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By DANELLE LANDIS
Daily News Staff Writer
At an evening rehearsal June 24 in the First City Players’s broad office space downtown, actress Andrea Short was practicing the perfect scream.
Short was working on her portrayal of the fluttering, histrionic character Little Nell, as part of the main cast of “The Fish Pirate’s Daughter,” which was slated to open Friday.
This year marks the 53rd year the musical melodrama opens. Audiences, seated in the Ted Ferry Civic Center, are treated to a crab or salmon feast, and a fully interactive, rollicking production.
Ketchikan’s original, comedic musical was written in 1966 by Bob Kinerk, with music created by Jim Alguire. Late Ketchikan historian and theater enthusiast June Allen asked Kinerk to write the play which, Allen wrote in a 2002 sitnews.com article, was first performed in the Totem Room bar owned by Gordon Zerbetz.
The play is a spoof on Ketchikan’s era of prohibition, the Creek Street red-light district and fish pirating.
The storyline follows Little Nell, her blushing and straight-arrow fiancée Sweet William Uprightly, and her father, J.P. Svenson, as they fend off the dastardly actions of villain Kurt Von Ohlson and his drunken flunkies.
Uprightly will be played by Connor Wodehouse this year, Svenson by Russel Wodehouse, and Von Ohlson, by Kyle Smith.
The character Hopson will be played by Terron Stack; Miss Maypole, by Katherine Tatsuda, and Miss Woolwine by Richelle Sutton.
The “Ladies of the Line” always brighten up the cast with their flouncing, flirty dancing and songs, led by the bawdy, glamorous madame Violet LaRosa. This year there will be 16 ladies of the line, and LaRosa will be played by Genevieve Kelly and Harmila Earth.
Included in the plot is a big surprise for Uprightly, as well as endearing life lessons and a happy ending.
During the play rehearsal, FCP Executive Artistic Director, and director of this year’s production Elizabeth Nelson played old-time piano tunes along with the storyline while prompting reactions to the actors on stage with well-timed hisses for the villain Von Ohlson and cheers for the adorable Little Nell. She also played the music for songs in the play, such as the “Crummy Fish Pirate from Old Ketchikan.”
During play performances, the audience is encouraged to boo, hiss and applaud characters, and some of the performers walk among the audience members as they sing.
Nelson said that audiences this year will be treated to fresh set pieces, painted by Halli Kenoyer and designed and built by Nelson’s husband, Keith Smith.
Kyle Smith said at the June 24 rehearsal that participating in the play has been “a lot of fun.”
Smith has worked as a professional actor for the past 14 years in several states, and is working as a snorkel tour guide this summer in Ketchikan.
He said this has been his first time in Alaska, and has very much enjoyed the beauty of the area, especially enjoying hikes on Deer Mountain.
Although he’s been acting in plays for years, he said the Von Ohlson character has been a fun change.
“I never get to play villains,” he said.
The play itself also has been a fun adventure.
“It reminds me of Mel Brooks movies,” he said. “It’s absurdist.”
He added that the plot has “big notions of right and wrong. That’s really kind of where it sits. It’s a true melodrama, in that there isn’t much development beyond ‘he’s in love with her’ and ‘he’s the bad guy’ and ‘these guys are drunk,’ so it’s fun to make up the rest, kind of amongst ourselves.”
He said that the most challenging part of playing Von Ohlson has been playing the straight man, in contrast to his drunken sidekicks, Ed and Tony.
“I wanna be drunk too,” he said, laughing. “I have to be the one reining them in.”
He said his message to people who might be considering attending the play, “If you want to laugh, then you’re gonna laugh at what we’re doing.”
William Kulakoski, who plays the drunken Tony, said he is just getting started in acting.
“I’d have to say my acting experience is near zero, except for working at the lumberjack show.”
Kulakoski’s friend Patrick Wiabel, who plays Tony’s drunken buddy Ed, also works at the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show.
Kulakoski said his experience at the lumberjack show has helped with developing the character Tony, as he’s created and performed his own jokes for his work performances. He also became comfortable in front of audiences while serving as the student body president in his Daytona Beach, Florida high school, where he gave speeches in front of audiences of up to 7,000 people.
“I was in a lot of public speaking in high school, and speaking’s always been kind of an easier thing for me to do in front of large bodies of people,” he said.
Kulakoski said he immediately was entranced by the idea of being part of “The Fish Pirate’s Daughter” cast after seeing the play in 2018 — his first year working in Ketchikan.
When he returned for the 2019 season, Kulakoski said it was a rough start to the summer, as his girlfriend hadn’t been able to accompany him as planned, but when he was tapped for the part of Tony, things got better.
“Now I’m in a play,” he said. “Now I’m putting myself more into the community, so it’s a lot more fun.”
He added, “It’s a Ketchikan play written in Ketchikan by Ketchikan people. That is so freaking sweet, to carry on a tradition that is only found here. This play is nowhere else.”
Kulakoski said that when he finds out someone in Ketchikan hasn’t seen the play, he is perplexed.
“It’s bewildering to me,” he said. “Why wouldn’t you see a play written in Ketchikan about Ketchikan? You don’t get more cultural immersion than that.”
Wiabel, who originally is from Colorado, said he’s been working seasonally in Ketchikan for the past 10 years, and it’s seeming like his real home more every year.
Wiabel said he played the part of Prince Eric in the 2016 FCP production of “The Little Mermaid.”
Playing that character was an entirely different experience than is portraying Ed, he said, chuckling. The Prince Eric part required quite a bit of singing, and although Wiabel did earn a master of fine arts in acting, he said it was a challenging part to play.
“The Fish Pirate’s Daughter” is a unique play to tackle, Wiabel said, mostly because it is “a very memorable play for a lot of people.”
Kulakoski said their characters are particularly fun because, as the drunken pair, they have a bit more leeway to play with their performance.
“We’re coming up with our own bits, trying to steal the show,” he said, laughing.
June Allen wrote in her 2002 article that the play, over the years, has been produced in several towns and even was performed on the Alaska Marine Highway ferries.
First City Players marketing and outreach director Amanda Glanzer said the play also has reached the corners of the globe in a new way: through food wrappers.
“Somebody took the newspaper ad for ‘The Fish Pirate’s Daughter’ out of Ketchikan Daily News and they copied it onto paper that people use to line baskets for fish and chips and burgers,” Glanzer said.
She added that Danny Gladden, who played the character Hopson in the 2018 production of “The Fish Pirate’s Daughter,” texted her when he was surprised to find the food that he ordered in St. Louis, Missouri came wrapped in one of those papers.
She added, “We get calls, at least once a week … all year, we’ve gotten them from all over the country and even as far as Frankfurt, Germany. People call about the Fish Pirate’s Daughter because they think it’s a joke and a fake number.
“It’s great, because I totally use it as an opportunity to be like ‘Yes, this is a real thing — you should come to Ketchikan, Alaska in the month of July and come and see it,” Glanzer said.
Doors will open for “The Fish Pirate’s Daughter” performances at 7 p.m., with dinner served at 7:30 p.m., on July 5,6,12,13,19 and 20, at the Ted Ferry Civic Center, at 888 Venetia Ave. Tickets can be purchased by contacting the First City Players office or online at firstcityplayers.org.