This production was scheduled March 22-May 11, 2024.

The ending of any musical theatre work that opens with the words “The fish ain’t bitin’” (sung in an Upper Midwestern accent, no less) is bound to culminate—in true happily-ever-after tradition—with some very satisfied fishermen.

And so it goes with The Great American Melodrama’s satisfying production of The Fish Whisperer, which had its world premiere last year in Wisconsin (no surprise there) and is lively enough to be added to the Melodrama’s rotating repertoire.

We should rightly use the term “fisherpeople” here, however, seeing as how half of the characters chasing aquatic creatures in this show are of the female persuasion, even the title character. She is played by the delightful Austen Horne, making her Melodrama debut in fine fashion in more ways than one—costume designer extraordinaire Jamie Douglas has outfitted Horne in crazy patchwork overhauls that mirror the ambiguous, enigmatic nature of her sudden appearance in a town where tourism and thus livelihoods are threatened by the apparent lack of fish in the local lake.

Horne, holding forth as the Harold Hill (villain or savior?) of the show, offers to bring the fish back—for a price, of course. The townspeople must pay the cost in more ways than one (there’s money, and then there’s finding your inner fish—don’t ask, just go watch and enjoy). Deciding whether to pay the price is the stuff of much amusing song and dance, leading the townspeople to debate and decide some nagging questions.

Will the town mayor (the uber-talented Mike Fiore) and his daughter (Julia Mae Abrams, in fine voice) be able to recover from a recent loss and get on with their lives? Will the town treasurer and tourist maven (the excellent Casiena Raether) find true love with the local ranger (Toby Tropper, who never disappoints)? Will the co-owners of the local B&B (Dillon Gilles and Jeffrey Laughrun, who make funny and finicky look easy) re-connect over “the grill of their dreams”?

To be clear, this group as a whole is one in a series of solid ensemble casts that the Melodrama has assembled over the past year or so, thanks to managing director Stacy Halvorsen and artistic director Johnny Keating, who also directed and choreographed The Fish Whisperer. The teamwork and tight technical standards in behind-the-scenes departments are showing up in visible and audible ways. This show’s scenic design by Ian Peggs, prop design by Natasha D’Amico, lighting design by Cody Soper, and especially sound design by Nathan Miklas are terrific.

As for the requisite happy ending, let’s just say that all is resolved with an unexpected but entertaining gurgle, whoosh, wiggle, and splash. The Fish Whisperer is as jam-packed with catchy tunes and hilarious jokes as advertised, with a bit of good ol’ fashioned charm thrown in, too.

While The Fish Whisperer is on top the playbill at The Great American Melodrama right now, the vaudeville review that follows is worthy of its own banner headline. Maestrolio, directed by Breanne Murphy (with musical director Brad Carroll) and choreographed by Sydni Ramirez and Casiena Raether, is a smash-up of classical music, pantomime, ludicrous lectures (Toby Tropper is a riot explaining The Barber of Seville with dolls), breathing demonstrations, hobby horses, and even a zany take on Victor Borga’s classic bit “phonetic punctuation.” This is one that shouldn’t be missed!

:: Charlotte Alexander