Book by Aidaa Peerzada & Lachrisa Grandberry
Music by Alissa Rhode & Lachrisa Grandberry
Lyrics by Lachrisa Grandberry
Fall 2022 World Premiere
A tale of deep laughter, tough choices, and chosen family on a Door County camping trip.
When a young woman faces a life-changing decision, she calls upon her inner circle to gather for an outdoor camping trip. This six-woman ensemble piece bursts with humor and song, joyously exploring the beauty and love found in family and deep friendships. On dark days, sunflowers–and friends–turn toward one another.
Sponsored by: Jason Feldman Landscapes in honor of Pat Feldman, Peninsula Pulse, The Women’s Fund of Door County | Season Sponsor: Door County Medical Center | Additional support from: The SistaFriends
Performer / Playwright / Lyricist / Composer
Lachrisa couldn’t be more excited to enter into her fifth season with Northern Sky! Credits include, Chicago: As You Like It (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre), She the People (The Second City). Regional: Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Skylight Music Theatre, Next Act Theatre, Renaissance Theaterworks, Theatre LILA, Forward Theatre, First Stage, Black Arts Milwaukee, Children’s Theatre Madison. Film: The Thing About Harry (Freeform). Television: Chicago PD (NBC). Upcoming: Lyricist, co-writer, and co-composer of Sunflowered a new musical, making its world premiere at Northern Sky this fall. Education: BFA in Theatre, Wisconsin Lutheran College. So many thanks to all I love.
Aidaa is a writer and performer who grew up between Baltimore, Maryland, and Lahore, Pakistan. Workshops of her original work include Children of the Wise, Aliyah and The Princess Jasmine Barbie, SHINING, One Googol and One. She was a semi-finalist for the 2020 Bay Area Playwrights Festival. As an actor, Aidaa has performed with Marin Theatre Co., Pittsburgh Public Theatre, Illinois Shakespeare, Utah Shakespeare, Steppenwolf Theatre Co., American Players Theatre, and Quantum Theatre. Her on-camera credits include the HBO series Girls and the web series Blank My Life. Aidaa studied at the Baltimore School for the Arts and went on to receive her BFA in Drama from Carnegie Mellon University. She couldn’t feel sunnier about being a part of the Sunflowered team, and is incredibly grateful for the time she has spent growing this project with Northern Sky.
Music Director / Composer / Arranger
Alissa is thrilled to return for another season in the woods! She has musically contributed to the performance and/or development of more than 20 Northern Sky originals, and she is over the moon to bring Sunflowered to the stage this fall. Alissa is also the composer of Dairy Heirs (original cast recording now available!) and a proud member of ASCAP, Dramatists Guild, and Maestra Music. Other credits include Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Skylight Music Theatre, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Door Shakespeare, Third Avenue Playhouse, Milwaukee Opera Theatre, First Stage, Children’s Theater of Madison, and Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua.
CAST OF CHARACTERS 2022
*Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
Door County is a magnet. Thousands upon thousands of people are drawn by the peninsula’s natural beauty and this opportunity: Stop, relax, release and unwind – take a breath.
Door County also is a place for the arts. The atmosphere breathes fresh visual and performing creation.
A new, world-premiere musical expresses the essence of Door County and oh so much more.
“Sunflowered” expands the parameters of Northern Sky Theater, where adventuresome originality is the starting point.
What’s up in the story of “Sunflowered”?
Six women gather for a weekend of camping in Peninsula State Park.
They are a widowed mother and her two daughters, two family friends and a partner of one of the daughters.
Except for the partner, the women have returned to a place they love, in part to savor the memory of a beloved father.
By the time these basics of the story are known, the audience knows something big and dramatic will happen.
In the musical’s first song, the women have sung of the pressures in their lives. The song – a vividly complex tapestry of sung thought – ends with the phrase, “the cancer is back.”
The “C” word signals drama is in store.
Drama has always been a part of Northern Sky Theater shows, but not the Big C.
Also, the partner element is new on the Northern Sky Theater stage.
Hard-core sibling bickering is another element in this wondrous work.
“Sunflowered” is written, directed and enacted entirely by women.
A catalyst person is Lachrisa Grandberry, who has portrayed many characters for five seasons in Northern Sky Theater shows outdoors at Peninsula State Park Amphitheater.
In this show, the company gives Lachrisa Grandberry an opportunity as writer of the book, music and lyrics – and performer. That’s akin to jumping into the Grand Canyon, but Lachrisa Grandberry is sharp in the first place, plus she has a large parachute. Leaping with her are co-authors Aidaa Peerzada (book) and Alissa Rhode (music), co-directors Alexis J. Roston (also a performer) and Molly Rhode (company associate artistic director) and the women who share the stage with her and are creating their characters as a bonus of being in a world-premiere production.
A brief introduction to the characters:
While living in Wisconsin, Shayla (Lachrisa Grandberry) has been a key caretaker of her father in his illness.
Rain (Ayanna Bria Bakari), the sister, has been away in Chicago, pursuing education and a career.
Frankie (Solana Ramirez-Garcia) is a photographer who has become attached to Rain.
Marthie (Alexis J. Roston, the co-director) is called “Mama” by all for her role as the glue of the gathering.
Danielle (Elizabeth McMonagle) is an elementary schoolteacher who has been a friend of the family forever.
Jackie (Anna Cline) is a mother of three, also a friend forever, who suddenly struggles with Rain-Frankie as “Not how we were raised.”
The direction, the cast, the music, the songs, the idea and the bravado are terrific. This landscape is all so very, very complex, reflecting some of what it takes to get through life.
There is fun, too. The song “Wisconsin Gal” is a distillation of what it’s like living in Wisconsin, taking joy in so many of our differences.
In a remarkable scene, wood blocks the size of bricks are built – three at a time – to a height of approximately five feet as a kind of house cards. What happens – as a game – is part of a story offering a lesson.
The show is a lesson in itself. “Sunflowered” is presented indoors in Gould Theater, which Northern Sky Theater built to expand its scope. The scope of “Sunflowered” is different than found in any of the company’s outdoor shows. “Sunflowered” is inclusive in many ways, but children might be clueless about some of its adult suggestiveness. Outdoor shows often slip in adult humor that kids might not get; that humor is much more adult in “Sunflowered.”
This and that:
+ The performance space of Gould Theater includes visible wings that spread from the standard stage area. To the audience’s left, the four-musician band performs. To the right, some scenes are enacted by two characters.
+ This made me smile: Door County has rocks galore. For this production, fake rocks were built with enough strength to walk over or sit on. Real ones would have been way too heavy to bring to the stage.
+ The styles of music in the show are expansive and often a blending. Included are almost soul, almost R&B, almost ballad, almost spiritual, almost folk and always original. There’s novelty, too, in “Hey Miss Bee,” that’s good for a smile.
Northern Sky’s Original Production of ‘Sunflowered’
Without giving away the plot, the opening number of Sunflowered, lays plenty of cards on the table. And the hand-lettered sign at a campground that reads “Difficult Trail,” offers a subtle roadmap.
In Northern Sky’s production, six women with deep roots are summoned for a rustic getaway. Day-to-day juggling of priorities has become an accepted way of life, as evidenced by all actors on cellphones. Talking, sure—but are they really communicating? The camping trip nudges memories but also magnifies how far each of their lives have taken them.
As the mother of two pivotal characters, Alexis J. Roston’s Marthie organizes the surprise gathering. The center holds thanks to her sagacious ability to allow the others to find their own paths. Her daughters and their lifelong friends have grown apart. As adults, their need to reconnect has never been greater.
The group recall the trip years before, bonding to become Sunflower Sisters, declaring, “When there is no sun, sunflowers face each other.”
As grown women they recall the ideal set by Papa Hue—husband to Marthie and father to Shayla (Lachrisa Grandberry) and Rain (Ayanna Bria Bakari), a standard that can’t be matched by Tinder apps Christian Mingle. It plays on the notion that all a woman needs is a perfect man to complete her life. Or does she?
As performed by the actors, the songs allow the characters to address the audience, drawing on confidence and the hesitation of revealing life-altering news or long-unspoken truths that must be dealt with. Lighter moments come from double-entendres like when Rain’s partner Frankie blurts “there’s always tomorrow.” The group quickly explain to her how in Wisconsin fish frys only happen on Fridays.
Positioned stage right, the unobtrusive four-piece band’s rock/pop/jazz arrangements of playwright Grandberry’s original songs were nearly transparent. In tone, many of the songs spoke with the sincerity of the original Broadway recordings of Hair.
The Door County camping trip allows a space for the group of women to call each other on the carpet. Jenga blocks and a bottle wine foster a conversation that puts the past in perspective and offers a path for the future.
With Sunflowered, Grandberry (performer, playwright, lyricist, composer), Aidaa Peerzada (playwright) and Alissa Rhode (music director, composer and arranger) have put together a musical that spans generations, family and friendships.