Music by Paul Libman
Book & Lyrics by Dave Hudson
Ben and Bea are rival fishing guides, both avowedly single—and happy that way. Through the playful scheming of Bea’s Uncle Roy (helped along by his daughter, Sarah, and her boyfriend, Claude), Ben and Bea are soon lured into a romantic trap. Despite their sworn hatred of each other, the couple finds themselves inexplicably drawn together. Throw in a feckless Fish and Game Warden, (DNR Doug), the ever-present Wisconsin love of the Packers, a few jokes from Roy, and a wonderful blend of tuneful songs – and you’ve got Muskie Love, a sure crowd-pleaser. This laugh-a-minute fish tale is a comic, contemporary take on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, set on the shores of Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Produced in 2004, 2005, 2009, 2013, 2018
Door County Advocate
ED HUYCK – June 2004
Much ado about AFT’s ‘Muskie Love’
Since its origins as the Heritage Ensemble in the 1970s, American Folklore Theatre has been about taking risks – producing shows under the stars, with subject matter that big-city producers probably wouldn’t touch, with every single show being an original work.
All of that has combined to make AFT a successful and acclaimed company. This summer, they’ve taken another risk – producing an elaborate musical by two creators outside of their tight-knit circle.
Again, they’ve found success. “Muskie Love,” which premiered Saturday, isn’t perfect, but the parts of the show that work easily outweigh any of the problems. It’s a funny, engaging and, by the end, touching story.
Creators Dave Hudson (book and lyrics) and Paul Libman (music) use good source material for their play – William Shakespeare. They’ve lifted the basic plot of “Much Ado About Nothing,” but moved the action from Renaissance Italy to Gills Rock.
Here Beatrice and Benedick, er Bea and Ben, run rival character fishing boats. The two are a lot alike – and they can’t stand the sight of each other. There are also two youngsters, Sarah, the daughter of Roy, who runs the local bait shop, and Claude, Ben’s assistant who, despite being from Illinois, is welcomed as part of the fishing family.
Through the show, two love stories play out, with father-figure Roy pulling the strings. Two things stand in the way of Sarah and Claude – her adoration of Packers quarterback Brett Favre and the machinations of DNR Doug, a dim-witted “fish and game representative” who wants to protect her from this outlander (and make her his own girl, even though she can’t stand the sight of him).
The show’s intent is clear from the opening scenes and you know it’ll turn out for the best in the end, but the journey in “Music Love” is a lot of fun. Hudson and Libman have crafted endearing songs with bright and funny lyrics that both capture the characters’ hopes, reams and confusion, but also brings the distinct Northern Door way of life to the stage.
They are aided by one of AFT’s strongest-ever casts, anchored by the always entertaining Doug Mancheski as the manipulative Roy. Real-life couple Jon Andrew Hegge and Laurie Flanigan make the most of Ben and Bea, making sure their constant sniping never becomes tiresome. (They are rewarded with a very real kiss near the end.)
The younger couple gets their chances in the sun as well, and Keri Demien and Brad Anderson don’t miss their chances – especially Demien, who goes from the 1950s doowop parody “Oh, Brett” to the absolutely gorgeous “Motorboat Song.”
Yet the star of the show is Lee Becker, who makes DNR Doug the most delightful villain I’ve seen in many years, and his solo, “Non-Indigenous” is a show highlight.
So is “Muskie-Love” perfect? Far from it. It shifts from being very detailed and real to parody to utterly crazed without finding a balance between t he different tones. The show is absolutely alive during the songs, so I wish there were more of them – keeping in mind that “Muskie Love” is pushing the 90-minute mark, which is about as long as a one-act show can last at AFT.
Yet, none of this takes away from the work that Hudson, Libman, the cast and director/choreographer Pam Kriger (not to mention the backstage crew and expert set designer James Maronek) have done with “Muskie Love.” AFT took a chance by going outside of the company. It was a risk well met.
Green Bay Press Gazette
WARREN GERDS – June 26
“Muskie” loves Pack and a lot more
4 Stars out of 4
Fish Creek—American Folklore Theatre’ s new “Muskie Love” redefines the term “romantic comedy.”
The show not only has budding romance between two couples, it is in love with Wisconsin, Wisconsin’s outdoors, Door County, Green Bay (the waters of), fishing, the Green Bay Packers, and Brett Favre.
It also gloriously sends up overzealous Department of Natural Resources officers (interesting because the show is performed in a states park) and “Illinutians” (interesting because those folks from south of the border make up a big part of the audience).
Things are nutty, fanciful, and funny, making “Muskie Love” another winner for the popular summer theatre under the stars.
The show centers around a modern-day Cupid (Doug Mancheski) as he works his magic on two fiercely opposite fishing guides (Laurie Flanigan and Jon Andrew Hegge) as well as his daughter (Kari Demien) and the assistant (Brad Anderson) of one of the guides.
Delighful nincompoop villainy is provided by DNR Doug (Lee Becker). To him, the DNR regulation manual is the Holy Grail.
Songs are sweet, rapturous, silly, and, in the case of two, super-duper fun as they add to Packers lore.
“Oh, Brett” finds a young woman, Sarah, singing of her mad crush on you-know-who. Her version of a hope chest opens upon a portrait of a heroic Brett Farve, with little jerseys and other Packers/Favre stuff adorning the interior. As Sarah sings, a doo-wop chorus of four backs her—with everybody singing and dancing while wearing No. 4 jerseys and sporting crowns on their head that spell out B-R-E-T-T.
“Prayer for the Packers” is a gospel/hymn tune that spreads joy and smiling reverence for the fabled team. The song is sung by five in full Packers fan Regalia.
The Packers may hold the world championship for musicals prominently featuring a sports team. They’re all American Folklore Theatre shows: “Muskie Love,” “Packer Fans from Outer Space” and “Guys on Ice.”
Other songs in “Muskie Love” are atmospheric (“On Green Bay”), comical (“Non-Indigenous”) and yearning (“Not Finished Yet”).
“Motorboat Song” is a kick not only because it captures that distinct feeling you get when stepping into a boat to go fishing but the made-for-the-stage motorboat moves as if on smooth water.
The show is long by the theater’s standards—about 1 1/2 hours—but director and choreographer Pam Kriger keeps the action moving.
The creators are new to the theater—Dave Hudson (book and lyrics) and Paul Libman (music). Hudson has taped into what makes American Folklore Theatre tick in themes and style, with Libman following with limber tunes, some with multiple layers.
“Muskie Love” will continue through summer in rotation with the returning “Guys on Ice” and the revamped “When Dogs Could Talk.”