Lumberjacks in Love is onstage at The Great American Melodrama February 3 to March 26, 2023.
So . . comparing a crowd-pleasing melodrama such as Lumberjacks in Love with a crowd-pleasing comedy such as Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night may seem a bit strange . . . but then again why should it present a conundrum when both contain lively language, gender-confounding story lines, and loads of laughs for appreciative audiences?
The Great American Melodrama’s 2023 season opener, the aforementioned revelry written by Fred Alley with music by James Kaplan, is a hoot and a half, which surely the crowds in Shakespeare’s time would have appreciated as much as his turn-of-the-17th-century romantic romp.
This time it’s 1912 in a remote camp in Haywire, Minnesota, “200 miles from the nearest woman,” which is what propels much of the physical comedy and mismatched lumberjack longing for both bachelorhood and someone to love.
Director John Keating keeps our five gristly, grubby, rowdy lumberjacks busy, calling each other names that would delight the Bard of Avon—“wood-headed wampus cat” among them—and deciding who gets to be the female dancing partner when they break into song and dance to entertain themselves.
And boy do they entertain themselves—and us—as the two-act production unfolds with more than a dozen original songs accompanied by everyone playing guitars, ukeleles, washboards, harmonicas, rainsticks, back scrubbers, and even saws. A note in the program gives credit for the ingenious “cigar box guitar” to Melodrama alumnus George Walker.
There are ballads such as ”I Think I’m in Love” (whereby we learn that perhaps the five lumberjacks are actually short one lothario) and ditties like “Rub A Dub Dub” (which includes some quite inventive uses for washtubs, thanks to Keating’s deft choreography and direction).
Speaking of washing up, the hilarious Toby Tropper gives touching, treacly voice to his character, Dirty Bob, in “Someday I Will Be Clean” (it’s not really a spoiler to tell you that, thank goodness, after 22 years he gets his wish and more in the end—after all, almost everyone gets what they deserve in a Melodrama ending).
Antwon Mason as Minnesota Slim shines when he sings his “Bachelor’s Prayer,” although he’s the one who started the whole confounding situation when he “accidentally” orders a mail-order bride and is pretty darn sure he doesn’t want one. Sydney Ennis as The Kid doesn’t quite swagger as much as the other four lumbermen, but there’s a pretty good reason for that and this character’s reluctance to declare themselves is another key plot point. Ennis makes an impressive debut on the Melodrama stage, proving that versatility in more ways than one is an asset in the theatre.
Garrett Haven as Muskrat and Nathan Miklas as Moonlight are the dapper dans of the evening, suavely singing and dancing and twinkling their lumbering logger ways into our hearts.
When finally the long-awaited and long-dreaded “bride” arrives in the form of the scheming Rose (a crackerjack Mia Mekjian), the company is complete and the second act ties everything neatly together with lots and lots of “Stupid, Stupid Love” in the air, making for some happy lumberjacks and a very satisfied audience. You’ll not give Shakespeare a second thought!
Lumberjacks in Love is well-served by the versatile (and appropriately “woodsy”) scenic design by Ian Peggs, costume design by Renee VanNeil, and props by Meggie Siegrist. The lighting by Cody Soper is spot-on (no pun intended), and makes great use of the Melodrama’s new lighting system, which also gives the whole theatre a comfortable and welcoming glow. A new sound system also enhances the vocal work of the actors onstage.
A huge shout-out for music director and accompanist Andy Hudson, who is a perfect team player for the action onstage, punctuating the dialogue as needed and providing a seamless continuity to the show. His dazzling work is even more evident in the vaudeville revue that follows Lumberjacks. “A Culinary Cabaret,” a clever diatribe on what passes for American cuisine these days, was conceived, directed, and choreographed by the multi-talented Eric Hoit (a Melodrama mainstay). Hudson joins the talented cast onstage for one of the review’s treats, of which there is a veritable smorgasbord.
And without giving anything away, you’ll never look at a hamburger or slice of cake again without recalling the headgear in this pastiche. All in all the revue serves as a delectable dessert following a most delightful Melodrama creation.
A word to the wise: Treat yourselves to Lumberjacks in Love, and apply the cost of your tickets toward 2023 Season Passes, which save you bucks, allow you to exchange tickets in advance, and give you access to the best seats in the house for every performance.