Hook, Line, and Sinker: “Guys on Ice”
Review by independent reviewer Michael H. Kaffrey

Just a little note to say thank you to you, the casts, and servers for such a wonderful thing you are doing to make our lives richer. We thoroughly enjoy coming to the shows and hope it continues for a very long time. Nice to have something so wonderful so close to home.

Thanks,

A Season Ticket Holder

This time of year it is not uncommon to see advertisements for a multitude of holiday-themed entertainment choices. Along with the traditional holiday favorites, so many show choices nowadays seem to be productions that are staged on ice. “Disney’s Princesses on Ice,” “Holiday on Ice,” and “The Nutcracker on Ice” are just a few that you can or could have already caught this year.

Keeping with that theme St. Croix Off Broadway Dinner Theatre has put up a wonderfully light-hearted “on-ice” themed show of their own. But, don’t let the title fool you. If you go to see “Guys on Ice,” don’t be expecting to see a bunch of tiny men on figure skates in pretty costumes doing triple sow cows through the air. No, this is the other kind of ice. This musical comedy is set on a frozen lake somewhere in Sturgeon Bay, up in Door County, Wisconsin. And, these aren’t figure skaters. These are real men. These are ice fishermen who just so happen to be able to sing pretty well, too.

At its base, there isn’t a whole lot of meat to the catch of this show on an intellectual level. It’s fairly simple and straight-forward. Don’t be fooled by that though. The play centers around two long time pals and fishing buddies, Lloyd and Marvin, played by Paul Reyburn and Philip Frieler. In a nut shell the two spend the entire show hanging out in the ice-house doing a little fishing as Marvin waits to appear on a local cable-access fishing show to be filmed right there in his ice “shanty.” While they wait they cleverly compare the joys of ice fishing, football, bait, and beer to love, life, and happiness through conversation and song. And, every now and again, have to hide their beer from Ernie “The Moocher,” played by Cole Thomas, who occasionally pops in to see how the fish are biting. Again, don’t be fooled by such a simple premise.

Even as you first come into the theatre and gaze upon the stage, we see nothing more than a frozen lake and its surrounding landscape. Dead center stage is a full-sized, weather-worn, old ice shack. First impressions could easily be formed that this would be a low-budget production. But, audiences need only wait one number before the old ice shanty opens up in grand fashion to reveal the much more personalized, intricate and detailed inside of the shack, complete with ice auger, live bait, and two fishing, or as they call them, “Wishing Holes.” For those in the holiday mindset, imagine the reveal when they open the barn doors at the end of “White Christmas” to reveal the snow fall outside, only this time we’re going from outside to in.

Much like the set, the simple story itself is quite deceptive. The true-to-life characters bring the story to life and quickly make their way into our hearts with their incredibly charming performances. And, that starts and ends with this small, but highly effective cast.

Regular theatre goers will remember Philip Frieler--Marvin--from several past St. Croix Off Broadway Dinner Theatre shows. For the first time though, Frieler takes on a leading role and does it with finesse. From his very first notes in the opening song of the show, Frieler’s voice is crystal clear, captivating, and a pure delight. But, it doesn’t stop there. Throughout the show his gold-hearted approach to life through his lines, his sweetness in his love-stuck narrative as he talks about his adoration for “Bonnie the checkout gal from the Pick n’ Save,” and his portrayal of Elvis Presley in the stand-out number in the show, “The King,” (complete with Rowan and Martin’s “Laugh-In” style backup vocals through the ice house windows), Frieler is the most endearing, lovable character to be seen on the St. Croix Off Broadway stage, or any stage for that matter, in some time. Simply put, he’s like a big, lovable, singing teddy bear in a snow suit.

Paul Reyburn’s performance as Lloyd is the perfect complement to Frieler’s Marvin. The audience is immediately empathetic to Lloyd through cute numbers such as “Everything is New” and “The One That Got Away,” as he sweetly and innocently sings lyrics like “I didn’t set the hook and she slipped right through.” Like Frieler, Reyburn works his way into our hearts in his own peculiar way. If he hasn’t before then, he entirely sets the hook in his audience when he questions why his wife wouldn’t want to spend their anniversary at Lambeau Field, the home of the Green Bay Packers. He then justifies his thought process by responding, “I’ve been following the Packers for thirty years, but I’ve only been following her for seven.”

One of the most delightful numbers between the two is cleverly choreographed by director James Zimmerman, and called “Ode to a Snowmobile Suit.” The number features a full dance break comprised almost entirely of the perfectly timed zipping of zippers, opening and closing of Velcro pockets and flaps, and flipping hoods on and off. It is stepped up a notch by the fact that most of the quick fastening and unfastening tricks are performed on the opposing character’s snow suit. It is a very happy little number, but clearly must have taken a great deal of work to perfect. Then again, as Reyburn retorts as Lloyd, “Work is for guys that don’t know how to fish.”

The final member of the trio is really just the icing on the cake for this show. Cole Thomas’ performance as Ernie “The Moocher” somehow brings a balance to the triangle. Before the show even begins, Thomas makes his way through the house, in character, greeting each and every table in the audience (if you go, be sure to keep an eye on your personal items whenever he is in the immediate vicinity).

Ernie also hosts the “Leinie’s is the Best Beer and Half Time Show” to kick-off the second act. In addition to paying tribute to the Wisconsin-made beer Leinenkugels – “It’s not just for breakfast anymore” – Thomas conducts a multiple-choice trivia contest with the audience, complete with prize giveaways that include pickled eggs and “the best beer in the whole USA.” Rest assured, however, that Thomas’s audience interplay isn’t his only strength. In his other two solo numbers, he is accompanied by only himself on a hand-accordion, and the blend of his instrument and his voice are flawless. As the story goes, however, Ernie’s primary function is in strengthening Marvin and Lloyd in their bond as the two attempt to hide the beer from their mooching friend, ultimately teaching the two just how strong that bond of friendship actually is.

All in all, the musical is very sweet in nature and a great success on all fronts. Even though this isn’t a true holiday show, those who are looking for the “something along those lines” will still thoroughly enjoy the experience as there are definitely parallels that could be drawn. Instead of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” this show has “Twelve Beers in a Twelve Pack.” Instead of the miracle birth of a Savior, they have “Fish is the Miracle Food.” And, instead of the newborn King being introduced to the world on the first day of life, this show has “Your Last Day on Earth.”

Okay, so maybe it’s a stretch, but one thing is for sure. Despite this show taking place entirely on ice in the great frozen North, it is sure to send every audience home with a smile and a warm and fuzzy feeling inside.

“Guys on Ice” at St. Croix Off Broadway Dinner Theatre, located at the Hudson House Grand Hotel in Hudson, WI, runs Fridays and Saturday evenings through January 4 with a noon lunch matinee only on January 5. A $56 price tag includes dinner; coffee, pop, tea, or milk; show; tip; and tax (the matinee is $42; children ages 6 to 12 evenings, $28), and will send you home smiling. Get your tickets by calling 715-386-2394 ext. 333 or order them online at stcroixoffbroadway.com. Also like them on Facebook at facebook.com/SCOBDT for much more insight and information.



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