Music by Matthew Levine
Book & Lyrics by Richard Castle
Summer 2017 World Premiere
A doo-woppin’, fish-boilin’ good-time!
A charming musical homage to Door County that highlights the quirkiness of a family run inn in the 1950s. When a Hollywood scout pays a visit, the result is the birth of the tourist fish boil and the humorous clash of big city and small town culture.
Artistic Director Jeff Herbst points out, “So many people who consider Door County an extraordinary place have long, deep roots here. They came as children and are now bringing their own children or grandchildren. They still stay at the same charming inn, or get ice cream at the same stand. Oklahoma in Wisconsin, nostalgically set in the 50s, celebrates this personal connection to a place that still offers real serenity from the increasingly noisy world around us.”
“Oklahoma in Wisconsin makes good on what the characters here will expressly suggest, time and again: Life really is best when it’s lived as though we’re in a musical!” – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Mike Fischer
“For those of us who can’t get enough of these great (Rodgers and Hammerstein) musicals ‘Oklahoma in Wisconsin’ is a veritable Easter egg hunt.”- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Mike Fischer
RICHARD CASTLE (Playwright & Lyricist)
Richard is thrilled to premiere Oklahoma in Wisconsin at Northern Sky Theater. Other projects with composer Matthew Levine include The Angel of Painted Post, which was selected by Stephen Schwartz for his ASCAP/DreamWorks Musical Theater Workshop. He wrote book & lyrics for the vampire musical Bloodline, and lyrics for the L.A. Latino Theater Company production of L.A. Carmen. Richard’s shows have been featured in the L.A. Stages New Musical Festival, and his songs have been performed at A Little New Music, a showcase of up-and-coming musical theater writers, as well as at Don’t Tell Mama in NYC. Richard holds a degree from the USC School of Theater, and is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. He would like to thank Jeff Herbst, New Musicals Inc., Mark Saltzman and John Anderson for their support. www.RichardCastle.com
MATTHEW LEVINE (Composer)
Matthew has been a songwriter for decades, winning a batch of awards and publishing contracts. His music for The Angel of Painted Post was recently featured in Stephen Schwartz’s ASCAP/DreamWorks Workshop. His choral music has been performed on every continent, and his string quartet, “The Prophet of Shiraz” won the Louisa Stude Serofim Award at the University of Houston, where he received his undergraduate degree. He has collaborated with Grammy and Tony award-winning writers, and recently created the sound design for Debra Ehrhardt's one-woman show Shame on Me! He is beside himself that Oklahoma in Wisconsin (his second musical with partner in rhyme, Richard Castle) is debuting at Northern Sky Theater. Matthew is a member of ASCAP, and lives in Los Angeles. MatthewLevineMusic.weebly.com
Hugh Fiedler a Hollywood location scout with a love of musicals......................Alex Campea
Charlotte the smartest girl in her family who doesn't suffer fools gladly.............Eva Nimmer
Billy a teenager with a passion for rock & roll...........................................John Brotherhood
Archie Bradley a lovable innkeeper who lives in the past...........................Bill Theisen*
Ginny Bradley Archie's star-struck wife...................................................Rhonda Rae Busch
Mr. Green** a cocky, successful local realtor............................................Doug Mancheski*
Mr. Goldnick** Fiedler's gruff Hollywood studio boss................................Doug Mancheski*
*Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
**Mr. Green and Mr. Goldnick are played by the same actor.
MIKE FISCHER, Special to the Journal Sentinel - June 26, 2017
FISH CREEK – When Hollywood began thinking seriously about adapting “Oklahoma!” for the big screen, its producers had originally hoped to shoot onsite in Oklahoma itself. But there were too many oil wells dotting the landscape, blotting potential backdrops involving a “bright, golden haze on the meadow.” The film would eventually be shot in Arizona.
But who’s to say that location scouts searching for an alternative venue couldn’t have stumbled on Wisconsin, where “the corn is high as an elephant’s eye”?
That’s the question driving “Oklahoma in Wisconsin,” yet another new musical from Wisconsin’s own stupendous dream factory: Northern Sky Theater in Door County, which has now launched an astounding 50-plus new American musicals into a world perennially decrying the death of the American musical.
Written by Richard Castle (book and lyrics) and Matthew Levine (music), it’s directed and choreographed by Pam Kriger (music direction by Tim Lenihan) in a production now onstage at Northern Sky’s pristine outdoor amphitheater in Peninsula State Park.
Hugh Fiedler (Alex Campea) – the Hollywood scout showing up at Fish Creek’s Rocking Chair Inn on a lovely day in April 1954 – is a local boy who’s traveled a long way from home, geographically and morally.
While vaguely reminiscent of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s restless Curly, this pretty boy is much more squirrelly. Promising the cash-starved Bradley family that Hollywood’s finest are on their way, he books the family’s inn for the entire summer, assuring them that the check is in the mail.
In truth, his skeptical Hollywood boss (Doug Mancheski, who doubles as a sleazy Door County realtor) is unsure Wisconsin can deliver what his movie stars want: modern amenities and a vibrant nightlife.
Hugh tries to make both happen by enlisting the overly trusting Bradleys to give their inn and lives an expensive makeover – without telling them he hasn’t yet actually sealed the deal.
For Archie (Bill Theisen), an old-fashioned family patriarch, moving forward involves reaching back, by sprucing up the inn’s backyard and introducing a then-obscure tradition called a fish boil. It’s memorialized in a song invoking “This Was a Real Nice Clambake” from “Carousel,” in a show continually paying homage to Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals.
For Ginny (Rhonda Rae Busch), Archie’s star-crazed wife, Hugh’s arrival is an excuse to update the inn’s décor and appliances, in ways that slyly critique the 1950s culture of consumption.
For teenaged Billy (John Brotherhood), Hugh’s hopes for live entertainment give him all the excuse he needs to let loose with his impassioned love for rock and roll – also given ample play in this musical’s score, particularly in a high-octane, smartly choreographed hot-rod number and in “Doin’ a Doo-Wop,” in which Theisen shines.
Finally, there’s no-nonsense Charlotte (Eva Nimmer), Billy’s older sister. There’s more than a little of Laurey in her, meaning she’s both sweet on and skittish about Hugh, as most fully expressed through one of this musical’s best songs: “By the Time This Song is Over.”
Channeling “People Will Say We’re in Love” from “Oklahoma!,” this duet fulfills the promise baked into every musical: By bursting into song, we can give vent to our best selves, expressing how we feel in ways that magically transform who we are.
Given how much is going on in this show’s plot, as well as its creators’ willingness to bend story and dialogue on behalf of its Rodgers and Hammerstein pastiche, it doesn’t always fully serve this premise; instead, Castle and Levine’s unabashed love of musicals occasionally gets in the way of the love story, as well as character development.
But at its best, “Oklahoma in Wisconsin” makes good on what the characters here will expressly suggest, time and again: Life really is best when it’s lived as though we’re in a musical, giving full-throated life to the sort of fantasies that might bring “Oklahoma!” to Wisconsin.
“Oklahoma in Wisconsin” continues through Aug. 25 at Northern Sky Theater in Peninsula State Park. For tickets, call 920-854-6117. Read more about this production at TapMilwaukee.com.
Eva Nimmer: Along with Doug Mancheski, Eva Nimmer – now in her fifth Northern Sky season – is appearing in all four of this summer’s shows, with significant roles in each as an ingénue (“Oklahoma in Wisconsin” and “Victory Farm”) or a variation thereof (a crossdressing lumberjack in “Lumberjacks in Love” and a young schoolteacher who doubles as a surrogate mother in “Doctor! Doctor!”).
It adds up to eight shows in these four roles every six days. Seeing all four Northern Sky shows in just over 48 hours, I got a sense of how taxing this must be, allowing me to appreciate all the more the many moving ballads Nimmer sings. She’s among several younger actors whose work here and elsewhere (both Madison and Milwaukee, for Nimmer) has benefitted enormously from the years spent with Northern Sky’s theater veterans.
Karen Brown-Larimore: Attention must also be paid to Brown-Larimore’s evocative, period-specific costuming, for both the mid-1950s world that comes alive in “Oklahoma in Wisconsin” and the more austere world of late-Depression America she creates in “Doctor! Doctor!” (set in 1938).
In “Oklahoma, Wisconsin,” Ginny sports the polka-dotted dresses in vibrant colors that were then popular; younger Charlotte favors the loose-lined blouses and a modified sweater-girl look, with tapered jeans and loafers. Meanwhile, the men cover the waterfront featured in “Happy Days,” from Hugh’s preppy look to Billy’s late evocation of Fonzie, as Billy finally lets his freak flag fly.
In “Doctor! Doctor!,” high-waisted dresses and pants for the younger women counterpoint period-specific house dresses of roughened, peasant fabrics for the older women. Costumes for the men range from the conservatively colored and cut suits (complemented by smart fedoras) worn by professionals and politicians with the denim overalls and battered hat featured by a farmer straight out of Steinbeck.
It all rings true; one would expect nothing less from this acclaimed Madison creative, who designed the original dresses for American Girl dolls Samantha, Molly and Kirsten, while also doing extensive work with the Madison Opera and Madison Ballet. Brown-Larimore’s work also caught my eye in Northern Sky shows as different from each other as “Windjammers” (2013) and “No Bones About It” (2015).
Easter eggs: One need not be a Rodgers and Hammerstein nut to enjoy “Oklahoma In Wisconsin”; while my companion at this performance isn’t one, she nevertheless loved the show. But for those of us who can’t get enough of these great musicals – and knowing laughs from fellow audience members suggest our numbers are legion – “Oklahoma in Wisconsin” is a veritable Easter egg hunt.
With such games, the surprises are for each of us individually to discover; I’ll therefore only disclose one of my many favorites. Early in the show, the siblings played by Brotherhood and Nimmer sing “Parlor Show,” which captures what is cute and touching even as it acknowledges what can be chafing and cloying in “So Long, Farewell,” through which the von Trapp children sing goodnight and then goodbye in “The Sound of Music.”
Rodgers and Hammerstein: “Oklahoma!” is not only a watershed moment in the history of the American musical. Thematically, it also captures a similarly transitional moment when what was still a territory was about to become a state, with roaming cowboys like Curly settling down into a domesticated life as farmers. Hugh, in Northern Sky’s musical, will confront a similar choice and the challenge of a similar sacrifice as he weighs his adventurous and potentially glamorous life as a Hollywood scout against the quiet life in Door County.
Many Rodgers and Hammerstein shows mark such transitional moments between a way of life that’s passing away and a new one being born; in each, dramatic tension and resolution involves an effort to preserve what’s best from what was even as the shows’ protagonists confront and make peace with changes that must be. That’s also the central dilemma in a bevy of Northern Sky shows pitting the seemingly timeless, nearly mythic traditions of a communal Door County past with the inevitable changes – and opportunities – of modern life.
No wonder Rodgers and Hammerstein’s masterpieces as well as Northern Sky’s original musicals are both so popular: each taps the sense so many of us have that for all we’ve gained in a world where the pace of change is continually accelerating, we’ve also lost a great deal along the way. How might we preserve the best of who we once were, individually and as a community, even as we take a chance on something new?
A touring company of Oklahoma!, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first musical, may or may not have made it to a stage in Wisconsin seven decades ago. The movie by that name, released in 1955, did play here. Audiences definitely saw Oklahoma! in Wisconsin. And now there’s a third incarnation. Northern Sky is filling the theater in Peninsula Park three nights a week with people eager to see Oklahoma in Wisconsin.
No, it’s not the Broadway show from the 1940s, but a “what if,” “might have been” story about the shooting of the movie. Turns out there were too many oil derricks cluttering the landscape in 1950s Oklahoma to film a rustic tale set in 1906. So a nationwide search was on to find an appropriately bucolic setting. Eventually, the movie was made in Arizona.
But, what if the perfect location had been found in Door County? What if Hugh Fiedler, an ambitious, young man eager to promote his career at a major Hollywood studio, remembered idyllic childhood vacations at the Rocking Chair Inn in Fish Creek? And what if the inn, once the most popular in the area, had fallen on hard times, causing its owners, the Bradley family, to consider selling it to an obnoxious real estate man?
Because it’s set in Door County, the story involves good people – even if their best intentions stray from the path now and then. And, because it’s a Northern Sky musical, it will end well. So…
Even though Fiedler, the slick movie location scout played by Alex Campea, has fond memories of Door County, a lot of Hollywood’s ethics have rubbed off on him. Fiedler, tall and handsome, arrives at the Rocking Chair Inn with high hopes of putting his career in fast forward and, incidentally, saving the Bradleys’ business. Mom, Ginny Bradley, played by the ever-lovable Rhonda Rae Busch, is ga-ga for Howard Keel. Movie stars booking her inn for the summer? Time to spiff it up!
Bill Theisen is dad Archie Bradley, who is just fine with things the way they are. No new-fangled ideas for him, thank you. Just let him fish in peace. Charlotte Bradley, the smart, practical daughter, is played by the effervescent Eva Nimmer. John Brotherhood, is perfectly cast as Billy, Charlotte’s younger, wisecracking, rock-and-roll loving brother. (John is just out of high school, so the youthful enthusiasm is no act.)
Doug Mancheski plays two roles – Mr. Green, the pushy, cocky Door County realtor, and Mr. Goldnick, the cocky, demanding movie producer. A first glance at the playbill suggested that the characters sing a duet early in the show. No, not the case, but would that really have been beyond Mancheski’s ability?
The play could serve as a morality tale for the old adage, “Oh, what a tangled tale we weave when first we practice to deceive.” Fiedler’s first little lie leads to a lot of false assumptions. Finally, every cast member is hiding something. There’s a budding romance that is on and off and on, but you know – this being a humorous summer musical – there will be a happy, if unexpected twist at the end.
The 92-minute show includes 16 musical numbers. They’re all good, and you won’t soon forget Theisen’s gyrations in the clever “Doin’ a Doo-Wop.” Pit musicians Tim Lenihan, Jay Kummer and Colin O’Day provide a lively backup for the actors. You’ll be taken by surprise by a sudden cessation in the music – a delightful (no) sound gag.
There are dozens of throwaway lines that bring chuckles from audience members old enough to remember the mid-1900s, the glory days of big musicals. It’s easy to identify where those folks are sitting by where the laughter comes from. For example, not everyone got Ginny’s reference to “the new Liz Taylor-themed powder room with his, his, his and hers towels.” (Actually, the towel count was still four short – five if you allow two for Richard Burton, whom Liz married twice.) Another one-liner: Ginny’s purchase of ice cube trays that produce likenesses of Ike; but when they melt, look more like Senator McCarthy. Children enjoy the show, too. One on-stage quip brought a loud “That was funny!” from a tot in the front row.
Perhaps one of the biggest laughs came as the cast derided Archie’s dream of holding a fish boil and show in the backyard of the inn: “Who’s going to want to sit outside on a bench in the dark and watch people sing and dance?” And soon the entire audience was not only watching, but participating in a doo-woppin’ sing-along.
Oklahoma in Wisconsin was written by the California-based team of Richard Castle (book and lyrics) and Matthew Levine (music). Northern Sky’s artistic director Jeff Herbst found them through New Musicals Inc., an organization he’s worked with for a decade. The writing team visited Door County, stayed at and loved the White Gull Inn, and the rest is history. (The White Gull was not their inspiration for a failing inn!)
One last note: Even if the all-star cast of the movie had come to the Rocking Chair Inn, Ginny’s beloved Howard Keel would not have been among them. Although he had played the lead role of Curly in a London production of Oklahoma!, Gordon MacRae got the part in the movie version.