The Madison Repertory Theatre's new production of Muskie Love is as light and sweet as a whopping slice of schaum torte. And if you're wondering what schaum torte is, you just might be from Illinois, which wouldn't be a plus in the realm of this musical comedy set in Door County.
Running through Oct. 15 at the Overture Center's Playhouse, Muskie Love has already enjoyed two successful seasons at Door County's American Folklore Theatre. It tells the story of two couples falling in love: fresh-faced Claude and Sarah, childhood playmates now grown up; and irascible Ben and Bea, fishing guides and loners who prefer it that way.
Benevolently scheming to bring Ben and Bea together is Roy, Sarah's father and the owner of a bait and tackle shop. Providing a sour note to counter all the sweetness is DNR Doug, a rules-and-regulations-loving guy who outdoes even Dubya in his ability to mangle the English language. He's set his heart on Packer-worshipping Sarah and is none too pleased to see Claude cutting in.
Frequent musical numbers keep the pace of this simple story brisk. While the first song is a bit too mawkish, things improve from there. Among the most memorable is a doo-wop ode to Brett Favre, led by Sarah (Meghan Deese). That may sound corny, but Muskie Love is smart enough to realize that and gives it a campy edge. Deese and Ryan Winkles as Claude make a genuinely appealing pair.
The rest of the cast is uniformly solid. Doug Mancheski, as Roy, is the most familiar face to local audiences, having starred in the Rep's popular Guys on Ice. Mancheski's Roy is knowing, sly and a little hammy. Jon Andrew Hegge and Laurie Flanigan are the so-mismatched-they're-perfect Ben and Bea. He's a regular guy who likes his freedom and fishing year-round; she's a regular gal who also happens to be a professor. Lee Becker as DNR Doug is perhaps the funniest of the bunch; he's the kind of guy who wears shorts with black socks and combat boots and doesn't get it that 'inept Cro-Magnon' is an insult.
'Muskie Love' is the kind of mild, self-referential Midwestern humor that, I'll admit, I often don't like. (Don't get me started on Garrison Keillor.) In its defense, however, it's a predictable boy-girl story that has the guts to be precisely that and have a ball doing it. The cast's enthusiasm and good humor are infectious. In fact, as I struggled through my own Wisconsin ritual, the first head cold of the year, I was still thoroughly entertained.
As the Packers head into the season with a lone win against the Lions, theater-loving football fans will want to retreat into this idyllic world where the fishing is good, love is in the air, and the Pack always wins.