These are the toughest reviews to write. It’s not a bad review, those suck to write because who wants to be negative, and it also means I just spent 2 to 3 hours of my life at a show that wasn’t worth my time, but they aren’t difficult. No, the difficult ones to write are for the shows that are good, just good. Everyone involved should feel good about their work. I don’t feel like I spent my time poorly. I wouldn’t dissuade anyone from going. But here’s the problem – it’s the opening of the theatre season, there are more shows than I can see, and I’ll see 3 to 5 a week throughout September. It’s hard to say, “this is the show you must to see!” Lumberjacks in Love is a hit or miss affair. It hits more than misses, but it would be misleading to say it’s terribly lopsided. I spent almost the entirety of the show changing my mind about how I felt about it. The cast is game and is clearly having fun, which helps the audience have fun as well.
Lumberjacks in Love has a book and Lyrics by Fred Alley and music by James Kaplan. Alley is clearly inspired by Shakespeare, with several jokes playing off lines from Hamlet and Henry V early in the play, and the plot is full of ladies disguised as men. The story focuses on four lumberjacks: Moonlight, Minnesota Slim, Muskrat, and Dirty Bob at a logging camp way up north. Also in camp is “The Kid,” who is secretly the daughter of another lumberjack who died after bringing his “son” up to the camp after his wife passed away. Each of them have their own little plot thread. Muskrat is turning 40 and having the lumberjack equivalent of a midlife crisis. Moonlight finds he is falling in love with “The Kid.” Minnesota Slim receives a letter and realizes that Dirty Bob took his drunken idea to heart one night and sent away on his behalf for a mail order bride who will arrive the next day. Dirty Bob hasn’t bathed in 31 years and will not until he finds a bar of blue soap like his mother dropped when he was a boy. There’s a lot more to unpack with Dirty Bob but let’s leave a little mystery on the table.
The issue is the book and lyrics by Alley for this musical about Lumberjacks, some of whom fall in love. The songs have nice music written by Kaplan and there are a couple, “Shanty Boys” and “It Would Be Enough For Me,” that with a few more listens could grow into songs you’d sing along to. But most of them have the feel of improvised comedy songs, you know the kind, where the performer forces an extra syllable or two into a verse. They also too often have the quality where you think, that’s funny if you made it up on the spot, but not funny enough for a fully written musical. The songs are not the strong point of the show, but they also have the benefit of being short, with 19 production numbers in a show that runs a little over 90 minutes. On top of that when it’s over you almost forget it is a musical because they play such an insignificant role in the show. As I write I think more and more that the issue is the songs. As I watched I was conscious of thinking that this is very mediocre. Mostly, as I reflect now, that feeling was most present after a song had just ended. Then a second later I’m laughing out loud at a bit of silliness. That’s the best way to describe this show – it’s silly. The characters are ludicrous caricatures and the performers commit to playing them that way, which works, as it is where most of the laughs come from. The plot is straight out of a Shakespeare comedy passed through the writers of Hee Haw. I almost don’t know what to say about this. I laughed too much to say it isn’t good, but I also spent too much time thinking this isn’t that good. But there were big laughs, usually of the “that’s so stupid you have to laugh” variety. For instance there is a lot of mileage gotten out of the fact that “The Kid” doesn’t know what a bosom is. It’s a joke that keeps on giving, and surprisingly works every time.
Unreserved praise though to this cast, featuring Ryan Lee as Minnesota Slim, Mark Palmer as Muskrat, Mark Deel as Moonlight, and Steven Ramirez as Dirty Bob. If they didn’t commit, none of this would have worked. I think it’s due to them that what does work works better than it had any right too. They sing, they dance, they play the music, sometimes a guitar, sometimes a wood burning stove. Not to take away from the other three but a little special shout out to Ramirez. True he gets the most outrageous character to play but man does he find a way to wring every laugh possible out of Dirty Bob. I’ve seen Ramirez in several productions now but this silly side is not one I’d seen before and frankly it was eye opening. “The Kid” is played by Siri Hammond and the mail order bride named Rose is played by Caitlin Burns, both of whom fit right in with this group of oddballs. I think the Director Scott Ford did everything you can with this material. Apparently it originated and is performed often at an outdoor theatre in the woods of Wisconsin. I think it probably plays like gangbusters with families who are camping or on vacation and checking out a show. In fact 8 to 12 is probably a great age for this. It has that feel, it doesn’t quite have the feel of a full blown musical comedy. The author would be better off jettisoning most of the songs and turning it into a comedy with a couple of musical moments.
I’m still chuckling about some of the bits now, so if this sounds like your cup of tea, definitely check it out. Lumberjacks in Love runs through September 25th, for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.lyricarts.org/lumberjacks-in-love
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