Book by Robin Share
Music by Clay Zambo
Lyrics by Robin Share & Clay Zambo
Lake Michigan, 1876.
A coming of age tale of courage and adventure amid high waves, fresh air, legend, and song.
Windjammers made its maiden voyage on the Peninsula State Park Amphitheater stage summer 2013. Inspired by tales and tunes of 19th century Great Lakes sailors, Robin Share and Clay Zambo made their Northern Sky (then AFT) writing debut.
Windjammers was developed in partnership with the Academy for New Musical Theatre (ANMT) in Los Angeles. After initially penning a musical review, Share and Zambo expanded the piece into a book musical with an original story and all new music set on Lake Michigan in 1876. “It’s exciting to have a piece written specifically for our audience based on such a rich lode of material,” said Jeff Herbst.
Inside the World Premiere Show: “Windjammers”
An inside look at the process of creating the world premiere musical, “Windjammers.” Interviews with Artistic Director Jeff Herbst, the “Windjammers” writers, actor Doug Mancheski, plus rehearsal and performance footage.
About the Writers
About The Writers
ROBIN SHARE (Playwright)
Robin hails from Los Angeles where she writes book and lyrics on topics ranging from political satire to family comedy. Ms. Share also directs and teaches Acting and Playwriting at an arts high school.
CLAY ZAMBO (Composer-Lyricist)
Composer-lyricist: Lost in Staten Island; Post Modern Living; Shlemiel Crooks; many family musicals (NYC); I Am Star Trek (London); Greenbrier Ghost (CT). Member: BMI, Dramatists Guild. Pretty good cook, proud husband, runner. Visit clayzambo.com.
“Fitting Out and Fitting In” on AFT’s Summer Stage
The stars were out for American Folklore Theatre’s (AFT) world premiere of Windjammers on Friday, June 14. Under the clear Door County sky, Artistic Director Jeffrey Herbst introduced the performance on stage and mentioned the five-year collaboration with the Los Angeles Academy of New Musical Theatre, which brought together the East and West Coast collaborators. Composer and lyricist Clay Zambo hails from New York while author and lyricist Robin Share calls LA her home. The two creative minds meet in Peninsula State Park’s production about tall ships sailing the great lakes for this thoroughly entertaining Midwest family musical.
Windjammers’ eight-member cast of characters sails from Chicago to Milwaukee and then to Michigan while making a stop at Bailey’s Harbor in the year 1876. This is when time remembered the glory years of sailing merchant schooners before the steamers rein the seas. In AFT’s musical, the 96 feet long sea vessel constructed of Northern Pine has a new captain with a crew in the process of “fitting out,” or preparing the ship for this journey. A young man named Boyo joins the crew who is full of book knowledge regarding being a sailor, but with little practical skills in hoisting a mast or tying bowline knots.
Captain Jackie experiences his first trip becoming “the youngest captain on the seas.” While the crew is “fitting out” the schooner, they notice Boyo and Captain Jackie struggling to “fit in” and find their place on the sea and in the world. In this dual coming of age story, one young man strives to support his widowed mother by earning a sailor’s wage, while the other delivers a message for a lovelorn schoolteacher, Nancy, who patiently waits for her answer. A small piece of Cyrano de Bergerac finds its way on deck when Boyo begins writing letters for the Captain to add the necessary romantic intrigue.
Plenty of maritime history and folklore, along with their Door County connections, was knotted into the production’s dozen or so musical numbers. In the song, “It Just Makes Sense, “ superstitions roll off the crew’s tongues as the sailors relate to Boyo: Never sail on Friday, never go out to sea with a woman or wife, and never sleep toward the bow. The production’s music was culled from original “sea shanties,” or chants, sung in the late 1800’s and researched by AFT to recreate authenticity in the music.
AFT’s cast carries this maritime history with gifted humor and talent, while the debuting Nathan Fosbinder plays the confused Boyo who changes from youth to sailor with earnest charm. Chad Luberger’s Captain Jackie ably handles this hilarious crew and his growing affection for Nancy’s letters, while Chase Stoeger gives the woman chasing Nathaniel a genuine sensibility. Casting Doug Mancheski against his usual jovial AFT character in the role of Fred, a sailor with a drinking problem, adds a rough-hewn touch.
Jennifer Shine as the melancholy teacher, Nancy, literally shines opposite Luberger, especially in the several duets of “Sail Away.” A gentle Rhonda Rae Busch gives Millicent, Boyo’s mother heartfelt warmth, while Eva Nimmer and Susie Duecker round out the cast and play various women characters seen in the city ports individuality.
Remarkably, the stage magically transforms into a schooner when fitted with Scenic Designer Lisa Schlenker’s beautiful sails, squares of cloth that may be placed and moved with ropes, tied to various places on the stage’s wooden structure. Similar to origami paper, the sails fold and open with serene beauty, even during a realistic lake squall. Underscoring the timely themes of sea and sky, Costume designer Karen Brown Larimore clothes all the women in various shades of soft blue, reinforcing the seaside theme so the entire set refreshes and soothes.
Debuting AFT director Molly Rhode made her name by commanding Skylight Music Theatre’s The Sound of Music in Milwaukee this past holiday season. Here in Door County, Rhode demonstrates the same exceptional talent at AFT with clever choreography and characters that completely inhabit the stage when dancing on deck.
Windjammers sails into AFT’S 2013 season, a sure winner as one of the best musicals in the company’s growing repertoire. Traveling the Great Lakes in 1876 was treacherous, with too many brothers, fathers, husbands and mates losing their lives in ships overturned by the fierce Midwestern storms. Woman paced the shores, or on a building’s rooftop ‘Widow Walks, “ waiting with prayers on their breath for loved ones to return to their arms. AFT captures this evocative tension while also developing the lure of a sailor’s life, admiring the “stars and moon on Lake Michigan,” when the waters were calm in this tribute the company’s unique genius for staging musical mayhem.
This AFT production will ultimately resonate anywhere ships and boats glide over the seas, the forces of man versus nature still present in contemporary life, certainly in Door County. While the history of “fitting out” a ship may change with the particular vessel, the story to “fitting in,” learning to grow, live and love continually waits for, as Windjammers so poetically believes, “those great white wings to bear everyone home.”
American Folklore Theatre presents Windjammers at the Peninsula State Park Theater through summer 2013 on Mondays at 8:00 p.m., Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. or Fridays at 8:00 p.m. Or catch Loose Lips, Sinks Ships and Muskie Love, in this trio of plays produced in cooperation with the Door County Maritime Museum. Please call AFT at 920.854.6117 or www.americanfolkloretheatre.com
Smooth sailing for AFT shipping saga ‘Windjammers’
Batten down the hatches — American Folklore Theatre’s new original musical “Windjammers” set sail this month, giving audiences a glimpse into the lives of Great Lakes cargo ship sailors.
The show, which takes place in the mid- to late 1800s, follows the wooden schooner Windjammer on its journey through the Great Lakes, carrying cargo like wheat and coal from port to port. It starts with the ship docking in Milwaukee and mentions stops in Manitowoc and Escanaba, as well as Port Des Morts or Death’s Door. AFT’s “theatre under the stars” in Peninsula State Park offers a perfect backdrop for this musical, inspired by Door County’s nautical history.
The opening of the show seems to take a little while to find its legs, but by the end of the song “Fitting Out,” it’s full speed ahead. Written by Robin Share (book) and Clay Zambo (music), their collaboration works like a harmonious captain and crew. The songs fold naturally into the plot, creating a nice ebb and flow between each number.
Share’s dialogue and lyrics (co-written with Zambo) have all of the grit you’d expect from sailors, while also lending a sensitivity to the script, depicting the loneliness and isolation of a life at sea. For every superstition the sailors list, from not bathing before you ship out to never bringing a woman on board, there is an underlying want to having a family and all the comforts of home.
Leaving home despite the wishes of his mother and joining the crew of the Windjammer is bookworm Boyo, played by Madison native and an AFT newcomer Nathan Fosbinder. As Boyo struggles to earn his sea legs, Fosbinder shines in his number “The Same Boy,” with his voice bright and calm as a pink sky at night.
Knowing every shift in the wind and star in the sky is the character Fred, played by AFT veteran Doug Mancheski. It really feels like Mancheski is a sailor. Delivering one-liners and sometimes even one word as dry as a pirate’s rum bottle, he’s loveable as the drunken sailor with captain envy.
The chemistry between Capt. Jackie and Nancy, played by Chad Luberger and AFT newcomer Jennifer Shine, is captivating and playful, taking us back to a time when letters were the only means of communication. Their story has a surprise ending, another credit to Share’s creative book writing.
The surprising moment is just the calm before the storm as the schooner runs into rough weather in the song “Squall.” The show’s staging, which is anchored in imagination, is highlighted in this song. Ropes are strung from the top of the mast and tied downstage and cloth is stretched out to depict the sails. Zambo’s music powers this number like a steam ship while also giving us comedy in songs like “It Just Makes Sense” and “Captain Crooner.”
While this summer marks the show’s maiden voyage, “Windjammers” has all the qualities of past AFT favorites, with a solid story and loveable characters. The show joins ranks with other original works supported by the Fred Alley New Musical Fund, which has provided support for every AFT world premiere in the past seven years to honor the memory of the late AFT co-founder and playwright, Fred Alley.
AFT presents “Windjammers” at 8 p.m. Mondays, 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays and 8 p.m. Fridays through through Aug. 24 in the amphitheater at Peninsula State Park, off Wisconsin 42, Fish Creek.
Mike Fischer, Special to the Journal Sentinel – June 24, 2013
American Folklore Theatre Casts Magic Spell (Part 1)
Fish Creek — In the late 19th century, a wide-eyed boy goes to sea and becomes a man. During World War II, a young woman learns how to weld and discovers a resilience she didn’t know she had. Somewhere on Green Bay, two lonely fishing guides finally lose their fear and find each other.
Those are the stories being staged this summer at American Folklore Theatre, where scandalously cheap ticket prices allow an entire family to enjoy original musicals that combine G-rated entertainment and big-hearted, often sophisticated explorations of adult themes — all of it unfolding outdoors, in the woods and under the stars in Door County’s Peninsula State Park.
That sylvan setting plays a vital role in “Windjammers,” written by Robin Share (book and lyrics) and Clay Zambo (music and lyrics). Set in 1876, during the heyday of the Great Lakes schooner, “Windjammers” is making its maiden voyage this summer, with AFT veteran Molly Rhode at the helm as director and choreographer.
Skylight Music Theatre’s Lisa Schlenker has designed the set, transforming the AFT stage into a great sailing vessel, complete with rigging and sails. Add the wind rustling through the surrounding trees and it’s easy to imagine the men on stage as a shipping crew, riding the waves and hoping not to join the 7,000 wrecks and 30,000 bodies at the bottom of the Great Lakes.
That crew includes the young and impressionable Boyo (Nathan Fosbinder), who is book smart but must learn how to read the world. Jackie (Chad Luberger), his gruff but tenderhearted captain, can read men’s hearts, but is also illiterate. The two will bond as they teach each other.
Two recognizable types round out Jackie’s crew. Fred (Doug Mancheski) knows Lake Michigan better than any man alive, but he is frequently drunk, depressed or both. The hearty but superficial Nate (Chase Stoeger) is addicted to women rather than liquor; he has one in every port. In an overused joke, he can’t remember any of their names.
Costumed by Karen Brown-Larimore in rich blues evoking the Great Lakes, four more actors play the women left ashore. “Windjammers” sails against formidable headwinds when trying to bring them aboard and make them part of this seafaring story.
Only one of the four — Jennifer Shine, playing a jilted fiancée trying to rebuild her life — is given enough room to shape a character; even she must overcome a far-fetched plot to establish credibility as someone falling in love all over again. She succeeds, wonderfully, conveying the repressed longing of a warm woman with a lot to offer, if she could only find the right man.
The men fare a bit better; at its core, “Windjammers” is their story.
Together, they sing of sailors’ quirky superstitions and weather a fierce squall — strikingly choreographed by Rhode, who uses the women, waving blue scarves, to embody the rising waters threatening to drown them.
Individually, Fosbinder’s Boyo sings beautifully about how he is changing. Mancheski — justly known for his comedic gifts — stretches himself as Fred, peering through another drunken haze to admit he is utterly adrift on Lake Michigan, despite having known it so long. Luberger gives us a winning captain who is seemingly stern, stiff and sure but also shy, sheepish and soft.
But good as some portions of “Windjammers” are when considered separately, neither they nor this show ever fully come together. “Windjammers” wants to be a full-fledged book musical, but it often feels like a collection of shanties with a tacked-on storyline. Caught betwixt and between, it winds up becalmed, drifting toward port without a narrative compass.
Warren Gerds – June 14, 2013
Color fills American Folklore Theatre’s ‘Windjammers’
FISH CREEK, Wisc. (WFRV) – “Windjammers” is a vivid new musical (4 and one-half stars out of 5) at the popular American Folklore Theatre, home of original shows that speak of life in this region.
Door County has the longest shoreline of any county in the United States, and off its shores ships have sailed for centuries. This show takes you aboard a fictional vessel, the 96-foot schooner Windjammer, for a topsy turvy sailing season in 1876.
You experience storms, lore and romance. Along the way, you learn about the gear and the knowhow that it takes to navigate by compass, stars and a bit of courage.
The production teams a writer (Robin Share) from Los Angeles, a composer (Clay Zambo) from the New York area and the creative smarts of American Folklore Theatre artistic director Jeffrey Herbst and Molly Rhode as director and choreographer.
In the story, the bookish Boyo (Nathan Fosbinder) has signed on for eight months of sailing with the cargo ship Windjammer. New at the helm is Capt. Jackie (Chad Luberger). In the crew are the jolly, girl-in-every-port Nathaniel (Chase Stoeger) and the crusty, beery Fred (Doug Mancheski). Boyo leaves behind his widowed, cheery mother (Rhonda Rae Busch). Crossing Capt. Jackie’s path is sweet and lovely schoolteacher Nancy (Jennifer Shine). As bubbly admirers of sailors – among other roles – are Susie Decker and Eva Nimmer.
The production calls on a high level of performance skills, and this cast answers in songs and characters. A three-piece orchestra carefully sets the pace and moods.
“Windjammers” operates with sophistication. Some examples:
- The song “Squall” tosses the cast all over. As the men wrestle with reluctant sails and lines on the heels of a boisterous shanty (nautical type of song), the women portray a high-pitched wind. You get the sense of a dangerous burst of energy, a squall.
- The stage serves as the vessel. Included are three sails, rigging and equipment you learn the names of as they come into play. The scenic design by Lisa Schlenker creates a picture that has the feel of a ship of almost 150 years ago.
- The creators place characters in unique combinations. As we see Boyo writing letters home, his mother appears with him. They converse. Capt. Jackie and Nancy write back and forth in another example of the effective theatrical device. They also appear in give-and-take conversation. In one scene, Nancy leans over Boyo’s shoulder to re-write the letter she has written to Capt. Jackie as Boyo reads the letter Capt. Jackie, who can neither read nor write.
- Composer Zambo creates duets and other vocal combinations of elevated forms of musical theatre. Songs, such as “Prologue” and “Fitting Out,” are not just 1-2-3 and done songs, but rolling revelations of characters and story bits. Zambo’s score feels good to the ear.
The character of Fred may be too drunk too often for some people’s liking. That harsh edge is part of a dramatic aura that’s stronger in “Windjammers” than most American Folklore Theatre shows.
There is humor. Sailors’ superstitions are fun – no bathing with soap, no sailing on Fridays, never saying 13 (say 12 and one). Nathaniel is a merry character. He says, “I’d rather have too many sweethearts than none,” then gathers up gift baking treats from woman after woman (whose names he never gets right) in port after port.
Danger visits. One storm produces a rescue. Another storm produces a sinking of another vessel, with all hands lost.
Songs touch many emotions. “Lake Michigan” is thoughtful and mournful. “Windward Bound” sweeps along on the sheer power of so much of sailing on large vessels. “Shipping News” joyfully tells us all there is to know about what’s happening on the Great Lakes.
If “Windjammers” fascinates you, check out www.boatnerd.com to find out about ships on the Great Lakes today. Click on “Vessel Passage,” and you will be amazed.
“Windjammers” is of this region. It mentions places on Wisconsin shores and around the Great Lakes that have meaning. In the story, Cana Island Lighthouse north of Baileys Harbor is relatively new – about six years old. Today, you can climb the lighthouse’s spiral staircase, stand next to its light and peer out on Lake Michigan. After seeing this show, you can imagine the Windjammer out there, its sails puffed in the wind.
THE VENUE: There’s nothing like it in theater anywhere. American Folklore Theatre performs in an 800-seat amphitheater in Peninsula State Park near Fish Creek in Door County. Patrons walk to the theater from a grass-fringed gravel parking lot about a quarter of a mile away. Seating is on wood benches. The stage about 25 feet by 45 feet and of irregular shape because of two tall white pine trees growing in the middle the stage floor. Other pines are on the fringes of the stage. “The stage deck, unlike all of the stage walls, is made from recycled plastic,” said artistic director Jeffrey Herbst. “It’s water impermeable. The deck has held up really, really well. With 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 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.” Shows are subject to weather. Bug spray is supplied.
THE SEASON: Along with “Windjammers,” the returning shows “Loose Lips Sink Ships” and “Muskie Love” continue on a rotating basis through Aug. 24. Information is at www.folkloretheatre.com