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 Theater's 1998-99 season, when Guys On Ice was a hit.
Ice is nice again this season: The daffy musical about ice fishermen Lloyd and Marvin returns to the Rep's Stackner Cabaret Nov. 5-Dec. 5. Official opening is Nov. 6.
The bad news? The run of the co-production between the Rep and American Folklore Theatre is almost entirely sold out, said publicist Allison Dall-Knox, and there is no room for an extension. However, Guys on Ice will bring attention to the Rep-AFT staging of the similarly toned Lumberjacks in Love in April 2000.
Total attendance for the nine-week, 79-performance run in 1998-99 (at the Stackner and later at the Rep's Stiemke Theater) was 94.5 percent of capacity, prompting managing director Tim Shields to invite AFT 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." Several new jokes and an accordion will be added to this year's stand. Guys On Ice again features librettist-lyricist Fred Alley and actor Doug Mancheski. Jeffrey Herbst directs and choreographs again. James Valcq joins the cast as Ernie the Moocher and the accompanist. Music is by James Kaplan, book and lyrics are by Alley.
Designers are James E. Maronek (scenic), Neen Rock (costume), Robert Zenoni (lighting) and Dave Alley (sound).
American Folklore Theatre productions originate at the company's home in Door County, WI, a resort area 3-1/2 hours north of Milwaukee. The show was conceived and researched by Alley and Frederick Heide.
Another AFT show, Lumberjacks in Love,a "send-up of lumberjack culture about four burly guys and their encounter with a mail-order bride," according to the announcement, will play the Stiemke Theater April 14-May 14, 2000.
Both AFT engagements are non-subscription events, but subscribers get first crack at tickets. Tickets are $15-$25. For Milwaukee Repertory Theater information, call (414) 224-9490. Try www.milwaukeerep.com.
"(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 original Door County and Milwaukee productions were directed by AFT artistic director Herbst, with instrumental-vocal arrangements by Kaplan, scenic design by Maronek and costumes and props by Neen Rock. Alley, Macheski and Chris Irwin made up the cast.
-- By Kenneth Jones