Strings Attached | Northern Sky Theater

Book & Lyrics by Dave Hudson
Music & Additional Lyrics by Colin Welford

A Tuneful Tale of Tangled Twins

Set in a northern Wisconsin Lodge, this is a laugh-out-loud tale of tangled twins – one a Hawaiian ukulele fanatic, the other heir to a Wisconsin banjo dynasty. Dramatically separated in childhood, their two worlds intertwine to uproarious musical merriment at The Next to the Last Resort.

Produced in 2014 & 2015

“Strings Attached provides an evening under the northern sky in which music, nature and theater are perfectly matched, and a production that creates memories to tuck away in one’s heart.”
“Twisted intricacies of romance become blissfully tied up with laughter…”
Door County Today

Strings Attached roars in on wings of hilarious laughter…”
“It is a stunning piece of theatrical legerdemain.”
On Milwaukee

“Light and witty… a stitch…”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

About The Writers
About The Writers

Dave HudsonDAVE HUDSON (Playwright-Lyricist)
Dave (Writers Guild of America, ASCAP) has been writing plays since he was in high school. He teaches playwriting and lyric writing in Chicago at the Actors Garden and Chicago Dramatists. Strings Attached marks his 20th musical and he is delighted that the show giving him an official ‘score’ of musicals is one written for AFT. Other shows written for AFT include Muskie Love (2004, 2005, 2013), A Cabin with a View (2007, 2008), Main-Travelled Roads (2007), Cheeseheads, the Musical (2009, 2010, 2012), and Bing! The Cherry Musical (2011) with Paul Libman. He also writes for The Actors Garden in Oak Park, Illinois which will be performing his show Good Knight this summer (2014). With Paul Libman, Dave is a two time winner of The Richard Rodgers Award. He is lucky and blessed to have three amazing kids, Connor, Garen, and Paige, and he has the most supportive wife in the world, Gigi.


Colin WelfordCOLIN WELFORD (Composer/Lyricist-Musical Supervisor)
Colin hails from England, where he studied at Oxford University and the Royal College of Music, before landing, incongruously, at University of Miami. Beginning as a conductor at The English National Ballet, he eventually fell prey to conducting Musical Theatre. Broadway productions: Wicked, Billy Elliot, The Lion King (Worldwide Music Supervisor), The Will Rogers Follies, The Who’s Tommy, A Christmas Story. In London’s West End: Rent, Chicago, Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon, Les Miserables, The Fix, Whistle Down the Wind, Sweet Charity. Colin’s first experience of AFT was in 2009 at the premiere of Cheeseheads, the Musical. Since then he’s been impossible to shake off.



Don't Miss ‘Strings Attached'
Warren Gerds, Critic at Large - June 24, 2015


FISH CREEK, Wis. (WFRV) – Completing the roster for the 25th season of shows in the amphitheater at Peninsula State Park is Northern Sky Theater’s “Strings Attached,” a returnee from last season and, in a way, a returnee from numerous seasons of theaters around the world. Reason: Creators Dave Hudson and Colin Welford borrow from centuries-old comedies in the story of twins separated as infants.


It’s a frolicsome tale and production with broad audience appeal for the preposterousness of it all.


“Strings Attached” of 2015 is different than “Strings Attached” of 2014 in one performer and more nuanced performances – in the way a stew tastes better on the second day as the flavors develop more character.


Another difference: The troupe was American Folklore Theatre in 2014. It is now Northern Sky Theater, a slightly varied version of its predecessor.


Since the show is largely the same as last season, my review is largely the same as last season. SEE PAGE BOTTOM


The cast is quite game for the speedy action, songs infused with dancing and vocal harmonics and the general light-hearted aura of the show. A highlight is a mirror-image song with movement by the twins that brings the story to a head.


Chase Stoeger and Chad Luberger are the twin brothers, with Doc Heide as their father. Eva Nimmer and Molly Rhode are the twins’ girlfriends. Playing the befuddled hotel staff are Alex Campea (new to the cast this season), Doug Mancheski and Rhonda Rae Busch. Stirring the performers to bright liveliness are co-directors Jeffrey Herbst and Pam Kriger.


A few stray thoughts: Campea seems to add a bit more zing to the show with his ability to light up his character’s many moments of shock and awe. In the offseason, Doc Heide became a full professor in his other life (which continues to amaze) in academia/teaching/research. On stage in many capacities and now as associate artistic director of Northern Sky, Molly Rhode is what amounts to be a full professor. In “Strings Attached,” Rhode gets to perform opposite her real-life husband, Chase Stoeger, and they get to be love struck by each other in performance after performance – which would seem a lovely perk of their being in this show.


ALSO RUNNING: “When Butter Churns to Gold” and “No Bones About It.”


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.

Delightful Escapist Entertainment - A look at Strings Attached
Gary Jones, Peninsula Pulse - July 25, 2014


Shakespeare’s set of identical twin brothers with their identical twin servants in A Comedy of Errors, and the bard’s pair of identical twin brother and sister in Twelfth Night have set a tone for the comedic potential of mistaken identities.


The convention persists to the present, including American Folklore Theatre’s newest show, Strings Attached. Collaborators Dave Hudson and Colin Welford have created a musical comedy that involves twins separated during childhood, one becoming a ukulele enthusiast in Hawaii and the other, a part of a family banjo business in Wisconsin.


In prior action, parents and their young sons experienced a vacation tragedy, the ship sinking, the mother and one boy lost at sea. Fast forward to the present when Bob, president of a banjo manufacturing business in Wisconsin, and his remaining son, now an adult, plan a merger with a ukulele business located in Hawaii. Both interested parties meet in a rustic resort located in northern Wisconsin to negotiate a contract.


Strings Attached is a classic farce that expects the audience to check in their disbelief at the door and sit back to enjoy the fast moving plot with larger than life characters. In short, the show is perfect for the venue, an outdoor theater with stars peeking between the tops of tall trees and gentle breezes perfumed with mosquito repellent.


The stylized basic set structure that serves as home to every production in the park works especially well for The Next to the Last Resort setting of the play. The Peninsula Park ambiance could well be the location of an up-north resort. The obligatory rapid entrances and exits of a mistaken-identity farce are easily accommodated.


As an ensemble, the cast is strong, all of the actors creating well-defined characters that offer seamless interplay for the romps, especially during the mistaken-identity confusion that results in the romantic lives of the twins.


One of the earmarks of successful original music in a production is a tune that the audience hums on the way out of the theater, and such is the case with the lullaby “My Boy” that Bob had sung to his twins when they were wee lads. All of the singers in the show have strong voices well suited to musical comedy, the ability both to belt out a tune and to croon a love song.


And another mark of a successful farce is a resolution that is not only satisfying from an intellectual perspective, but manages to engage emotions as well. The final reuniting scene is predictable (this is a farce, folks!), but still tugs at heartstrings.


A number of highlights appeared in the show. One was the vaudevillian portrayal of Frank, the owner of the resort, by Doug Mancheski. His was a high-energy imaginative performance that successfully pushed the envelope. His antics and especially his mugging delighted the audience.


But the most delightful aspect of the show was the casting of the twins. In productions of A Comedy of Errors or Twelfth Night, the twins generally have identical clothing that serves as markers for their twin-ship, but physically – no resemblance! Not so with Strings Attached. The two Hals (incidentally, A Comedy of Errors has two Antipholuses), actually look like identical twins, similar builds, facial features, and hair styles. The “twin” actors Chase Stoeger and Chad Luberger share body language that adds to the illusion. And as a stylistic nod to the twin convention, the Hals wear identical outfits.


Co-founder and artistic advisor Doc Heide, a staple with AFT and now a fatherly figure with the company, is a familiar face with longtime fans as he appears as Bob, father of the twins.


Some playgoers will recognize echoes of A Midsummer Night’s Dream as “the course of true love never did run smooth” – until the resolution!


As a bit of delightful escapist entertainment, the only strings attached to this performance of Strings Attached are on the ukuleles and banjos.

Tangled Romances Untwist in AFT’s Strings Attached
Peggy Sue Dunigan - June 24, 2014


The twisted intricacies of romance become blissfully tied up with laughter in the American Folklore Theatre (AFT) World Premiere musical Strings Attached: A Tuneful Tale of Tangled Twins, which opens the 2014 summer season in Fish Creek’s Peninsula State Park.


With support from the Fred Alley New Musical Fund, the theater company (which announced a 2015 name change to Northern Sky Theater) has produced another full book musical, making AFT/Northern Sky one of the few theater companies in America to write and then stage entirely original productions.


Strings Attached reinvents William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, placing the setting in Northern Wisconsin. Two companies, designers of banjos and ukuleles — one in Wisconsin, the other in Hawaii — hope to merge their businesses when they meet at The Next to the Last Resort. Two-time Richard Rodgers award winner Dave Hudson penned the musical’s book and lyrics, with additional lyrics and music by the talented Colin Welford. In this production, the team collaborated on ten clever new songs to revisit how Hawaiian Hal and Wisconsin Hal were separated as young boys when a cruise ship overturned during a tropical storm. Years later, the twins unexpectedly meet at the Wisconsin resort to the joy of their father, Bob Bosco, Badger Banjo company president, played by one of AFT’s accomplished co-founders, Doc (Fred) Heide.


Romantic mayhem ensues when Wisconsin Hal (Chad Luberger) woos Leia (Eva Nimmer), the girlfriend of Hawaiian Hal (Chase Stoeger). Hawaiian Hal entices Wisconsin Hal’s fiancé, Lana (Molly Rhode) with his magical kisses, and soon, these two lookalike Hals undo the anticipated business and love match mergers. AFT astutely combines the undeniable chemistry and comic gifts of these four actors, including real life partners Rhode and Stoeger, in musical numbers titled “Tongue Tied” and “Unexpected Music.” The twist in Strings Attached plays upon contrasting two artistic temperaments with a pair of corporate-minded personalities to produce humorous results.


The love-struck and tangled foursome cavort in the resort alongside Innkeeper/owner Frank (Doug Mancheski), his wife Kaye (Rhonda Rae Busch) and their hospitality manager-in-training, Andy (Paul Helm). The trio provides ample comic material for the romances to revolve around and Helm commands attention whenever on stage. Helm’s expressions capture priceless moments, in tune with Mancheski and Rae Busch, and the trio shines in the number “The Hotel Code.” The song defines what hospitality staff need to remember — absolute silence — when embarrassing situations occur behind closed doors, which may include dancing with a plunger or using one with discretion.


Under the co-direction of Jeffery Herbst and Pam Kriger, the winsome humor inherent to Shakespeare’s timeless comedies endures in these performances. The Peninsula Park evening under the stars produces pure theatrical fun for the audience, whether it’s the endearing embraces between the two couples or Helm’s charming ineptness. Another noteworthy number in the production, “Suddenly,” pairs Nimmer and Rhode as frustrated females trying to sort out the mistaken identity of their two identical “Hals.”


Each accomplished acting performance proves Shakespeare’s tried and true formula remains viable, even when transported to Wisconsin, where a brat and cheese platter eventually unravels these tangled-up twins. When an audience already knows the ending to a familiar story, constructing the tomfoolery in this partially farcical tale can be a daunting task for actors, directors and writers. Strings Attached thoroughly engages audiences with the heartfelt music and a poignant finale when the united brothers and father sing a lullaby under the stars to warm anyone on even the chilliest evenings in a Door County summer.


Strings Attached provides an evening under the northern sky in which music, nature and theater are perfectly matched, and a production that creates memories to tuck away in one’s heart. As the closing lyrics in the title song note, “Life’s like a ukelele…no one minds the strings attached.”

Shakespeare goes Up North in American Folklore Theatre's farcical 'Strings Attached'
Mike Fischer, Special to the Journal Sentinel - June 23, 2014


Fish Creek — Two identical but separated twins, one of them long given up for dead. The twins' grieving, Wisconsin-based father, who lost a son and his wife in a storm during a cruise in the Pacific. Two young couples with zero chemistry, both sailing toward marriage and nearly certain shipwreck. Three family-run businesses, each enduring some choppy water of its own.


How to make comedy from all this would-be tragedy? Through farce, of course, which is what American Folklore Theatre delivers with "Strings Attached," the Dave Hudson (book and lyrics) and Colin Welford (music and additional lyrics) musical receiving its world premiere as part of AFT's three-show summer season.


Hudson has a long history of serving up loose adaptations of literary classics, and "Strings" is no exception, stealing freely and openly from Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors" — itself on tap in Door County this summer, in a production by Door Shakespeare that will open in July under Milwaukee-based Leda Hoffmann's direction.


As with "Comedy," "Strings" begins with a father's lament, as Bob (Doc Heide) — the Wisconsin-based owner of Badger Banjos — sings an affecting, straightforward lullaby to the son he has lost. Before that song makes a full and moving return near play's end, Welford's music and this cast will go through some key changes.


Bob has just arrived at the Next to the Last Resort, a name which aptly captures why he's there: The business-starved Badger Banjos is exploring an improbable merger with a Hawaii-based ukulele company.


Innkeepers Frank and Kaye Stone (Doug Mancheski and Rhonda Rae Busch) are hoping that consummation of the merger within their music-themed inn — in which numerous instruments are mounted on the walls — will result in new business. Although they're much sweeter, the bickering Stones bear a passing resemblance to Basil and Sybil Fawlty, with Andy the apprentice (a delightfully nebbishy Paul Helm) doing duties as Manuel.


Enter Wisconsin Hal (Chad Luberger) and Hawaiian Hal (Chase Stoeger) — each dressed in a loudly red Hawaiian shirt and matching pants and shoes, each sporting the same Beatle-like haircut and each accompanied by a lukewarm love interest. Creative instrument maker Leia (Eva Nimmer) is paired with the business-like Hawaiian Hal. The no-nonsense and business-oriented Lana (Molly Rhode) is paired with the artsy Wisconsin Hal.


Although it takes awhile for things to ramp up, you know where this is going. Co-directors Pam Kriger and Jeffrey Herbst make sure it gets there, having staged these antics down to the split second so that there's only one Hal on stage at a time. As a result, everyone is confused, as what seems to be one Hal seemingly plays two women, scandalizing the three inn-keeping onlookers.


It all comes off as smoothly as a Swiss watch — particularly impressive on the night I saw the production, in which a steady mist and thick fog soaked the stage, adding to the peril as rapidly scampering actors ensured that every door slammed on time — while none opened too soon.


That slip-sliding sense of danger underscores what's at stake for these characters, each of whom is beset by confusion that makes them shaky on their feet — literally, at times, as in the ingeniously staged scene where the two Hals finally appear together, only to stumble down a staircase in uncomprehending disbelief at what's happening.


Light and witty as this show is — and once the exposition is out of the way, it's a stitch — these characters' deep-seated confusion over who they're kissing and what it means reflects their anxiety about who they are, in a world where identity is never sure and life's doors do indeed slam in our face before we ever knew they were open.


True to the slightly off-kilter world these characters inhabit, Welford's melodies are more playful than hummable. While tonic harmony always eventually arrives, it's often delayed en route, taking minor detours that result in cleverly counterpointed negotiations. In their sometimes wayward search for the right note, we witness these couples' tentative efforts to make new music, in which every string is not only properly attached, but also fully in tune.

"Strings Attached" roars into AFT on wings of hilarious laughter
Dave Begel - June 21, 2014


"Why," the customer asks, "did you name your hotel "The Next to Last Resort?"


"Easy," replies Faye, from behind her spot at the front desk. "The Last Resort is just down the road."


The joke comes easy, with a normal pace and nothing frenetic about it. That state of things is about to change in the premiere of "Strings Attached," which opened this week at the American Folklore Theatre in Door County's Peninsula State Park.


The Next to Last Resort becomes the home for a wacky farce, complete with identical slamming doors, identical twin young men, two beautiful and sexy women, a father still in mourning for his lost son and a hotel staff with two veterans and one guy yearning to pass his hotel crew test.


If that sounds familiar, the book and lyrics by Dave Hudson, with music by Colin Welford, is just that. The form is something anybody familiar with the world of theatrical production knows well.


Like they say, however, the devil is in the details.


Milwaukee's Pam Kriger and AFT artistic director Jeffrey Herbst co-directed the play and designed an increasingly frantic, funny Wisconsin story that drew thunderous laughs from the opening night audience.


The story revolves around two companies, a Hawaiian ukulele factory and Wisconsin banjo factory. They are going to merge and have come to the hotel to work out the details.


Lana (Molly Rhode) and Wisconsin Hal (Chad Luberger) represent the banjo makers. Leia (Eva Nimmer) and Hawaiian Hal (Chase Stoeger) represent the uke makers. The two couples check in separately; one is assigned the Sunset suite while the other gets the Sunrise suite.


The problem is apparent even before any problems present themselves. The two Hals are identical. Same brown hair with guy bangs, same face, same shirt, same pants, same shoes. Like any good farce, you can see what's about to happen well before it happens.


That is a big part of the success of any farce. In some part of your brain, you know the joke is on its way, but they work because of the skill and timing of the actors. There is perhaps no form of theater that relies more heavily on the actors than a farce.


A perfect example is Paul Helm, the multi-talented Milwaukee actor/musician/director and music director. He plays Andy, the young-ish guy trying to pass his hotel staffer test. Helm mixes Bob Newhart, Soupy Sales and Tim Conway together, delivering a performance where just a beat or two before you know he's going to say something, you already begin to chuckle. His expressive face and body match his humor, and he is both a foil for others and the stimulator of yet another giddy situation.


As you might expect, Nimmer and Rhode fall for the opposite Hal they came to the meeting with. The search for each other when gone missing, the passions lit by these kisses, the repeatedly delivered brat and cheese trays – each time to the wrong Hal –are the pace of this play.


Sparks fly like crazy as Nimmer and Ludberger mistakenly get together over a design she is drawing for a uke. The art confab quickly turns to a confab of a much different and romantic kind.


Rhode, who has the boss lady thing down pat, is stunned when Stoeger (her real husband) shows business moxie for the first time, and their kisses are as passionate as they are paralyzing for each other.


The directors, Luberger and Stoeger managed a major feat in that not only do the two Hals look like each other, but they behave like each other as well. It is a stunning piece of theatrical legerdemain.


The gradual meltdown of Doug Mancheski and Rhonda Rae Busch as the owners of the hotel is equally exciting, painful and very funny to watch. Mancheski's panicked claims that he did, indeed, already deliver the brat and cheese plate, is priceless.


AFT's mission is to present original musicals that, in part, "celebrate the culture and heritage of the United States."


That's the only non-joke around when this original opened Wednesday night.

AFT’s ‘Strings Attached’ eventually clicks
Warren Gerds, Critic at Large - June 14, 2014


FISH CREEK, Wis. (WFRV) – Identical twin brothers are in a sailing mishap as infants. They’re separated. They’re saved, separately. They live separate lives. Each is involved in making musical instruments. One, Hal, is artistic; he’s inclined to design. The other one, also Hal, is business minded. Hal and Hal know of each other’s company – one makes ukuleles and is based in Hawaii, the other makes banjos and is based in Wisconsin – and they think a merger will be a good thing. One Hal brings his girlfriend and father, the other Hal brings his girlfriend to confer in Wisconsin at The Next to Last Chance Resort. Each Hal is dressed exactly like the other Hal – jeans and a flaming-red Hawaiian shirt. Each Hal falls for the other Hal’s girlfriend. Hal and Hal are never in the same place together, confusing the bejeepers out of the hotel staff that sticks to its Code to hear, see and speak no gossipy stuff. The girlfriends are smitten by the suddenly “new” Hal they’re with. Each Hal breaks off his relationship with his girlfriend for his new-found soul mate. The girlfriends are confused by the on/off, on/off, on/off way they feel about Hal. Everybody’s confused. Mayhem builds and builds and builds until everybody is scampering around at a breakneck pace trying to figure out who’s what to whom and why.


This is some of what happens in American Folklore Theatre’s musical comedy “Strings Attached,” which opened Friday night in the theater’s one-of-a-kind digs at Peninsula State Park Amphitheater in Door County. It was another world premiere night for the theater, which once a year presents a new work developed from scratch by the troupe. “World premiere” may seem a puffy phrase, but some American Folklore Theatre shows have gone on to long lives and widespread productions.


In “Strings Attached,” American Folklore Theatre spreads its wings into a hybrid style of performance. Created by Dave Hudson and Colin Welford, the show has roots in classic mistaken-identities stories, in fast-action farce, in music theater loopiness – with the American Folklore Theatre necessity of placing the story in Wisconsin. Aside from the use of the names “Wisconsin” and “Hawaii” as places, this show doesn’t bother much with fact or reality. It’s a playing with a style, a devil of a style to pull off. Because there is so much set-up, the thing lumbers at the start – like this review has struggled to gain momentum. Once pieces are in place, it’s pretty much all-out action, laced with songs that are interlocked with the story and characters’ feelings.


Musically, the show is … hmm, different for today. There is a warm ballad, “My Boy,” that the father sings that is the essence of the story. Mostly, the musical style is that of perky jazz-pop harmonics that have the feel of, excuse me, a 1950s TV commercial for toothpaste. Or whatever. There is a strong sense of the clock being turned back. Cleverness is infused in many songs as individual characters sing his or her take on a specific lyric – like everybody in “Big Things,” the lovers in “Tongue-Tied,” the Hals in “Beside Myself” and the hotel staff in “Welcome Song,” which is especially jolly when a staffer sings only his or her part of the song alone. The scene for “Unexpected Music” includes a sweet illusion: Did you know you could draw a ukulele, add a new design to the instrument and then play the strings in the drawing and have sound come from the drawing? Nice.


The cast is quite game for the speedy action, songs infused with dancing and vocal harmonics and the general light-hearted aura of the show. Chase Stoeger and Chad Luberger are the twin brothers, with Doc Heide as their father. Eva Nimmer and Molly Rhode are the twins’ girlfriends. Playing the befuddled hotel staff are Paul Helm, Doug Mancheski and Rhonda Rae Busch. Stirring the performers to bright liveliness are co-directors Jeffrey Herbst and Pam Kriger. The cast is limber and dedicated to the American Folklore Theatre way – a specialized approach to amiable performing.