Fishing for the Moon
Book and Lyrics by Fred Alley
Music by James Kaplan
Will confusing calamities ensue when a Southern gentleman rides north, seeking a crazy Union officer who thinks his cows are soldiers? You betcha! Set in rural Wisconsin after the Civil War, this lighthearted romantic comedy features a harebrained cast of characters. Shirlene, the officer’s weary wife, has made his life forever miserable by selling his prize bull while he was off at war. Meanwhile, the local school teacher rebuffs the smooth talk of a persistent raconteur while an earnest young woman tries to awaken her true love from amnesia with the smell of Parisian soap. Fishing for the Moon was produced at AFT in 2008, 1999 & 1992, and was the first collaboration between Fred Alley and James Kaplan, the team that created AFT hits Lumberjacks in Love and Guys on Ice.
Mancheski hilarious in AFT’s ‘Fishing for the Moon’
(June 21st, 2008) The American Folklore Theater’s 2008 roster has begun with an uproarious musical, “Fishing For The Moon.”
The show was the first collaboration between Fred Alley and James Kaplan. Both playwrights are responsible for well-known AFT classics, such as “Lumberjacks In Love” (to be seen later this season) and “Guys On Ice.”
As evidenced by this show, the Alley/Kaplan team had a very special gift. Together they created musicals that are fun and breezy. Each has unique northwoods themes that Door County audiences find so enjoyable.
Best of all, their shows are family-friendly. It’s hard these days to find entertainment that is suitable and engaging for young children, but AFT makes it possible. Kids really seem to enjoy the light goofiness of their productions.
“Fishing” is set in rural Wisconsin after the Civil War. There are six characters, who are mostly harebrained, confused or not quite in touch with reality.
Doug Mancheski plays Tucker Riley Olson, who has seen a little too much of war. He thinks his cows are soldiers and spends time giving them orders. His poor wife, Shirlene, just puts up with him.
Meanwhile, Peter, a photographer from the south, is trying to find Tucker. When the cast hears Peter wants to “shoot” him, they immediately misunderstand his intentions, and mayhem ensues.
While all this is going on, the local folks gradually become very impressed with Peter; he is smart and tells everybody he has a diploma.
His manner sparks the interest of a local girl, Caroline. They have one kiss, but nothing happens.
It turns out that a local “good old boy,” Rufus, also is interested in Caroline and eventually winds up with her. Lucy, a local schoolteacher, first keeps Peter at bay but eventually realizes he is the one for her.
The show has two actors who are new to the AFT stage — Chris Klopatek and Jessica McAnaney. Both are fine actors and great additions to this production. McAnaney has a wonderful singing voice.
Mancheski, as expected, is hilarious. He plays Tucker with the wit and energy we come to expect from this actor.
His broad comic style and command of the AFT stage again proves that he is an indispensable Door County treasure. Just watch Mancheski talk to his cows, and you will see what I mean.
The cast is filled out with Chase Stoeger playing Rufus, Monica Heuser in the role of Shirlene and Stephanie Olson as Caroline. All are obviously having a great time.
Door County Advocate
Tuesday, July 6, 1999
AFT’s ‘Fishing’ trip is a nice summer journey
It’s always nice to leave a performance felling better than you did before it began.
American Folklore theatre’s “Fishing for the Moon” accomplishes just such an effect.
Set in Wisconsin, the plot revolves around a Southerner’s search for Union Army Col. Tucker Riley Olson (Doug Mancheski) two years after the Civil War.
Peter Rutherford hall of Georgia (Jeffrey Herbst) enlists the aid of local Rufus Smith (Fred Alley) – a simple man who knows more about the area than anyone else – to find the colonel so he can shoot him.
As more of the story and characters is revealed in song and dialogue throughout the hour-long performance, we learn there is more to the simple talke than just the silliness and confusion precipitated by Peter’s quest.
The short and sweet musical play is peopled with charmingly endearing characters, all of whom are longing for something plainly visible but just out of reach.
Rufus woos but can’t win the heart of schoolteacher Caroline (Carolynne Warren), who longs instead for an educated suitor. Rufus doesn’t meet her litmus test because he hasn’t passed the seventh grade.
Peter finds himself attracted to Lucy (Laurie Flanigan), a young woman who, like Caroline, also pines for someone else: Col. Olson’s son, who is tragically missing in action.
Colonel Olson, who parades about in his uniform and treats his dairy cows like a company of soldiers sings passionate laments for the loss of his prize bull Bo, sold by his wife to a neighboring farmer during the war.
As humorously absurd as his bovine passion is, the song “Shirely, Gary, and Bo,” sung with strong emotion by Mancheski, gives deeper meaning to his comic grief. A heartfelt longing for the lost happiness he felt in the trinity of his wife, son and bull is expressed.
The fate of the colonel’s son Gary is unknown. The colonel and his wife, Shirley (Megan Cavanagh), bicker when together. And Bo has been sold into the “cruel slaver” of the neighbor’s farm.
Likewise, Rufus’ attempt to win Caroline by bathing in Parisian soap and acting comically aloof so he can be “clean and uncaring” – traits he is told wormen find irresistible – is funny enough to hurt ribs. but it also reveals something inherently vulnerable in human nature.
While the play successfully elicits laughs throughout its span, it is the honest tenderness of the characters that really made the show fully enjoyable.
“Fishing” is a revisitation of a 1992 collaboration between Alley and composer James Kaplan. Alley wrote the play text and the song lyrics and Kaplan wrote the music. Ten of the 12 songs are new for this year’s production.
The songs are an important part of the production and are neatly performed by Kaplan on keyboard and Eric Lewis on guitar, dobro (a type of banjo) and mandolin.
Each piece is a unique composition with a comfortable familiarity. You know you haven’t heard it before, but it’s already there in the subconscious.
The songs range from the show and wizened duet of Shirlene and the colonel reflecting on their marriage to the more upbeat duet “Girl Back Home” between potential romantic interests Peter and Lucy, to the intentionally droll, laissez faire soft-shoe routine “I Didn’t Feel a Thing,” sung after Peter and Caroline don’t feel any expected romantic sparks.
The honest applause for each song from the full, but not packed, house and the warm smiles and wistful grins on many of the audience faces throughout the performance spoke volumes for the shared evening of pleasantness created by AFT.
And as the darkness of night enveloped the outdoor theater in Peninsula State Park and the evening stars pecked out behind the clouds, it was nice to be shown that, although you’ll never quite catch the moon, it can be quite pleasant to try.