Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Neenah troupe’s ‘Guys on Ice’ is a kick


NEENAH, Wis. (WFRV) – Riverside Players has a charming and funny edition of the Wisconsin-famous musical, “Guys on Ice,” running to Aug. 3 at the Riverside Park Pavilion. Info: www.ci.neenah.wi.us.

The production (4½ stars out of 5) “gets it” – gets all the quirky humor and the touching moments that surround the story of a couple of friends and a pesky guy who savor a day of ice fishing off Door County.


Creative: Book and lyrics – Fred Alley; music – James Kaplan; conception and research – Fred Alley and Frederick “Doc” Heide; director – Corrie Beula Kovacs; music director – Bethany Abrahamson; tech director – Jason Stoll; stage manager – Laura Schlichting; props coordinator – Kelly Stoll; guitar, accordion and piano – Darcy Johnson; build crew – Braden Bodzislaw, Tommy Derouin, Austin Sopel; artistic director – Laurie Fannin.

Cast: Lloyd – Stephen Herrick; Marvin – Steve Kovacs; Ernie the Moocher – Joe Abrahamson.


Act I

“The Wishing Hole,” Marvin, Lloyd

“The Guy from Tee Vee,” Marvin

“Ode to a Snowmobile Suit,” Lloyd, Marvin

“Everything is New,” Lloyd

“The King,” Marvin

“Things Ain’t Like They Used to Be,” Ernie

“The One That Got Away,” Lloyd

Act II

“Twelve Beers in a Twelve Pack,” Lloyd, Marvin

“Fish is the Miracle Food,” Lloyd, Marvin

“The Marvin I Knew,” Lloyd

“What’s Mine is Yours,” Ernie

“Your Last Day on Earth,” Lloyd, Marvin

“The Beer in the Bucket,” Lloyd, Marvin


The show seems simple but is anything but. At the end, the buddies talk about the day as if nothing has happened, but they’ve acted silly, tossed around matters on their mind, embraced ice fishing and the Green Bay Packers, savored the great outdoors and snowmobile suits, “tought” about “tings” in their Wisconsin-wracked vocabulary and had a brush with fame, and notably, mortality.

One friend is Lloyd (Steven Herrick), who is in trouble with his wife. Seems she doesn’t think spending the day at Lambeau Field for the Packers-Bears game is an anniversary treat.

The other friend is Marvin (Steve Kovacs), who is trying to catch the eye of the checkout girl at the local grocery store and eagerly awaits the arrival of the host of the cable TV fishing show. Marvin envisions being launched to glory because, after all, he is the king of fishermen.

The pest is Ernie the Moocher (Joe Abrahamson), who drops in to free load beer, bait and munchies – and to “serenade” Lloyd and Marvin with made-up oddball songs he sings with ukulele or kazoo.

All three performers have nice touches with their characters, and Steven Herrick and Steve Kovacs have the quality voices their songs call for (though Marvin’s moments as Elvis Presley show that being Elvis presents challenges).

This production owes a lot to a major connection, which may have seemed minor at one time. Directing is Corrie Beula Kovacs, who in her program notes says this: “My first summer out of college, I was an intern at American Folklore Theatre, where one of the three shows in our rotating rep was ‘Guys on Ice’.”

The show originated at American Folklore Theatre in Door County in 1998. Indeed, “Guys on Ice” is back for another summer run at that theater through August. Corrie Beula Kovacs knows all the whys and wherefores of the show – as she says, the “humor, hubris and high jinks of these laughable but loveable characters…”

In a sense, this production is part of another generation of “Guys on Ice” that keeps alive a legacy. Through this show (and others), the genius of one of the creators, Fred Alley, carries on. There are lines in the show and a song that are profound because Fred Alley died young.

Through Corrie Beula Kovacs, Riverside Players’ take on “Guys on Ice” is faithful to the intent and meaning of the original.

Distinctive in this production is the performance space. At one end is the guys’ ice fishing shanty, which is kind of makeshift but well equipped. The walls of the shanty unfold, and the audience is taken into the interior; amid the fishing rigs, crushed beer cans, metal sign for a brewery, wooden box chairs and hidey holes to keep beer out of Ernie the Moocher’s sight is a 1998 poster calendar for the Green Bay Packers (an important placement for setting time and passion). Most of the stage is a representation of ice on a lake, with snow sprinkled on the surface and around the edges. Artistic license brings some of the songs and dances onto the ice, for the sake of audience viewing and hearing.

This production is the expanded version of “Guys on Ice.” The song “Twelve Beers in a Twelve Pack” is an addition and is not in the version running in Door County. The intermission and comical game playing of Ernie the Moocher are additions.

For me, having reviewed the premiere performance in 1998, it’s fascinating to see how the qualities of the show that were present on day one still hit the spot with an audience that seemed fresh to the “Guys on Ice” experience.

By the way, most of the jokes in 1998 original are still landing laughs today. Like, “Did you hear about the one-armed fisherman? He caught a fish this long.” Tink about it.

DEDICATIONS: Outside the pavilion are directors chairs with the names of and photos depicting two men who were key to Riverside Players. Ken Anderson, founder and director, died in October. Mark Zastrow, actor and director, died in May. They also are recognized in the program.

VENUE: Riverside Pavilion in Riverside Park in Neenah is an open shelter used for summer shows of Riverside Players. The “Theatre in the Park” concept started in 1955. Seating for 244 is set up around three sides of a rectangular stage. The building is stone exterior, with the inside including a wooden ceiling with large wooden support beams and a cement floor. The location is picturesque. The park, on the Fox River near Lake Winnebago, is rimmed on two sides by grand historical homes, one of which was converted into Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass. For settings, Riverside Players has a spot that catches the eye like few others.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

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