The upper Midwest phenomenon of ice fishing, a kind of religion for men in Wisconsin and Minnesota, proved to be one of the most unlikely and popular subjects in the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre's 1998-99 season.
In fact, Ice was so hot, it'll be back next season, re-freezing at the Rep's Stackner Cabaret Nov. 5-Dec. 5, 1999.
Guys On Ice, a sold-out musical hit at MRT's 112-seat Stackner Nov. 13, 1998-Jan. 3, 1999, returned to MRT's larger, 198-seat Stiemke Theater, Feb. 17-March 7, 1999. Total attendance for the nine-week, 79 performance run was 94.5 percent of capacity, prompting managing director Tim Shields to invite the American Folklore Theatre company back in the 1999-2000 season.
The show became an instant phenomenon in fall 1998, reeling in audiences for such goofy songs as "De Wishing Hole," "Ode to a Snowmobile Suit," "Fish is de Miracle Food" and "De One Dat Got Away."
Guys On Ice featured librettist-lyricist Fred Alley, Doug Mancheski and Chris Irwin, of American Folklore Theatre, who had performed the show earlier in 1998 in Door County, WI, a resort area 3-1/2 hours north of Milwaukee. Music is by James Kaplan. Another AFT show, Lumberjacks in Love, "send-up of lumberjack culture about four burly guys and their encounter with a mail-order bride," according to the announcement, will play MRT's Stiemke Theater April 14-May 14, 2000.
Both AFT engagements are non-subscription events, but subscribers get first crack at tickets. For Milwaukee Repertory Theater information, call (414) 224-9490.
"(Guys On Ice) is a little on the stupid side," composer Kaplan admitted to Playbill On-Line in 1998. "The only Broadway musical that has any similarity to ours is The Robber Bridegroom -- between folk and Broadway. Wisconsin rural characters have a lot of goofiness to them by nature. Most of the music is very simple, meant to let the humor in the lyrics come through."
The MRT run in 1998-99 was a co-production with AFT. The original Door County and Milwaukee productions were directed by AFT artistic director Jeffrey Herbst, with instrumental-vocal arrangements by Kaplan, scenic design by James E. Maronek and costumes and props by Neen Rock. Irwin played piano, guitar and ukelele in the production.