We Like It Where?
Book by Corrie Beula Kovacs & Stephen Kovacs
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Kovacs
Summer 2019 World Premiere
Celebrating ordinary people doing extraordinary things!
We Like It Where? is based on the true “mouse that roared” story of the town of Winneconne’s brief secession from Wisconsin.
When they are inadvertently left off the state highway map in 1967, the residents of Winneconne, Wisconsin, decide to petition the governor for help. However, he’s not interested in solving their problem, so they take matters into their own hands. What begins as a contest in the local paper to “Put Winneconne Back on the Map” becomes a national story. With the help of two Winneconnians working in Washington, D.C., they concoct a publicity stunt to secede from the state of Wisconsin.
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The husband and wife writing team has been hard at work creating energetic musical numbers to accompany Winneconne’s hilarious historic event. “Perhaps our most rewarding research has been done with the two living characters from our show, Jan and Russ Meerdink of Neenah,” says Beula Kovacs. “They’ve provided us with a first-person look at the events that took place more than 50 years ago.”
About the Writers
About the Writers
15 years ago, Corrie was a performing intern at Northern Sky Theater (then American Folklore Theatre). Inspired by the company’s Wisconsin-themed original productions, she found an article in the library about a forgotten story in Wisconsin history: the secession of Winneconne in 1967. It seemed like a perfect idea for a show! She tucked the article away in a binder, where it stayed through numerous moves to New Jersey, all over New York City, back to New Jersey and, eventually, to Wisconsin. When she and her husband, Steve, opened Show How, LLC, a theatre arts training company, they decided to try their hands at writing a musical. Corrie retrieved that long-forgotten article, and so began the journey of bringing We Like It Where? to the stage.
Corrie and Steve were immediately drawn to the true story of seemingly ordinary people doing extraordinary things. The message of the story is one that they share with their theatre community everyday: that we are all capable of more than we think we can do. This idea lives in the very creation of the show, as the book is the first writing effort for the couple and the music and lyrics are the first that Steve has ever written! Collaboration is also central to the story and is reflected in the contributions and guidance of Richard Carsey, a Broadway music supervisor, Molly Rhode, Northern Sky Theater’s Associate Artistic Director, and the Northern Sky company members who have given their time and talents to the development of this show.
Steve has a music education degree from The Miami University and twelve years’ experience in public education. Corrie has a degree in Musical Theatre from Millikin University and a wide variety of professional performing credits.
Cast of Characters
Cast of Characters
C.O. Rogers (Printer and Publisher of the Winneconne News)………………..Alex Campea
Vera Kitchen (Arrowhead Restaurant Owner and Winneconne Chamber of Commerce President)………………..Lachrisa Grandberry
James Coughlin (Winneconne Village President)………………..Bill Theisen*
William Schlapman (Case Manufacturing Co. President)………………..Fred ‘Doc’ Heide & Jeff Herbst*
Warren P. Knowles (Governor of Wisconsin)………………..Doug Mancheski*
Dottie Knowles (First Lady of Wisconsin)………………..Corrie Beula Kovacs
Paul Hassett (Chief of Staff to the Governor)………………..Isaiah Spetz
Jan Badtke (Former Winneconne resident living in Washington, D.C.)………………..Emily Brandt
Kay Klipstine (Jan’s roommate and best friend)………………..Jamie Mercado
Russell Meerdink (Jan’s boyfriend and former Winneconne resident)………………..Isaiah Spetz
While this musical is based on actual events of the secession of Winneconne in 1967, certain characters, characterizations, incidents, locations and dialogue were fictionalized or invented for purposes of dramatization. The intent has been to honor and celebrate this story of a little village doing more than anyone thought was possible.
*Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
‘We Like It Where?’ taps Wisconsin’s rich humor in Fish Creek
Warren Gerds/Critic at Large – June 16, 2019
FISH CREEK, Wis. (WFRV) – Tap ta-tap ta tap tap tap, tapity-tap-tap tap. Ding!
C.O. Rogers’ fingers bustle all over the keys of his typewriter. He has a great kernel of an idea for his next column for the Winneconne News:
He writes, “Guess what? Would you believe that the village of Winneconne is no more? The state map makers must have been napping when they should have been mapping – they completely eliminated the village from the new Wisconsin road maps.”
This is 1967.
What happens next is the fuel for the musical “We Like It Where?” that premiered to a standing ovation Saturday night in Northern Sky Theater’s summer home in Peninsula State Park Amphitheater.
It’s a fascinating story, though, like some novels, it takes a while to get into it. Once in, the show by Corrie Beula Kovacs and Stephen Kovacs percolates with tasty tidbits not only about Winneconne fighting back with humor but about society of the time.
All the characters are based on real people – with plenty of musical theater artistic license, mind you.
And what happens happened: Winneconne served notice that it was seceding from the state, sticking its tongue out at Gov. Warren P. Knowles, who in the show sticks his tongue out back at Winneconne’s instigators because of his embarrassment.
The flub on the 1967 state map – 1.1 million copies printed – became merriment in the international media. It was comic relief amid the news from the Vietnam War and its agonized backlash back home.
“We Like It Where?” is history in song and dance and humor.
The set backdrop tells where action takes place: Foreign Service locations, including Hawaii; the Arrowhead restaurant in Winneconne; the governor’s office and home in Madison and an apartment in Washington, D.C. The show is a Wisconsin story that isn’t stuck in Wisconsin.
Woven into the fabric are touches of the time. References include James Bond 007, the push for mandatory seatbelts, mercury poisoning in fish and burning bras.
That last reference is part of a burning sub-theme about the changing role of women. Some of the lines: “It isn’t a wife’s place to question her husband’s decisions,” “women’s work,” “It’s politics, you (a woman) wouldn’t understand.”
One of the songs, “What a Woman,” turns a viewpoint from beginning to end. A woman on a mission sings one thing and other pooh-poohs with, “I’m not sure this is something a woman should do.” By the end of the song, the pooh-poohing is done.
The material gives the performers fodder on which to build interesting characters.
Doug Mancheski sends up ego-driven, politics-craving, image-mongering Warren Knowles, whose roasting is akin to a spanferkel.
Alex Campea re-creates the glee of a newspaper guy, C.O. Rogers, with a hot story that he is fanning the flames of.
Lachrisa Grandberry climbs into the role of a person with a purpose, restaurant owner Vera Kitchen, who drives the town folk to action. One of Grandberry’s catchy bits starts with “My mother says…” and off she races with a breathlessburstofrattlingofmotherlywisdomstackedtogether.
Bill Theisen is amiable, nostalgic James Coughlin, who manages to be village president as a Democrat swimming upstream in a river of Republicans.
Jeff Herbst (in a shared role with Fred Heide) is the boss of a manufacturing company who has comic capers with things electrical.
Jamie Mercado is the can-do Kay Klipstine, a woman on the go in Washington who drops this line about her hometown: “Would you rather be stuck in a dead-end town like Winneconne?”
Emily Brandt is love-minded Jan Badtke, also in Washington (to whom the above line is directed) and, with Kay, the inspiration for Winneconne seceding by way of an international contest.
Isaiah Spetz doubles with zest as Knowles’ put-upon flak, Paul Hassett, and Jan Badtke’s long-distance fiancé, Russ Meerdink.
Corrie Beula Kovacs crackles as the catalytic Dotty Knowles, the governor’s wife who pushes back. Corrie Beula Kovacs not only is the co-author, on stage she is a clothes horse with eye-catching outfits and in character is the epitome of change on the hoof.
Present in the opening-night audience were Russ Meerdink and Jan Badtke Meerdink, the engaged couple from the story. That helped lend a bit of authenticity to the characters on stage.
This is an all-original show with a live band. It has an amusing story, yet with plenty of messages fused in. The players are mostly jaunting as they romp around reality.
My favorite part is the sounds of the typewriter, from days when I heard a whole newsroom full of them, starting in 1967. Tapity-tap-tap. Ding!
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Although the seed was planted for a future musical, Kovacs didn’t pursue the story until “many, many moves and a lifetime later,” when she realized that she had finally found the perfect writing partner in her husband, Steve Kovacs. After two years of writing, researching and interviewing, the Kovacses are now sharing their show in beautiful Peninsula State Park during Northern Sky Theater’s 2019 summer season.
In different hands, the story of a small town staging a publicity stunt could have come off as a dry recitation, but high-energy performances involving Elvis-like gyrations, go-go boots and oddball characters keep the audience – young and old – thoroughly entertained.
Although the characters are dramatized and, in some cases, conglomerations of multiple people, the Kovacses took care to pay accurate homage to the real people involved in the Winneconne secession. The show is full of historical tidbits pulled straight from interviews with the town’s residents.
The Kovacses were particularly inspired by Vera Kitchen, a woman who occupied many roles throughout her life, gave out her real-estate card even in her hospital bed and constantly said, “What’s next? I’m ready.” In fact, she said that so often that it’s inscribed on her gravestone. The musical number “What’s Next, I’m Ready,” is inspired by the real-life Vera Kitchen.
The show focuses on Kitchen as the motivated and multi-talented owner of a diner and the driving force of the action. With strength and the occasional touch of exasperation, Kitchen leads her town in protest, ultimately gathering her community together in a way that’s much larger than a snub on the state-highway map.
“There’s this fierce woman who does not take no for an answer,” said Grandberry. “It’s rewarding to play those characters because I don’t think you often see women like her on the front stage.”
The audience follows strong female characters such as Vera as they grapple with the issues of the day. In the midst of musical numbers and humorous situations, We Like It Where? contends with social issues of the 1960s and highlights the burgeoning women’s liberation movement.
The women of the show struggle with societal restrictions and the casual, everyday sexism of the people closest to them. Dottie Knowles (played by Corrie Kovacs), wife of the sleazy Governor Knowles (played by Doug Mancheski), finds herself longing to build a life beyond the role of doting wife. Vera finds herself having to prove, even to her longtime friends, that she’s capable of being an effective leader. The emphasis on women’s liberation proves to be disturbingly relevant at times, especially when Governor Knowles dismisses his wife outright, uses her as a prop or wonders aloud why women are even upset with their situation at all.
Describing a musical number – and serious girl-power moment – in which Dottie sings with a backup chorus of go-go girls, Grandberry said, “I love the comedy within the drama of it. It reminds us that even in the most dramatic situations, there are reasons to laugh … It’s funny, but it’s a serious moment of staying true to yourself and accepting all your independence, all your womanhood, all your crazy colors.”
In addition to emphasizing the triumph of individuality in characters such as Dottie and Vera, “We wanted to drive home the camaraderie and the collaboration that’s possible when you work together,” Kovacs said. At its heart, We Like It Where? is a story of a community coming together to support a common cause – a story that’s especially recognizable in a place such as Door County.