Northern Sky Theater continue its season into the fall with the production of Muskie Love. While Northern Sky performs during the summer on the stage in Peninsula State Park, the fall/winter productions are held in the Door County Auditorium, at least until the new facility is completed.
Muskie Love follows the adventures of rival fishing guides Ben and Bea. However, Bea’s Uncle Roy wants them to take things further than friendship and lures them into a love trap. Despite their distaste towards each other, they can’t seem to fight the draw between them. Peppered throughout the tale is comedy in the form of Packer devotion and an inept Fish and Game Warden. The show has been produced at Northern Sky in 2004, 2005, 2009, 2013, and now in 2018.
Muskie Love was the first collaboration between composer Paul Libman and Dave Hudson, playwright and lyricist. Together they have worked on eight shows for Northern Sky. Libman and Hudson received the Richard Rodgers Award twice.
The quirky cast of fishermen and women in Muskie Love also serves as a reminder of the importance of sport and commercial fishing in Door County. In short, Ann Birnschein, Marketing Director & Volunteer Coordinator, says of the show, “Muskie Love celebrates the love of the waters of Green Bay through the eyes of the charter fishing businesses.” She pointed out some pertinent lyrics from one of the shows songs, “On Green Bay”:
There ain’t nothin’ / Like a sunrise spreadin’ out across the water / There ain’t nothin’ / Aint it somethin’ / To see the rocky islands peekin’ through the mist / And now the birds are wakin’ up and yearnin’ for the sky / If ya listen close you’ll hear the goslin’s hungry cry / This is when I love it most, / And I’d spend most every day / On the water / In a boat / Pole in hand / Sit and float / There ain’t nothin’ in this world that even comes close to a day / Out on Green Bay / Green Bay how we love you and the things you have to give / In or on the water you’ve got all we need to live (Muskie Love, lyrics by Dave Hudson)
These lyrics not only represent the feelings of the fishers in this story but also the idea of Green Bay having “all we need to live.” They are also indicative of the real life history of the fishing industry in Door County.
A Brief History: Fishing in Door County
Commercial fishing remains one of the largest industries in Door County. Fishing goes back to the first settlers on the peninsula. Many were European and a fish-based diet was typical, so a fishing industry naturally developed from there. At its peak in the 1930s, there were 40 families on Washington Island that owned commercial fisheries. Although there were many boats out on the water, there were plenty of fish to meet the needs of all. This continued into the 1940-50s, providing a variety and abundance of fish.
However, this all changed when the St. Lawrence Seaway opened and permitted foreign species to enter the lakes, hitching rides in the ballast tanks of the ocean-going-vessels. With the introduction of critters such as lamprey eels, alewives and zebra and quagga mussels, the fish population was destroyed, either directly as prey of the invaders or by starvation, with the disruption of the food chain. Today, most of the commercial fishing operations are gone leaving only a few families to continue the tradition in the county.