Lumberjacks in Love, the latest goofy musical from northern Wisconsin's American Folklore Theatre, is already a hit at Milwaukee Repertory Theater's Stiemke Theater -- and it has yet to open.
Without any advertising, except notice to The Rep's subscribership, Lumberjacks in Love, which begins its Milwaukee debut April 14, was 80 percent sold out by April 9, prompting a two-week extension to May 28. It was originally announced to run to May 14.
The popular AFT ice-fishing tuner, Guys On Ice, was a quick sellout at The Rep in 1998 and 1999, and Rep managing director Timothy Shields encouraged patrons to buy Lumberjacks tickets early. And they did.
"The momentum of Guys On Ice created a group of people who were excited about the new show in advance," said composer James Kaplan. "It's thrilling to go into rehearsal and have $100,000 in sales. It feel goods as you're starting your work to have that sort of interest."
Creators Fred Alley and James Kaplan's comic show, a co production between The Rep and AFT, takes place at Haywire Camp in Hayward, WI, around 1900. It's the kind of environment where bath time is once a month and a blast of dinner horn brings the boys running. The musical features characters named Muskrat, Moonlight and Dirty Bob, who meet a mail order bride named Rose. Performances play the 180-seat Stiemke April 14-May 28. Official opening is April 16.
American Folklore Theatre productions originate at the company's home in Door County, WI, a resort area 3-1/2 hours north of Milwaukee. Lumberjacks was first seen there in 1995 and has become the company's biggest hit. It will play again there in the summer, with a cast slightly different from The Rep.
Lumberjacks in Love has book and lyrics by Alley and music by Kaplan. Jeffrey Herbst, AFT artistic director, directs.
Kaplan told Playbill On-Line there are four new songs for The Rep-AFT production and the script and score have been substantially revised (including new or tweaked musical arrangements, including guitar and banjo) since 1995. Kaplan plays on-stage piano in the show, and actors Alley and Scott Wakefield play instruments as well.
"In our company up north, we traditionally have people who play, sing and act," Kaplan said.
Among the songs are the newly-penned "Little Shanty in the Pines," "Stupid Love," "Little Black Rain Cloud" and "Back Where We Began."
New Jersey native Kaplan said the styles range from Gilbert and Sullivan pastiche to musical comedy to art song. When you're dealing with rural dancing in Wisconsin, he said, a polka is never too far away.
The cast includes Alley, Doug Mancheski, Kaplan, Jacquelyn Ritz, Tracie Higgins, David Ledingham and Wakefield.
Designers are Robin Stapley (scenic), Dawna Gregory (costumes), Robert Zenoni (lighting). Herbst and Pam Kriger co-choreograph.
Tickets are $20-$30. The Rep's Stiemke is in the thee-venue Patty and Jay Baker Theater Complex, 108 E. Wells, in downtown Milwaukee.
For information, call (414) 224-9490 or try the web site at www.milwaukeerep.com.
-- By Kenneth Jones