by Sam Pynes
My first trip to the Lofte Community Theatre in Manley took me on a lovely trip to Sturgeon Bay Wisconsin with the three-man (and one pianist) cast of “Guys on Ice.” The best way to describe this fun little show is warmth. It made me want to go hang out with Wisconsinites, ice fishing and drinking Leinenkugel.
At the beginning of the show, the character of Ernie came out for pre-show announcements and asked if there were any folks from Wisconsin, of which there were a few. He emerged again at intermission to sing and do Wisconsin trivia with the audience. Unsurprisingly the out-of-staters went home with the thematic prizes.
Lloyd (Scott Pope) and Marvin (Doug Rothgeb) spend a day out on the ice waiting for an interview with the host of a cable fishing show in their own more comedic and less existential version of “Waiting for Godot”. Ernie the Moocher (Jon Kruse) interrupts occasionally to, well, mooch, and also produce well-hidden musical instruments for his own songs. When not contributing to the story he plays bass to accompany the pianist, who is set up in a deer stand to the side of the simple but detailed main set. On the slightly raised simulated ice is a small shanty that opens up to begin the play.
Doug Rothgeb stands out as the best singer and actor. His performance reminded me of the late, great John Candy’s charismatic performances. Though primarily light comedy, the musical has honest and touching moments as well. Scott Pope’s character of Lloyd carries the ballads of the show, assisted by a harmonica. One of his songs describes how ice fishing brought together his otherwise argumentative uncles when he was a child. He is a good choice for the part, but I got the impression the songs were a bit out of his comfortable range.
The loudest laughs came from a line flub in the second act which was corrected hilariously by the actors in character. I’m so glad I happened to be there for that; it was a great example of actors reading the audience and leaning into the moment.
The musical style is light and bouncy, and made me think of the old English musical-hall style of performing duos like Flanders & Swann, though the first song also reminded me of the opening of Guys & Dolls.
The show clocks in at an easy and enjoyable two hours. If you have never been to The Lofte, I found the space to be comfortable and welcoming. The exterior red barn aesthetic is matched by its spacious hardwood interior. This simple and honest musical was a good match for the space, though I look forward to seeing larger scale musicals there in the future as well. The light design was simple and unobtrusive, and the sound was consistently intelligible and well-balanced.
This was the Nebraska Premiere of this late-90s musical, and though I could see it becoming a staple, especially for the smaller theaters, future iterations will have a hard time topping this production.
My very knowledgeable and lovely companion for the show would like to remind readers that when clapping along to songs the claps go on 2 and 4. Or is that 1 and 3? Sorry, I tried. Point is, this musical will make you want to clap along.
The Lofte Community Theatre is located at 15841 Manley Road, Manley, NE 68403. “Guys On Ice” plays October 19-21 and 25-28, with curtain times on Thursdays -Saturdays at 7:00pm; Sundays at 2:00pm. Tickets are available at the box office, by calling 402-234-2553, by email at LofteTickets@Lofte.com, or thru the website.
Sam Pynes is an actor, writer, and story enthusiast. Mostly harmless.