. Olson, Rufus and the other townsfolk try to keep the two from crossing paths.

Along for the ride are Lucy (Hannah Kato), a girl who loves Tucker and Shirlene’s (Lachrisa Grandberry) son, who went missing after the war; and Caroline (Claudia Dahlman), a school teacher who is the object of Rufus’affection, though the feelings are quite lopsided. With misplaced kisses and surprisingly in-depth thoughts about marriage, the musical has as much to do with relationships as with the colonel’s hunter.

It’s a mix of slapstick, dad-joke–inspired comedy, easily likable characters and weighty observations and realizations. Though it’s generally lighthearted, Grandberry’s performance of “Where Does Love Go?” felt heartbreakingly real.

The performance has a certain meta relatability that doesn’t distract from the story and adds some winking references for the older audience members. It’s short – like all Northern Sky Theater shows – but it still tells a genuine story and carries out character growth that makes sense.

The logistics of orchestrating a performance in an outdoor setting are hard to think about, let alone pull off, but the lighting and sound at Northern Sky work regardless. At the end of the show, there’s a moment – lit gorgeously and capturing the dissipating sunlight – that’s worth the wait. 

Fishing for the Moon gives equal parts laugh-out-loud lines and genuine sincerity that’s enjoyable for all kinds of audience members. Catch it Wednesdays and Thursdays, 7:30 pm, until Aug. 27 at Northern Sky Theater’s amphitheater in Peninsula State Park, 10169 Shore Road in Fish Creek.

‘Fishing for the Moon’ comically catchy

by: , Critic At Large, WFRV/

Northern Sky Theater has presented 76 world premieres since its start. Another world premiere of sorts took place Wednesday on stage at Peninsula State Park Amphitheater.

What happened was literally a wild cameo appearance that was perfectly timed. The musical “Fishing for the Moon” reached a climactic point with a love-smitten guy poetically expressing his true love to the woman of his desire. On a walkway at the rear of the set at that moment, up popped a raccoon, looking curious. Because of the timing, its presence seemed like a cute addition to the show, which is filled with goofy humor.

The raccoon looked a figure in life-like movie animation. The raccoon glanced left and then right, saw hundreds of eyes peering at it, and suddenly scampered off stage as fast as it could – its showbiz days gone in a flash. This happened to the rear the actors, who continued unawares. Amazing as this was, the raccoon did not upstage two other elements of interest – what happens on stage and the creation of the show.

One. “Fishing for the Moon” is set in Wisconsin two years after the end of the Civil War. Despite what might be a first impression, the tone of the musical is lighthearted.

A young woman, Lucy (Hannah Kato), pines for a missing soldier, Gary, who she holds dear because of his attraction to the scent of her Parisian soap.

Gary’s father, Union Col. Tucker Riley Olson (Jeff Herbst), is around the bend and still fighting the war. His troupe now is his herd of cows. He misses Gary all right, but mostly he misses his prize bull, Bo, that his wife, Shirlene (Lachrissa Grandberry), sold to keep things going during the war. The colonel is really gone on Bo and yearns to have him back, in part because of Bo’s adept ways with “relationships.”

Also on hand are a fellow, Rufus Smith (Hayden Hoffman) who is trying to pass eighth grade and endear himself to Caroline (Claudia Dahlman), the schoolmarm who is holding out until Rufus passes his final: Describe Julius Caesar’s ambition in at least 5,000 words.

Along comes Southern gentleman Peter Rutherford Hall (Alex Campea) from Georgia, announcing that he wants to shoot the colonel.

The show is thick with humor, including puns, like: Something happened to Gary at the Battle of Slippery Slope. Peter’s observation is, yes, “A lot of guys fell on slippery slope.”

The colonel has his own take on his exciting memories of the war, extolling the virtues of “the smell of cannon fire, the roar of army beans.”

With such stuff, the acting is comically broad.

Tender touches are woven in, such as Shirlene’s reflections on her life with the colonel in “Where Does Love Go?”

The cast is nimble and full of vigor under the knowing and careful guidance of director Jeff Herbst, also the company’s artistic director.

Two. The creation was by Fred Alley and James Kaplan, who performs on keyboard in this production, as he did when the show premiered 30 years ago.

“Fishing for the Moon” was produced in 1992, 1999 and 2008 when the company was American Folklore Theatre.

Fred Alley died in 2001. This show was the first time he and James Kaplan collaborated. Other beloved shows followed, “Guys on Ice” being the leading classic.

Fred Alley’s hand at cleverness is all over “Fishing for the Moon.” He had a way with words and wordplay, playing with the mind and heart and all sorts of subtle nuances with humor. A sense given off by this production – reaching over 30 years – is Fred Alley had fun writing it. That speaks to the skill of Jeff Herbst and the cast.

Fred Alley and James Kaplan also teamed for tricky things, a sophistication. That is immediately apparent in the first song, “By the Stream.” Hayden Hoffman and Alex Campea burst through a kind of intense duet of different thoughts unleashed atop one another.

Versatile voices, clever dance sequences and appealing looks in the set and costuming factor into the solid aura of the show.

It seems the raccoon just had to see what the crowd was reacting to – check out what all the commotion was about. It was the doggonedest thing.

Green Bay Press Gazette

Mancheski hilarious in AFT’s ‘Fishing for the Moon’


Northern Sky Theater Fishing for the Moon

(June 21st, 2008) The American Folklore Theater’s 2008 roster has begun with an uproarious musical, “Fishing For The Moon.”


The show was the first collaboration between Fred Alley and James Kaplan. Both playwrights are responsible for well-known AFT classics, such as “Lumberjacks In Love” (to be seen later this season) and “Guys On Ice.”


As evidenced by this show, the Alley/Kaplan team had a very special gift. Together they created musicals that are fun and breezy. Each has unique northwoods themes that Door County audiences find so enjoyable.


Best of all, their shows are family-friendly. It’s hard these days to find entertainment that is suitable and engaging for young children, but AFT makes it possible. Kids really seem to enjoy the light goofiness of their productions.


“Fishing” is set in rural Wisconsin after the Civil War. There are six characters, who are mostly harebrained, confused or not quite in touch with reality.


Doug Mancheski plays Tucker Riley Olson, who has seen a little too much of war. He thinks his cows are soldiers and spends time giving them orders. His poor wife, Shirlene, just puts up with him.


Meanwhile, Peter, a photographer from the south, is trying to find Tucker. When the cast hears Peter wants to “shoot” him, they immediately misunderstand his intentions, and mayhem ensues.


While all this is going on, the local folks gradually become very impressed with Peter; he is smart and tells everybody he has a diploma.


His manner sparks the interest of a local girl, Caroline. They have one kiss, but nothing happens.


It turns out that a local “good old boy,” Rufus, also is interested in Caroline and eventually winds up with her. Lucy, a local schoolteacher, first keeps Peter at bay but eventually realizes he is the one for her.


The show has two actors who are new to the AFT stage — Chris Klopatek and Jessica McAnaney. Both are fine actors and great additions to this production. McAnaney has a wonderful singing voice.


Mancheski, as expected, is hilarious. He plays Tucker with the wit and energy we come to expect from this actor.


His broad comic style and command of the AFT stage again proves that he is an indispensable Door County treasure. Just watch Mancheski talk to his cows, and you will see what I mean.


The cast is filled out with Chase Stoeger playing Rufus, Monica Heuser in the role of Shirlene and Stephanie Olson as Caroline. All are obviously having a great time.

Door County Advocate
Tuesday, July 6, 1999


AFT’s ‘Fishing’ trip is a nice summer journey


It’s always nice to leave a performance felling better than you did before it began.


American Folklore theatre’s “Fishing for the Moon” accomplishes just such an effect.


Set in Wisconsin, the plot revolves around a Southerner’s search for Union Army Col. Tucker Riley Olson (Doug Mancheski) two years after the Civil War.


Peter Rutherford hall of Georgia (Jeffrey Herbst) enlists the aid of local Rufus Smith (Fred Alley) – a simple man who knows more about the area than anyone else – to find the colonel so he can shoot him.


As more of the story and characters is revealed in song and dialogue throughout the hour-long performance, we learn there is more to the simple talke than just the silliness and confusion precipitated by Peter’s quest.


The short and sweet musical play is peopled with charmingly endearing characters, all of whom are longing for something plainly visible but just out of reach.


Rufus woos but can’t win the heart of schoolteacher Caroline (Carolynne Warren), who longs instead for an educated suitor. Rufus doesn’t meet her litmus test because he hasn’t passed the seventh grade.


Peter finds himself attracted to Lucy (Laurie Flanigan), a young woman who, like Caroline, also pines for someone else: Col. Olson’s son, who is tragically missing in action.


Colonel Olson, who parades about in his uniform and treats his dairy cows like a company of soldiers sings passionate laments for the loss of his prize bull Bo, sold by his wife to a neighboring farmer during the war.


As humorously absurd as his bovine passion is, the song “Shirely, Gary, and Bo,” sung with strong emotion by Mancheski, gives deeper meaning to his comic grief. A heartfelt longing for the lost happiness he felt in the trinity of his wife, son and bull is expressed.


The fate of the colonel’s son Gary is unknown. The colonel and his wife, Shirley (Megan Cavanagh), bicker when together. And Bo has been sold into the “cruel slaver” of the neighbor’s farm.


Likewise, Rufus’ attempt to win Caroline by bathing in Parisian soap and acting comically aloof so he can be “clean and uncaring” – traits he is told wormen find irresistible – is funny enough to hurt ribs. but it also reveals something inherently vulnerable in human nature.


While the play successfully elicits laughs throughout its span, it is the honest tenderness of the characters that really made the show fully enjoyable.


“Fishing” is a revisitation of a 1992 collaboration between Alley and composer James Kaplan. Alley wrote the play text and the song lyrics and Kaplan wrote the music. Ten of the 12 songs are new for this year’s production.


The songs are an important part of the production and are neatly performed by Kaplan on keyboard and Eric Lewis on guitar, dobro (a type of banjo) and mandolin.


Each piece is a unique composition with a comfortable familiarity. You know you haven’t heard it before, but it’s already there in the subconscious.


The songs range from the show and wizened duet of Shirlene and the colonel reflecting on their marriage to the more upbeat duet “Girl Back Home” between potential romantic interests Peter and Lucy, to the intentionally droll, laissez faire soft-shoe routine “I Didn’t Feel a Thing,” sung after Peter and Caroline don’t feel any expected romantic sparks.


The honest applause for each song from the full, but not packed, house and the warm smiles and wistful grins on many of the audience faces throughout the performance spoke volumes for the shared evening of pleasantness created by AFT.


And as the darkness of night enveloped the outdoor theater in Peninsula State Park and the evening stars pecked out behind the clouds, it was nice to be shown that, although you’ll never quite catch the moon, it can be quite pleasant to try.