Whatever Happened to Karl Janko? | Northern Sky Theater
Whatever Happened to Karl Janko logo

Book, Lyrics & Music by Matt Zembrowski

World Premiere

Everyone knows something, but no one knows much.

Long ago, Karl Janko—last seen in his metallic green Cutlass Supreme—disappeared from his tiny Wisconsin hometown without a trace. Thirty years later, everyone in town thinks they know what happened to him. They’re all wrong.  Actors play multiple roles in this hilarious musical mystery extravaganza.

Showing: August 9 – September 18, 2021
Monday – Saturday at 7:30 PM
At the Peninsula State Park Amphitheater

Online: September 20-26, 2021
Monday – Sunday

Sponsored by: Door County Medical Center, Parkwood Lodge, and Coyote Roadhouse

About the Writer
Cast of Characters

About the Writer

Matt ZembrowskiMATT ZEMBROWSKI (Composer-PlaywrightLyricist)
Matt is thrilled to be back in Peninsula State Park! Previously, Matt supplied the book, lyrics and music for DOCTOR! DOCTOR! (premiered 2016) and DAD’S SEASON TICKETS (premiered 2019) for Northern Sky. He also wrote music for and performed in SUNSETS AND S’MORES in 2009. Matt spent the last year recording several “At Home” videos for Northern Sky, and co-headlined NERD NIGHT with the inestimable Katie Dahl in October. He is grateful beyond words for all those who have helped bring KARL JANKO to life, especially Molly Rhode, and the fabulous artists on stage tonight. Matt is a lifelong Wisconsin resident, and currently resides in West Allis with his wife Lori, his daughter Kathryn, and their cat Tom Tom.

Cast of Characters


Host: Jeff Herbst*

Maggie Sternberger, Gertie Gurkin: Karen Mal

Brenda Willems, Irma Herman: Lachrisa Grandberry*

Lenny Chesniak, Norm Lugee: Doc Heide

Sam Kalkoff, Rick Zepnick: Doug Mancheski*

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


Review: ‘Whatever Happened to Karl Janko?’ creates mystique



Sometimes silence is golden in theater.

The audience is riveted. Or wondering. Or fascinated. Or intrigued. Or lost in the story.

Simply gone.

Silence happened more than once Monday during a Northern Sky Theater performance of “Whatever Happened to Karl Janko?”

On a comfy weather night, the audience at Peninsula State Park Amphitheater zoned in on happenings in an unusual thing – a musical mystery.

Adding to a mystique, the people in the show are comical/quirky town folk of little – and fictional – Littleton on the opposite side of the bay from where the audience is sitting.

The setup: The investigative TV show “Unsolved Musicals” is in town to interview anybody with information about the disappearance of Karl Janko 35 years ago.

One night, his car was found – a metallic green 1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme – but Karl simply vanished the day before he was to sling his way to the state Division 7 football championship as quarterback of the Littleton Legumes.

Are you catching the tongue-in-cheekness? The show is loaded with it – and the mystery red herrings dropped by the people interviewed – the busybody lunch ladies, the never-arrested-nobody chief of police, the local rag’s editor with UFO vibes, the grumpy janitor with a chip (hock… hock-to-ie) on his shoulder, Jake’s rival for the quarterback position, his forever friend and his girlfriend who is so much in teen love it makes you want to puke.

That last bit is in the show. The TV investigator has all kinds of colorful observational quips.

Woven in the family show is adult humor. Notable is a masterful use – “cupcake” and “sugar” – that become wink-wink words when said just the right way by acting pros.

The silence also had to do with the audience not having seen anything like this show. Imagine experiencing, say, “The Wizard of Oz” for the first time. It’s that kind of new.

And the main person behind it, Matt Zembrowski, did it all – writing the book (story), music and lyrics.

Musically, he has a ’30s style here, a rhumba there, a love ballad, spooky wafts and a touch of blues along the way.

Director Molly Rhode and creative collaborators jump right in run with the Matt Zembrowski fun.

Veteran actors/singers/character creators Lachrisa Grandberry, Doc Heide, Karen Mal and Doug Mancheski play more than one of the deliciously comical townies. Jeff Herbst plays the TV guy with probing and omniscient wryness.

Heide, Herbst, Mal and Mancheski go way back in the history of Northern Sky Theater. They are an A team. Grandberry fits right their skill level. More than the other players, Grandberry switches characters on a dime, like going from a crusty old lady to a sweet young thing a few breaths later.

Songs aren’t listed in the online program, but by guessing I can walk you through some of what’s found in the show as perspectives of the locale and Karl Janko are drawn:

Every place has its secrets… nothing happens here… I can’t believe all of this is happening here (a TV show in an itsy-bitsy burg)… I never liked the guy (Karl’s rival)… you grow up thinking you have all the answers (an adult looking back)… leave it alone (the get-out-of-our-town guy)… face your fears… the world is full of mysteries… I get the feeling… things out there are not meant to know.

Spliced into these core thoughts and feelings is humor, verbal and enacted. For instance, there is the Doug Mancheski finesse around the police chief, who is faux tough but perhaps never arrested anybody – even speeders from Illinois (a Door County joke) – by letting perpetrators off with “You better not do that again.”

Northern Sky Theater deals in originality. It does it in such a sophisticated way that the company draws throngs of people who sit outside to laugh or applaud or watch interestedly in silence thinking, “Where is this going?” Thus, “Whatever Happened to Karl Janko?” joins the long roll of successful Northern Sky Theater shows.