How to Hold a Musky (and other info)

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Madison Rep reels in laughter with 'Muskie Love'

Warning to "Muskie Love" audiences.

Viewing "Muskie Love" may result in: The overwhelming desire to consume vast quantities of deep-fried fish, cheese or beer. The urge to have the words "Brett Favre Forever" tattooed in a very special place. Incontinence, but it will be worth it because you may not remember the last time you laughed this hard.

"Muskie Love," directed by Pam Kriger, opens Madison Rep's new season this year with a splash. It is musical comedy fresh from Door County, from first-time collaborators Paul Libman and Dave Hudson (music/books & lyrics).

Premiered at American Folklore Theatre in Door County in 2004, where it packed the house, "Muskie Love" pleases crowds with its zippy Wiscon-centric humor. Wisconsin culture does seem especially ripe for plucking (witness "Guys on Ice"), and "Muskie Love" does so gently, with a lot of heart.

"Muskie Love" is loosely based on Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing." It takes place on the shores of Gills Rock, Wis., where two couples do their best not to fall in love. Bea, played by Laurie Flanigan, is an independent, fiery, aquatic biologist from South Carolina who spends her summers as a fishing guide in the Door. Ben (Jon Andrew Hegge), consummate bachelor and regular joe, is her sworn enemy, sharing the same dock, greeting her for the season with the comment: "It's aliiiive."

On the perkier end are young Sarah and Claude (Meghan Deese and Ryan Winkles), as fresh as a squeaky cheese curd on market day, who manage to surmount a most formidable obstacle on the road to true love: Sarah's undying love for number four, Brett Favre, complete with shrine.

It takes Claude, Ben's prot g e, to steal her heart from the leader of the Pack. Claude's real problem is DNR Doug, smashingly played by Lee Becker, an overzealous, pea-brained, Illinois-bashing (he coins the term "Ill-annoying") fish and game warden who's got his eye on Sarah, too.

It's Sarah's father, Roy, played charmingly by Doug Mancheski (a regular at American Folklore Theatre) whose cupid-in-flannel routine fans the flames of love for everybody concerned. Well, almost everybody. Roy's got a sly wit. Just ask him for his fishing secrets and he'll tell you he just watches his wife. When she sleeps on her left side, he fishes off the left side. When she sleeps on her right side, he fishes off the right side.

And when she's sleeping on her back? "I don't go fishing," says Roy dryly.

"Muskie Love" looks fantastic. From the set's geometric trees to the prim knee socks on DNR Doug every detail is attended to and perfectly cohesive. Kriger's direction is crisp and creative and the tempo, just right. All this, of course, lets Libman and Hudson's genuinely funny material shine.

"Muskie Love's" music is an eclectic mix, using styles from doo-wop to hymns, everything falling under the general term "American." Early on, Deese as Sarah, sings a hilarious ode to Brett while the rest of the cast scoobie-doo behind her, decked out in wigs and Packers jerseys. Deese stumbles here and there with intonation, as do several other cast members, but commendably, never with diction. Although a little uneven, she's the standout of the evening, vocally speaking. Some of the cast are clearly actors before singers, and some of the choreography falls by the wayside now and again, but it's hard to care when the acting is so strong everybody is having such a good time.

It might be easy to turn up your nose at "Muskie Love" as low-brow fare, but when's the last time you smiled until your teeth hurt?

"Muskie Love" runs through Oct. 15 at The Playhouse in Overture Center. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; 4 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $47 (Fridays and Saturdays) and $39 (on the other days). Some $15 tickets are sold for each show. Go to or call 258-4141 for information.


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