Book and Lyrics by Fred Alley
Music by James Kaplan
Story by Fred Alley and James Kaplan
Lumberjacks in Love is one of Northern Sky’s all-time box office hits – celebrating a world where bath time is once a month and the blast of a dinner bell brings the boys running. Four burly lumberjacks live in a state of manly bliss at the Haywire Lumber Camp in Northern Wisconsin – until an encounter with a plucky mail order bride interrupts life as they know it. The result is big belly laughs and beautiful music.
Premiered in 1996, Lumberjacks is one of the earliest and most successful collaborations between the classic writing team of Fred Alley and James Kaplan. Lumberjacks in Love is a must-see for any Northern Sky fan!
Lumberjacks made another one-show-a-week appearance with a twist! At each performance audience members were invited to sing along and dress up as your favorite Lumberjack character. Featured in the pre-show costume contest! New to this classic? No worries. The lyrics are below to sing along!
Show Length = 80 minutes with no intermission
Produced in 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2008, 2011, 2015, 2016, 2017 & 2018
Season Sponsor: Door County Medical Center
Show Sponsors: Oneida Nation, Wisconsin Public Radio
“This show will never grow old; should I live long enough, I’m confident I’ll be enjoying it when I’m one of those 90-year-olds.” – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Mike Fischer
“This is a cleverly put together creation…beautiful and fun-loving songs…irresistibly funny. Explores some of the mysterious wonders of humanity – with a bit of whimsy, too.” – WFRV, WeAreGreenBay.com, Warren Gerds, Critic-at-Large
“This uproariously clever and funny musical…resonates with tender humanity and humor.” – BroadwayWorld.com, Peggy Sue Dunnigan
“An unqualified success and should not be missed. Bring the kids. Bring your folks. They will all enjoy its tuneful lightheartedness.” – Door County Advocate
JAMES KAPLAN (Composer)
James is the co-author, with Fred Alley, of Fishing for the Moon, Northern Lights, Lumberjacks in Love, The Bachelors, and Guys on Ice, all directed by Jeff Herbst. James collaborated with Jacinda Duffin and Laurie Flanigan-Hegge to create Loose Lips Sink Ships. James conceived, and created musical arrangements for, the Northern Sky revues Beneath the Northern Sky, Goodnight Irene, Harvest Moon, Old Friends, Fish and Whistle, and Sweet Baby James. His music also appeared in See Jane Vote, Belgians in Heaven, Packer Fans from Outer Space, Ya Ya You Betcha, Fool Me Once and the original, 1995 Bone Dance. James was honored to serve as musical director for the Milwaukee premiere of Loose Lips Sink Ships at Marquette University. He was also thrilled to return to the Stackner Cabaret for a 72-performance run of Guys on Ice at Milwaukee Rep. www.guysonice.com
FRED ALLEY (Co-Founder / Playwright)
Fred Alley collaborated on over 20 original shows at AFT. He wrote the book and lyrics for Lumberjacks in Love and Fishing for the Moon, and was a contributor to Bone Dance. Fred also wrote perennial favorites Guys on Ice and The Bachelors with composer James Kaplan. Fred’s work has been celebrated throughout the country and in particular at both Madison and Milwaukee Repertory Theatres. The Spitfire Grill, which he wrote with composer James Valcq, earned them the Richard Rodgers Award and has been produced over 450 times from Off-Broadway to Europe and East Asia. Fred also played many memorable characters, including Moonlight in Lumberjacks in Love, Lloyd in Guys on Ice, and Leo in Belgians in Heaven. Fred’s ability to help us laugh at ourselves, through his characters, makes his shows both entertaining and timeless.
Dirty Bob………………..Doug Mancheski*
Muskrat………………….Fred ‘Doc’ Heide
The Kid…………………….Eva Nimmer
Rosemary Rogers……….Molly Rhode*
*Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
‘Lumberjacks’ romps again in Door County
Warren Gerds/Critic at Large – June 18, 2017
FISH CREEK, Wis. – One of the once-upon-a-times of Wisconsin was there were lumber camps all over the north. And they had lumberjacks – a tough-work lot not accustomed to having women around.
A century or so later, some extremely clever entertainers dreamed up a what-might-have-been story that makes four lumberjacks comical singers and dancers.
Funny thing is, the entertainers’ show is so fun-spirited it just won’t go away.
And so “Lumberjacks in Love” has returned to the summer season fare of Northern Sky Theater.
A performance Saturday night at Peninsula State Park Amphitheater played to a standing ovation from an audience both returning and new to the show. The thing works.
The story goes that the lumberjacks seemingly savor their life away from apron strings. They do have yearnings, like for dancing. In that case, they draw lots for who will be the woman dancer. Sometimes they get into wilder things in Katie-doesn’t-bar-the-door Hayward. One boozy time there led to this:
In drunken jest, Minnesota Slim told ditzy Dirty Bob to respond to an “ad-vert-ti-tize-mint” poster for him. Now, months later, the result is just about at their camphouse door: A mail-order bride. Minnesota Slim quakes with shock and fear.
There’s more: The lumberjacks have a hanger-on, The Kid, an orphan. The Kid is a young woman who has been passing herself off as a guy (it’s explained, but I won’t here). The Kid takes to Moonlight, who thinks she’s a boy and becomes frightened when he develops an attraction, too.
All this is fodder for musical comedy fun with colorful characters wonderfully played by pros who know how to bring zest with itsy-bitsy, eensy-weensy, little-bitty, teeny-tiny actor stuff. For instance, Doug Mancheski, as Dirty Bob, can bring gales of laughter with just a minute peep of his voice.
“Lumberjacks in Love” premiered in 1996. The show has been repeated in 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2008, 2011, 2015 and 2016. And then there’s now. Announcement: Theater is not film. Things change in theater. The title “Lumberjacks in Love” and most of the songs are the same as the original, but casts have changed (not entirely) over time. Point being: The show is a living thing, and it is not the exact same over time. Importance: I dunno; I guess the subtleties are a lure of theater. Subtleties like these:
+ There’s a certain quality in certain songs that trace to the lyricist, Fred Alley. Sometimes, the tone is lovely. “Winds of Morning” is sung by The Kid as she is lured to an unknown future of promise. There’s an extra word in the line that subtly propels a wonder: “Blow winds of morning.” Sometimes, sheer Fred Alley whimsy drives a song, like what the mind imagines from just the title of “Buncha Naked Lumberjacks.”
+ A voice remains. When Eva Nimmer sings as The Kid, the glowing tenor of Fred Alley carries on. And it’s also present when Jeffrey Herbst stands atop a stump as Minnesota Slim and sings “Bachelor’s Prayer” and lofts a long, rich high note whose source could only be Fred Alley. Most people don’t know who Fred Alley is anymore, but his brilliance is so written into this show that it will remain forever alive as long as Northern Sky Theater is doing this among other Fred Alley shows.
+ Movement is a layer. It can be the guy-guy dances, or Dirty Bob fancying up in “(My) Little Dress” or a sudden burst of energy in “Shanty Dance” or the sight gag with Dirty Bob trying to maneuver a bonkers, always teetering Minnesota Slim – this show moves.
+ The smallest things. Like the wood stove. There’s one in the set. There’s no fire in it, of course. But there is a stove pipe up atop the fringe of the back of the set (no connecting pipe to be seen). Not only is that pipe a cute addition, smoke rises from it! Somebody goes through the bother to have the pipe produce smoke even though the effect is barely noticeable.
+ “Doc” Heide kind of casually adds touches musically on not-so-regular instruments. In one tune, the mandolin provides the appropriate aura. In another, Heide nimbly plies a banjo.
+ At times, “Doc” Heide and Chase Stoeger are off stage out of character, playing in the little band – guitar or whatever. Much of show, Molly Rhode also is in the band, playing upright bass. And then, late in the story, she becomes the mail-order bride and shows up on stage to act, sing and dance. There’s a hidden kind of choreography written into the logistics to make such stuff happen.
+ The show is quietly adult. Some of the dialogue deadpans its way through topics that pass over the heads of little kiddies in the audience. Minnesota Slim talking about his “personal livestock” is mentioned as a matter of course (while adults laugh inside).
+ Sound. Somewhere in the years of production of “Lumberjacks in Love,” wireless headset amplification came to be. The show is more easily heard today, with voices and music balanced. What is now an accepted norm wasn’t part of the original – and mostly an improvement.
Summary: “Lumberjacks in Love” is a classic Northern Sky Theater show full of vigor and humor, still being done extremely well and still bringing enjoyment to audiences.
Addition: There’s a pre-show song, “Please Help Build Us a Home,” that was sung by “Doc” Heide and Molly Rhode. It’s an “ad-vert-ti-tize-mint” for the theater’s fund-raising campaign for its future creative headquarters. Background on that is at http://www.wearegreenbay.com/critic-at-large-wearegreenbay/warren-gerdscritic-at-large-door-county-troupes-ambitions-frothing/732139035.
ALSO: Through Aug. 26: “Oklahoma in Wisconsin,” 6 p.m. Mondays, 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays; “Doctor! Doctor!” 8:30 p.m. Mondays, 6 p.m. Thursdays; “Victory Farm,” 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Love conquers all in Northern Sky’s ‘Lumberjacks’
Mike Fischer – July 6, 2016
Audiences always have fun when watching “Lumberjacks in Love,” Northern Sky’s most-requested, oft-repeated and justly loved story of a quartet of lonely men and a cross-dressing sidekick pretending to be a guy – true to a story where nobody is quite what they seem.
Much like the equally beloved “Guys on Ice”, another collaboration between the late Fred Alley (book and lyrics) and James Kaplan (music), “Lumberjacks” is both a fun, accessible story about male camaraderie and an emotional exploration of how hard it can be to express what we feel, given settled expectations involving how we’re supposed to behave and who we’re supposed to love.
The show’s title underscores this underlying tension, between he-man images of macho lumberjacks and the tender feelings these lumberjacks have, in ways that bend gender and expand conventionally narrow notions of romantic love.
Much of this show’s humor is generated by exposing these confining notions for the constructs they are.
The plot, for example, turns on the imminent arrival of a mail-order bride (a delightfully tart Molly Rhode), reflecting the degree to which marriage in general at the time of this show’s 1900 setting was founded on the premise of women as property.
The primary prop through which the cross-dressing Kid (Eva Nimmer) pretends to be a man – a greasepaint mustache – results in a laughably transparent disguise. Ditto efforts by both the Kid and Rhode’s bride to behave like men, through a put-upon swagger in gesture or voice. Ditto, too, the guys’ habit of temporarily designating one of their number a woman, so they might dance their loneliness away without putting their manhood in question.
It’s through song that the Kid as well as these lumberjacks – Dirty Bob (Mancheski), Slim (Herbst), Muskrat (Doc Heide) and Moonlight (Stoeger) – can sing what they can’t say.
There are some great songs in this score, with enough solos to ensure that everyone gets to shine. They’re filled with yearning for a world and a time in which these characters might realize the Kid’s dream of “peeling off the bark” through which we’re “closed in on ourselves,” feeling protected from exposure but losing out on being caressed by the “wind of love.”
Ignore its whisper and we risk becoming Heide’s Muskrat, newly 50 and clearly suicidal, as he confronts the dismal prospect of dying alone after a seemingly meaningless life. It’s the future awaiting all these lumberjacks, until they muster the courage to join the perpetually dirty Bob in coming clean about what they want and need, having been liberated through song into love.
Weathering: There’s few places to watch a play as beautiful as Northern Sky’s outdoor home in Peninsula Park. But that uncovered setting also means there’s always the possibility of a rainout. My first attempt to see “Lumberjacks in Love” this summer was canceled because of rain; because of the weather, the performance of “Bones” that I attended started late and included a 20-minute rain delay. There were fewer than 50 of us in the audience by the time “Bones” concluded.
The bond that frequently develops between actors and audience on such nights is both special and unforgettable; one must really love theater to tough it out under such conditions, and the actors clearly feel it and give it right back.
In a recent interview, Mancheski recounted a long-ago performance during which Alley gathered what was left of a drenched audience backstage, finishing a show that had been rain delayed with only a few sheltering trees as cover. “Door County audiences are the best in the world,” Mancheski said, speaking of how rain doesn’t seem to affect them. “Rain or shine, they bring that positive energy to the theater.”
Coming Clean: What one invariably and rightly reads, regarding one of Mancheski’s many performances over the years as Dirty Bob, is that this gifted comedic actor is hilarious. What gets said less frequently, about Mancheski’s turns as either Dirty Bob in “Lumberjacks” or Marvin in “Guys on Ice,” is that Mancheski simultaneously channels such characters’ underlying melancholy.
Sure, they’re weird and those tics play as funny. But such characters’ quirks are also defense mechanisms, shielding sensitive souls from closer scrutiny as to how and why they became the personae they project. Like every truly gifted clown, Mancheski’s smile can be the saddest in the world; it’s part of what makes him so funny. But it’s also what makes his characters both endearing and heartbreaking. In watching him we see may see something of ourselves, joking through the day and whistling in the dark as we try to protect ourselves from what it means to live in a world that never quite feels like home.
Forever Young: This is the 20th anniversary for “Lumberjacks,” during which time it’s grown even more relevant. During that interval, the world has slowly caught up with all “Lumberjacks” has to say in championing a more expansive definition of what, how and who we might love – while undermining hidebound notions of gender and sex that restrict us from becoming all we’re meant to be.
Watching this show yet again before a packed Saturday night house during the festive July 4 weekend, I was struck anew by how prescient Alley and Kaplan were, in evoking the spirit of Jefferson’s “Declaration” to imagine all it might mean for us to pursue our inalienable right to happiness – while delivering an entertaining product that appeals to kids of every age, from 9 to 90. This show will never grow old; should I live long enough, I’m confident I’ll be watching it and enjoying it when I’m one of those 90-year-olds.
Writing a New Story: When Rhode’s “bride” arrives in the mail with the name of Rosemary Rogers, she’s also intent on capturing the essence of what it means to be a lumberjack so she might write a book about it. But it’s immediately clear that she thinks she already knows the answers to the questions about lumberjack life she ostensibly aspires to research; those readymade answers are filled with stereotypes and judgments, delivered by Rhode with a delightfully supercilious sense of superiority.
As I’ve discussed above, however, none of these lumberjacks are quite what they seem; in discovering as much, Rosemary is forced to take a hard look at herself, questioning why she’d made the assumptions she had and what that says about the sort of person she’s become. In letting go of her preconceived story so that she might try her hand at writing a new one, she serves as a surrogate for the audience, which comes to see that lumberjacks are nothing like what we might have imagined.
Melodrama! Melodrama! One can see more of Rhode – and yet another Northern Sky show – in “When Butter Churns to Gold,” a show in which Rhode stars (and which she also directs and choreographs) as a damsel in distress, trying to fend off an arch-villain played by Mancheski and featuring Herbst as a droll narrator. It’s a wickedly smart and deliciously fun spoof of old-fashioned stage melodramas, and while I wasn’t able to squeeze it in during my 2016 Northern Sky visit, I thoroughly enjoyed it when it debuted last year. It returns with all but one of the members of its original 2015 cast, playing every Tuesday night at 8 p.m. through Aug. 23.
‘Lumberjacks in Love’ gets new zest
Warren Gerds/Critic at Large – September 8, 2015
Fish Creek — “Lumberjacks in Love” is as much fun as the title sounds.
The sweet musical comedy from 1996 is playing through Oct. 17 at Door Community Auditorium as the fall production of Northern Sky Theater.
It’s a kick.
This is the eighth production of “Lumberjacks in Love” by the company and the first time it is being presented indoors rather than at the company’s summertime home of Peninsula State Park Amphitheater. Aside from the obvious difference of setting, the show’s set is enhanced. The backdrop still is pine trees, but now they are artistic (stately and awing) interpretations of the real things. The performance space is a playful take on the interior of a lumberjack bunkhouse at the turn of the 20th century, including bunk beds, wood flooring (faux) and accoutrements (stuff) of manly-man woodsmen who labor mightily out of reach of women.
The story is about a mistake. Minnesota Slim and Dirty Bob had a wild night in Hurley and in their haze of booze an advertisement was answered for a mail-order bride. Now word has come she is about to arrive. Compounding that – and this is purely Shakespearean – is a case of mistaken identity. The Kid from the camp who all the lumberjacks think is a guy but is really a girl decides to dress as a woman for once and pass herself off as the mail-order bride because breezes of love have begun to blow within her.
On the surface, the show is about a bunch of bumpus clown-men who cut down trees and sing and dance with each other (there’s a coin toss for who’s to be the woman dance partner) and celebrate their supreme “man cave.” In reality,this is a cleverly put together creation like so many of Northern Sky Theater’s.
In “Lumberjacks in Love,” creators James Kaplan and the iconic Fred Alley hit a rhythm. Around an imaginative story, they wound beautiful and fun-loving songs. The originality shines, still.
Some stuff is irresistibly funny. Take “Buncha Naked Lumberjacks.” Dressed in boots and long johns, a lumberjack is recounting his nightmare about his impending wedding. He’s at the altar. He’s naked. His intended is naked. Everybody’s naked. And that’s just one number.
Then there’s a dime-romance novelist who has faked everything, including being a willing bride, and cynically unleashes “Stupid Stupid Love” that she thinks is an ironclad thought. The only iron in it is irony.
The cast of the current production taps into the enduring spirit of the show. There is so much for each performer to dig into – musicianship, comedic byplay and movement, nuance of voice and gesture, tongue-and-cheek of the story and, essentially, the soul of the piece. If that is too lofty for you, go back to my original thought, which I will explore more now with this:
My lead (opening paragraph) from my review in the Green Bay Press-Gazette of June 21, 1996, of the premiere performance was exactly the same. There are perspectives to be had.
No. 1, the show is basically just as much fun today as it was then. Maybe more so today. There is more to “Lumberjacks in Love” today. The original was 65 minutes long. Today, it runs 90 minutes. I don’t recall details from the original, but it seems that today’s version has more visual humor.
Two scenes in particular are like silent movie sequences. In one, Dirty Bob comes upon a discarded woman’s slip in the bunk house. He is alone, wonders, takes a whiff. Woman’s scent. He wonders more, and we share his imagination, with song and movement. Presenting this is a master of comedic finesse, Doug Mancheski.
In another scene, the love-dazed Minnesota Slim is weaving and tipping and tilting in the bunkhouse. Dirty Bob tries to help Slim from toppling to harm. It’s a brink-of-disaster sequence. Jeffrey Herbst, as Slim, is seemingly barely in control of his legs. He seems ready to tumble. Soon, his body seems ready to take a woozy flop from a bench. But all the while Herbst is in total control and, with assistance of Mancheski, is timing every move and angle to perfection. The scene is achieved by the choreographer in Herbst, who co-choreographed this show and many others of Northern Sky.
Herbst directs this production, directed the original, and appeared as Minnesota Slim in the original. Ditto today. Minnesota Slim/Jeffery Herbst sings one of the show’s remarkable songs from the astounding blend of Alley-Kaplan. In “Bachelor’s Prayer,” Minnesota Slim seeks answers to his plight – that his blessed bachelorhood is threatened now by matters of heart involving womanhood, which he believes God didn’t have to deal with. After all, Slim says, he’s never heard of a Mrs. God. In 1996, the song was special. Ditto today.
In 1996, Fred Alley appeared as the original Moonlight, the guy who is torn because he is drawn to The Kid, who he thinks is a guy but the audience knows is a girl in disguise. Alley could sing like a lark, with words flowing from him with kaleidoscopic colors and myriad edges in meanings of words. He died in 2001.
In “Lumberjacks in Love” of 2015, Fred Alley is present in the creative pulse of the show and, to me, through performer Eva Nimmer as The Kid. Most people today do not know what Fred Alley sounded like when singing live. Eva Nimmer has his kind of purity of sound, shadings of timbre and general aura. When I hear her sing “Winds of Morning,” I hear Fred Alley. Though Fred Alley never sang the song as the character, I can hear his voice and sense his sensitivity as the song explores some of the mysterious wonders of humanity – with a bit of whimsy, too. This is just my take, of course, but it’s the only one I have.
ANNIVERSARY EXHIBIT: The Link Gallery is hosting “Beneath the Northern Sky,” a photographic journey through the 45 years of Northern Sky Theater and its predecessors. Individual productions, creators and performers are highlighted. The exhibit underscores the scope and variety of performances created by the company as an original on the American landscape.
THE VENUE: The 725-seat Door Community Auditorium features wood elements (for acoustics) surrounding its focal 60 by 24-foot proscenium (straight-front) stage. The auditorium opened in 1991. It serves the Gibraltar School District and hosts professional performances such as the respected Peninsula Music Festival. In the auditorium design, the architects chose to emphasize open space, exposed steel beams and simplicity of shapes. For orchestra concerts, the stage is lined with wood; panels are squares within larger squares. The roof interior is exposed wood, an acoustical touch. Balcony and box-seat areas are faced with plaster surfaces of a red hue. The hall’s seats are padded with wood backs. The lobby features two murals that represent the spirit of the peninsula, “Door County/The Water” and “Door County/The Land.”
Lumberjacks in Love Remains Forever Young
Peggy Sue Dunigan – September 13, 2015
Fish Creek — Nineteen years have passed since Fish Creek’s Northern Sky Theater (formerly AFT) premiered Lumberjacks in Love. As part of the company’s 25th anniversary season, this box office hit returns for the indoor fall season at the Door Community Auditorium. And after almost two decades, these burly Hayward, Wisconsin shanty boy celebrate this ode to romance in the deep woods for the first time indoors were Stewart Dawson’s beautiful stage design and backdrop become ethereal and appears three dimensional.
In this northern, manly romp, Jeffrey Herbst reprises his role as Minnesota Slim as he has done for the past 19 years. The consummate actor and vocalist breathes life into the part, a true wonder on the stage, while Chase Stoeger creates the role of Moon through his warm presence when he sings the poignant, “It Would Be Enough For Me.” Doug Mancheski returns again as Dirty Bob where Dirty Bob’s elusive blue soap has been a part of the actor’s professional life for 18 years. Originally, Mancheski met Fred Alley, one of the original founders of the former AFT, in Door County and Alley created the charming “Little Dress,” especially for Mancheski. This gender bending role harkens back to when women were forbidden from working on stage, and perhaps everyone thoroughly relishes Mancheski twirling in that ruffled skirt over his Dirty Bob lumberjack layers.
Recently Associate Artistic Director Molly Rhode has acquired the Rosemary Rogers role, a romance writer who believes her heroine Annabelle Braveheart can become “an opiate for ‘fools in love.'” While mastering Rosemary, Rhode adds to the musician ensemble, who are appear on stage, by playing numerous string instruments that accompany her sister Musical Director Alissa Rhode on keyboard. Visually seeing the musicians adds another delightful depth to these melodious lumberjacks.
Newcomer to the production Craig McClelland gives the depressed Muskrat a turn on the stage as the character commemorates his 50th birthday in the woods. Eva Nimmer changes gender playing The Kid, when her grown up woman sings “The Winds of Morning,” a song where the winds of love blow off your bare self and peel the bark away from the soul. These ‘fish out of water’ fools for love lumberjacks cajole and cavort in several completely memorable songs, “Buncha Naked Lumberjacks,” “Happy Lumberjack,” and “Someday I Will Be Clean.” This uproariously clever and funny musical first written in a collaboration by Fred Alley and James Kaplan resonates with tender humanity and humor. One of the great gems produced by the Alley-Kaplan writing team and Northern Sky Theater.
Perhaps the plot plays even more topical than when first premiered with these mixed-up men who forsake women until a mail order bride shows up at their camp, while also reminding the audience of Wisconsin’s great forest legacy because today modern lumberjacks have a cult following in contemporary culture. This enduring theatrical tribute to the “power of love” glows like the North Star on a Door County evening sky, often bright and clear in fall, to enchant new and returning audiences. Which proves once again, Lumberjacks in Love and these burly boys remain forever young.
Northern Sky Theatre closes there 25th season with Lumberjacks in Love at Fish Creek’s Door Community Auditorium through October 17. For performance schedule and tickets, please call 920.854.6117 or visit www.NorthernSkyTheater.com
Those Lumbering Lumberjacks
Mike Fischer, Special to the Journal Sentinel – July 22, 2011
Fish Creek — Audiences have been cheering for “Lumberjacks in Love” ever since its 1996 debut, and to see it fresh is to miss the late Fred Alley – who wrote the book and lyrics, with James Kaplan composing the music – all over again.
The premise couldn’t be simpler.
Much to their consternation, four lumberjacks living in the northern Wisconsin woods – Dirty Bob (Mancheski), Slim (Jeffrey Herbst), Muskrat (Doc Heide) and Moonlight (Stoeger) – confront the imminent arrival of a mail-order bride (Rhode).
A second woman, long disguised in the camp as “Kid” (Niespodziani), seizes the opportunity to do some romancing of her own.
This could have been a show about four interchangeable, overgrown frat boys.
What we get instead are four comically broad but nevertheless unique and lovable characters, reflecting distinct if overlapping images of masculinity that are then playfully bent, suggesting that none of us are quite who we think we are.
By play’s end, all of the characters will have figuratively made the same transformation that ensues when Dirty Bob takes his first bath in 22 years: They come clean about their true identities.
As is true in those great cross-dressing Shakespeare comedies that clearly inspired Alley, “Lumberjacks” works because the characters’ ultimate self-discoveries stay true to who they’ve unwittingly always been.
One sees this most clearly in the budding romance between Kid and Moonlight, which gives Niespodziani the opportunity to showcase her voice, whether she is flying solo in the touching ballad, “Winds of Morning,” or singing with Stoeger in the gorgeous “It Would Be Enough for Me.”
Not to be outdone, Rhode expertly delivers a Gilbert and Sullivan pastiche that unintentionally reveals the pent-up frustration of a woman feeling far more than she lets on – true to a show in which there is always more than meets the eye. It is the crown jewel of AFT’s summer season.
‘Lumberjacks in Love’ is Timberland Masterpiece
(June 26th, 2008) FISH CREEK – One of American Folklore Theatre’s best shows, “Lumberjacks in Love,” is among three returnees this summer at the hardy outdoor theater in the middle of the woods in Door County.
It’s a slaphappy tale of four brutish bachelors savoring freedom from women — so they think — in a lumber camp in northern Wisconsin. Two of them get tipsy one night in Hurley and answer a poster advertisement for a mail-order bride. To their sobering shock, their telegram is answered. Delightful complications of romance (and comedy) abound.
The professional troupe has repeated “Lumberjacks in Love” over the years. The 2008 version finds the cast freely performing with microphone headsets, romping to dance numbers and dishing out well-developed characters, tunes and sight gags.
The show is from James Kaplan (music) and the late, great Fred Alley (book and lyrics and company co-founder). Songs are filled with zest, silliness, longing and romance and have such fun titles as “Buncha Naked Lumberjacks,” “Rub a Dub Dub” and “Someday I Will Be Clean.”
“Little Dress” finds Doug Mancheski, an AFT veteran from Green Bay, frolicking in a petticoat and sparking big laughs as Dirty Bob. Another sight is the other guys — Jeffrey Herbst (director and company artistic director) as Slim, Doc Heide (the co-founder who grew up in Green Bay) as Muskrat and Chase Stoger as Moonlight — romping in long johns on bath night. They’re embarrassed because this ends up in front of a visiting dime novelist (Monica Heuser).
Singing beautiful songs is Jessica McAnaney as The Kid, a girl disguised as a guy. McAnaney radiates as she follows in the footsteps of Jennifer Peterson-Hind, who went on to become a star in the children’s TV show “Hi-5” that’s made in Australia and airs in the United States on a number of cable channels.
A lot of stuff in “Lumberjacks in Love” — coincidence, mistaken identity, cross-dressing — happens in Shakespeare. The comparison is made because Alley was a genius, too.
It’s easy to love ‘Lumberjacks’
One of the American Folklore Theater’s best shows is “Lumberjacks in Love.”
It is comical, slapstick and gives its principal players a chance to display their best. The company’s current reprisal features AFT regulars Doug Mancheski, Doc Heide and Jeff Herbst.
The musical is about guys being guys. Without any female supervision, these four spit on the floor and scratch themselves wherever it itches. As well, there is Dirty Bob, played by Mancheski, who hasn’t taken a bath for more than 20 years. They are every woman’s worst nightmare.
These four are living in a lumber camp in northern Wisconsin. They are very happy in their bachelorhood. The closest woman is about 200 miles away, which is just fine with them. These men find women a little scary.
During an infrequent trip to civilization, Minnesota Slim, played by Herbst, decides to order a mail-order bride. When he tried to place the order, he was drunk and had no idea what he was doing. He didn’t finish placing the order, but Dirty Bob did it for him.
Meanwhile, there is Jessica McAnaney’s character, The Kid, a woman posing as a man. She has been faking her real identity because she likes hanging out with this unlikely quartet and is very interested in Chase Stoeg-er’s character, Moonlight.
Rosemary, the mail-order bride, shows up, and everything turns upside down. Played in this production by Monica Heuser, the men don’t know what to make of her. Minnesota Slim is particularly bewildered. While this is going on, The Kid reveals her true identity and declares her love for Moonlight.
Making the show especially enjoyable are its memorable songs. Throughout, the music is laced with bluegrass and folk influences. Many songs are fun and meant for laughs, while others are sentimental and touching.
Mancheski, Herbst, Heide and Stoeger work well together. Their brand of humor and musicianship is priceless. Both Herbst and Heide know this show inside and out and revel in its charm. Mancheski has the audience laughing aloud when he tries on a dress and at the moment when Rosemary offers him a bar of soap.
The show’s two women bring much energy to their roles. Heuser has moments when her antics remind us of Lucille Ball. McAnaney is bouncy, bright and effervescent.
“Lumberjacks in Love” is an unqualified success and should not be missed. Bring the kids. Bring your folks. They will all enjoy its tuneful lightheartedness. “Lumberjacks In Love” by Fred Alley and James Kaplan plays at 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays and at 6 p.m. Wednesday through Aug. 29 in Fish Creek.
Marty Lash is a member of the North American Music Critics Association and the American Theater Critics Association and a former contributing editor and classical music reviewer for the Illinois Entertainer.