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World Premiere Wisconsin premiere of I CARRY YOUR HEART WITH ME at Third Avenue PlayWorks.
19 June 2023

From South Korea to Green Bay: Musical OUT OF THE BLUE Sings Universal Story to Bridge the Divide

Mike Fischer, for World Premiere Wisconsin
From South Korea to Green Bay: Musical OUT OF THE BLUE Sings Universal Story to Bridge the Divide Image

Wisconsin native Erin Hunsader (book and lyrics) was a second-year graduate student at NYU-Tisch when she and fellow grad student Haesun Suh (music) began working on their musical Out of the Blue as their MFA thesis project.

It’s come a long way since then.

Directed by Cody Estle – with music direction and piano by Kent Paulsen – Hunsader and Suh’s musical will receive a concert reading this Sunday evening at The Weidner in Green Bay. The story – featuring the relationship between a Green Bay mother and her adopted Korean daughter – is drawn from real life.

“Haesun had stayed in Norway with a host family that had adopted a child from a South Korean orphanage when she was six,” Hunsader said, during a recent phone conversation. “That child had stayed in her room for months after arriving in Norway. She felt as though she’d lost her identity and she couldn’t communicate.”

Also adopted at six from such an orphanage, the 16-year-old Jenny we meet in the first scene of Out of the Blue has no such problem. Living in Green Bay with her adoptive parents and younger brother, she’s a straight-A student with a steady boyfriend who isn’t shy about verbalizing the various ways that she finds the family she loves to also be endlessly irritating.

“Jenny is loosely based on Juno,” Hunsader said, referring to the main character in the eponymously titled 2007 hit movie.

“Jenny is sarcastic, witty and funny,” Hunsader continued. “This helps, in dealing with the subject matter, in lightening things up.” Ditto Suh’s score, which Hunsader praised for its ability to provide a “pop sound” with a “deeper undercurrent” while adeptly “moving in conjunction with and underlining the story.”

As with Juno, the potentially dark and heavy subject matter in Out of the Blue involves an unexpected teen pregnancy. Wondering what to do upon discovering she’s pregnant, Jenny wants to better understand the choices her birth mother had made after she herself became pregnant – also at age 16 – with Jenny.

Why had she taken Jenny to an orphanage when Jenny was three? And why hadn’t she come back for her later?

When adoptive mother Iris balks at Jenny’s decision to travel to South Korea and find her birth mother, Jenny rebels – against Iris, the sense of rejection accompanying her knowledge that she’s an adopted child, and the identity crisis she experiences at not even knowing her own birth name while presenting as a model minority in a predominantly white town like Green Bay.

Erin Hunsader.

Mothers and Daughters

Even as it tracks Jenny’s journey of discovery toward a fuller understanding of herself, Out of the Blue makes plenty of room for Iris, who is as frightened about the future as is the daughter she fiercely loves and wants to protect. “How hard it is to be a mother,” the frequently misunderstood Iris sings, midway through the show. “It’s like Atlas holding up the world.”

That point is driven home in flashbacks through which we meet Yun, the birth mother who’d brought Jenny to an orphanage, knowing she herself couldn’t continue supporting her daughter – let alone give that small child the life Yun felt she deserved.

As Iris and Jenny journey across the world toward the South Korean orphanage where Yun and Jenny had once said goodbye, we come to better appreciate that this trip is as hard on Iris as it is on Jenny. Both have everything to lose based on what they find – and how they’ll respond.

Unlike Suh – who lives in Seoul and now has three children – Hunsader is not herself a mother; approaching 50, she’s “spent the last five years or so letting go of the idea” that she’d ever become one. But she readily appreciates what’s at stake for Iris and Jenny, given the strong relationship she has with her own mother.

“My mother is my best friend,” Hunsader said, while noting that her mother had recently been very sick and has now transitioned to an assisted living facility. “I wrote this piece for her,” Hunsader continued. “My mom has always been so supportive of me being a writer.”

Can Jenny herself come to see what we in the audience will – that Iris is similarly loving and supportive of her? And what will Jenny ultimately do about her pregnancy?

You’ll need to join me Sunday night in Green Bay to find out how Jenny chooses and why.

Haesun Suh.

The Right to Choose

At least Jenny can choose; Out of the Blue is set in the 1990s, before last year’s Dobbs decision unilaterally stripped so many American women of that fundamental right.

Like other plays involving unexpected pregnancies that have made their debut through WPW – including Jennifer Blackmer’s I Carry Your Heart With Me and Sam D. White’s Hush the Waves – a play written before Dobbs has been irrevocably altered by Dobbs; while I haven’t recently rewatched it, I’d wager that Juno plays differently now, too.

The benighted Supreme Court’s egregiously political decision – so much for the rule of law in America – enrages Hunsader.

“I have strong feelings about this decision, as a woman,” Hunsader said to me.

“It’s important that Jenny has options, and those options are now being taken away from women,” she continued. “The right to one’s own body is a really important freedom. However one chooses – however in the end Jenny chooses – what counts is that she at least has the ability to choose. That choice itself is what’s important.”

Out of the Blue is all about freedom and choice – not just regarding whether to give birth or abort as well as whether to raise or adopt – but also about how and why we choose our families, as we shape the histories we inherit into the stories we tell in determining who we are and hope to become.

Forward, Wisconsin!

As Out of the Blue continues its own evolutionary journey toward full production, Hunsader urged me to share the gratitude she felt for all that World Premiere Wisconsin had done to assist the birthing process; she was echoing similar sentiments, repeatedly expressed by more than forty producers and playwrights in conversations with me during the past five months.

No play comes fully formed, out of the blue; I’ll have more to say on that topic as the festival concludes next week. For now, I’ll leave you with Hunsader’s own words, which speak volumes.

“Haesun and I haven’t heard this piece together in a long time,” Hunsader said, noting that Suh was making the journey from Seoul to be in Green Bay for Sunday night’s reading. “Our goal is to have fun in the room and allow fresh eyes to see and hear it, so that we can keep developing it. World Premiere Wisconsin made that possible.”


A concert reading of Out of the Blue will be presented this Sunday at 7:00 at The Weidner, 2350 Weidner Center Drive in Green Bay. For more information, visit

Meet Mike

Mike Fischer wrote theater and book reviews for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel for fifteen years, serving as chief theater critic from 2009-18. A member of the Advisory Company of Artists for Forward Theater Company in Madison, he also co-hosts Theater Forward, a bimonthly podcast. You can reach him directly at

Mike’s work as WPW’s Festival Reporter was made possible through the sponsorship of the United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF). Learn more: