by DOC HEIDE
This summer, Northern Sky Theater is presenting a 30-year-anniversary production of Fishing for the Moon – the first collaboration between Fred Alley, our co-founder; and Jimmy Kaplan, a guy Fred met while selling stereos in Berkeley, California.
Jimmy recently moved to Sturgeon Bay from Milwaukee, where he’d been working for the Milwaukee Rep for the past few years. We’re delighted to have him in the pit playing the lovely score he wrote for Fishing. I sat down with him recently to chat about the show and his history with Northern Sky.
Jimmy and Fred both arrived in California in 1990 and wound up at Uncle Ralph’s, a nontraditional stereo store on Berkeley’s seedy Telegraph Avenue. Jimmy had moved from New Jersey to fulfill a longstanding dream of exploring Northern California. Fred had gone to produce and sing on my first CD, Lessons I Learned from the Moon.
Early on, the store manager at Uncle Ralph’s suggested that Jimmy would really like Fred. According to Jimmy, the two of them soon had “a little mutual admiration society going.” They began trading tapes of compositions.
Fred came to Wisconsin in the summer of 1991 to perform in Tongue ’n Cheek, his first show written for our then-new American Folklore Theatre (AFT). That show’s score was entirely folk songs that Fred had borrowed from the oral tradition. But when Fred returned to California, he proposed to Jimmy that they write a completely original show together.
“I remember we went to downtown Berkeley to an old soda-fountain restaurant,” Jimmy said. “Fred ran down the plot of Fishing for the Moon. In my mind, it’s almost exactly how the show came out.
“One of the interesting things about the arc of our time writing together is that in some ways, our musical collaboration was moving faster than our friendship. If I thought something wasn’t the greatest lyric in the world, I would never tell him that. There was no criticism. I would just take the lyrics and set them to music, and he’d like them.”
Jimmy can see the influence of Fred’s father, George Alley, in the style of the show. George, raised in rural Indiana, was a droll raconteur and never at a loss for a cornball joke. The folksy roots of our theater are also evident in the show’s colloquial language.
“The best thing about the show is the relationship between Rufus and [Peter Rutherford] Hall,” Jimmy said.
Fred wrote those parts for himself and Jeff Herbst, respectively. Their appearances together bookend the show and add tremendous heart to the piece.
Jimmy came to Wisconsin for the first time during the summer of 1992 to see the show. He recalled that he could afford to stay only two nights in a Baileys Harbor motel before sleeping the rest of the time on Fred’s floor.
“I experienced Wisconsin, Door County, Peninsula State Park, AFT and this show all on day one,” he said. “It was a lot to take in.”
Jimmy said he really fell in love with Door County the following year. Laurie Flanigan was at the theater the night he attended, and Jimmy recalled me introducing them. Later they wrote two shows together: Loose Lips Sink Ships and See Jane Vote.
Jimmy and Fred rewrote Fishing for the Moon in 1999 for a reprise production.
“One of greatest luxuries was being able to rewrite,” Jimmy said.
They cut a song about the foolishness of men called “If They Could Only See Themselves.”
“If you look in the dictionary under ‘didactic,’ you would see that lyric,” Jimmy said.
It was replaced by the delightful “Why Ask Why.”
“Fred’s imagery improved a lot from 1991 to 1998,” Jimmy said.
They also added songs such as “Guy Meets Girl” and “Where Does Love Go,” and the show gained depth with these additions. However, those wishing to hear the original 1992 production (with a cast that includes Karen Mal, Whitney Allen, Jill Morley and me) can purchase a CD that was released just last month.
During the interview, Jimmy kept circling back to Fred and his remarkable talents. Fred passed away in 2001 at age 38, and all of us who knew him remain deeply affected by our friendship.
“Fred was great at distilling,” Jimmy said. “If he had lived longer, he would have rewritten more things. It’s a very sensible thing to do.”
Fishing for the Moon is performed on the Northern Sky Theater stage Wednesday and Saturday nights through Aug. 27. Ticket information is available at northernskytheater.com.
Peninsula Arts and Humanities Alliance, which contributes Culture Club throughout the summer season, is a coalition of nonprofit organizations whose purpose is to enhance, promote and advocate the arts, humanities and natural sciences in Door County.