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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Warmth flows from AFT’s ‘Guys on Ice’

The classic Wisconsin musical is back for a summer run.

PHOTO: Jeffrey Herbst, from left, Doug Mancheski and Paul Helm star in the 2014 edition of American Folklore Theatre’s “Guys on Ice.” Len Villano photo

FISH CREEK, Wis. (WFRV) – Two friends from Wisconsin spend the day ice fishing. Happens all the time. Like with Lloyd and Marvin. They tell jokes, drink beer, bait hooks, talk about women, share tasty morsels, wonder about stuff (Do fish think?), tease, step out of the shanty to tap a kidney, talk up the wonders and virtues of the Green Bay Packers and Lambeau Field, grouse about work, dream and wait. They wait for fish bites, for Cubby and for the pain-in-the-neck Ernie to come and go.

On the day we’re with Lloyd and Marvin, they don’t catch a fish. Nothing happens that way. Everything changes in other ways because of a visitor they itch to see show up – Cubby, a guy on cable TV with a fishing show. Oh boy, FAME.

The tale of Lloyd and Marvin is told through “Guys on Ice,” a musical comedy that has returned for a summer run on the American Folklore Theatre main stage in Peninsula State Park in Door County. It’s a great show (5 stars out of 5), laced with knee-slap humor and poignant moments.

Written by Fred Alley and James Kaplan, the show has been around since 1998. It’s been produced 10 previous times by American Folklore Theatre and scores of times by other theaters around the United States.

Starring in this production are Jeffrey Herbst as Lloyd and Doug Mancheski as Marvin.

The characters: Lloyd is having trouble at home. His wife has left him. Their anniversary is coming up, and Lloyd’s offer to spend the day at the Packers-Bears game at Lambeau Field is just about her last straw. Marvin, also a true-blue Packers fan, is the guy Cubby is coming to see because Marvin is the king of fishermen. Marvin’s woman problem is he can’t quite break the ice with the check-out girl at the Pick ’n Save. The thought of her tattoo of a Packers helmet warms his heart. Lloyd is the sharper and more thoughtful of the two guys; he embraces the wonders of nature. When the two tell jokes, it takes Marvin 12 beats to catch on to Lloyd’s. Most of all, Lloyd and Marvin are friends. They know how to pick each other’s scabs, but they’re still friends to the core. Ernie the Moocher is irrepressible. He lifts beer and bait shamelessly and shamelessly breaks into songs on goofball mini-instruments.

The performers: Doug Mancheski has played Marvin in American Folklore Theatre productions from the start. He’s been Marvin in hundreds of performances. Many hundreds. If this were sports, Doug Mancheski would have some sort of record – certainly for number of times for a right-handed, blue-eyed, master-of-fine-arts actor from Green Bay portraying a role in a musical for 16 years. While there would be an asterisk, that asterisk would not be a caveat to his feat but something else. (Follow the link in *- below). Doug Mancheski is buff these days, and he adds that to in a bit he does as Marvin. His performance as Marvin is Marv-elous. Jeffrey Herbst has taken over the role of Lloyd, though he is extremely familiar with the part. As artistic director of American Folklore Theatre, Jeffrey Herbst was present at the birth of Lloyd. He directs and choreographs this production. I get a kick out of this: Jeffrey Herbst is so lean that he has to wear a fake beer belly to be more convincing as the Leinie-loving Lloyd. Folks should know that Jeffrey Herbst and Doug Mancheski are keepers of a flame – the Lloyd/Marvin/“Guys on Ice” legacy – and they do so with deeper meaning, I think, than anybody can understand. Paul Helm is new to the role of Ernie, but in his pre-show game-show bit, he demonstrates he has clued in to what makes “Guys on Ice” tick.

The Fred Alley-James Kaplan songs strike multiple chords. “Ode to a Snowmobile Suit” is sheer comic joy as the guys extol the virtues of their suits while playing them like rhythmic musical instruments. “Everything is New” celebrates the awe of Earth, essentially. “Fish is the Miracle Food” comically savors fish. “The King” finds Marvin glorying in himself in the manner and moves of Elvis Presley.

“Guys on Ice” is about two friends from Wisconsin who spend the day ice fishing and find out more about life. “Guys on Ice” also is about entertaining an audience and slipping in pithy thoughts along the way.

***

Creative: Book and lyrics – Fred Alley; music – James Kaplan; conception and research – Fred Alley and Frederick “Doc” Heide; director and choreographer – Jeffrey Herbst; music supervisor – Collin Welford; music director – Tim Lenihan; scenic design – James Maronek; lighting and sound design – David Alley; stage management – Neen Rock; costume and props design – Kathleen Rock.

Cast: Marvin – Doug Mancheski*, Lloyd – Jeffrey Herbst*; Ernie the Moocher – Paul Helm*.

Songs

“The Wishing Hole,” Marvin, Lloyd

“The Guy on TV,” 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

“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.

***

*- Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States. Read a feature column about the designation at www.wearegreenbay.com/1fulltext-news/warren-gerdscritic-at-large-in-play-program-credits-a-simple-says-a-lot/d/1fulltext-news/DeryiiTKLEO9zRESa3NU-g.

THE VENUE: American Folklore Theatre performs in a scenic, 800-seat amphitheater in Peninsula State Park near Fish Creek in Door County. Seating is on wood benches. The stage about 25 feet by 45 feet and of irregular shape because two tall white pine trees grow in the middle of the stage. Other pines ring the fringes of the stage. “The stage deck, unlike all of the stage walls, is made from recycled plastic,” said artistic director Jeffrey Herbst. “It’s water impermeable. The deck has held up really, really well. The rest of the stage, anything that’s vertical is cedar that has to be stained and treated and washed and kept. We went with that kind of material was partly because we wanted something that wouldn’t warp and because when it rains on that material, it actually becomes less slick. With cedar, when we had it as decking in the past, as soon as you had water on it, it was like an ice skating rink.” The amphitheater is tucked in a forest and accessed by winding roads.

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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