Bad Jokes, Good Friends For 'Guys On Ice'

On a cold winter’s day in Sturgeon Bay, WI, what are two buddies to do but pack up the Leinenkugel, grab their poles and head out on the frozen lake to wait for local TV personality Cubby Cavernon to pay them visit.

How they pass the time waiting for Cubby is shared in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of “Guys on Ice; The Ice-Fishing Musical” which opened Friday evening in the Bristol Opera House.

With music by James Kaplan and book and lyrics by Fred Alley, it premiered in 1998 in Wisconsin where it has since been presented annually. In contrast to more recent bigger-and-bigger musical productions, this is a small show which foregoes flying nannies and magical genies for a comfortable look at two men who are unavoidably familiar.

Marvin (Tony Venable) and Lloyd (Rick Nymeyer) are longtime friends who share a love of fishing, drinking beer, telling tall tales and commiserating about the fortunes of their Green Bay Packers.

Waiting in their ice fishing shack for “The Guy From TV” to come bringing 15 minutes of fame, they discuss many of their favorite things — the varying sizes of “The One That Got Away,” the value of “The Wishing Hole,” the fact that ‘Things Ain’t Like They Used to Be,” the importance of “The Beer in The Bucket” and, most hilariously, the flexibility of their cold-weather gear.

Guys on Ice  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INThe last is delivered in an “Ode to A Snowmobile Suit,” and comes complete with a chorus accompanied by rhythmic zippers. ripping Velcro fasteners and as much fancy footwork as good-ol-boys can muster.

Venable and Nymeyer establish a very comfortable rapport which plays easily and well throughout the hour and 45 minute (including intermission) performance.

They also take obvious delight in telling some of the worst/best shaggy dog jokes which, on opening night, earned loud groans and applause from the audience.

In addition to waiting for Cubby, the guys are trying to avoid their “friend” Ernie, aka The Moocher (Mike Nichols). As the afternoon progresses, it is obvious how Ernie earned his name. Once he is “in,” anything liquid and/or edible goes out. In addition, he travels with his ukulele, strumming and singing at the drop of a earflap. Nothing discourages Ernie, who always gets what he wants, even if he doesn’t know at first what’s available.

Nichols energetic performance made him an audience favorite, undoubtedly because everyone has an Ernie in his/her life. He also leads a game show for the audience at the top of act two, complete with appropriate prizes.

Directed by John Shoup, assisted by Kelly Rider, the shack opens easily in front of the forest silhouette. The lively score is in the hands (literally) of keyboardist Miriam Houck, with Nichols on 12-string guitar. Vocal director Michelle Miller has a cameo as a local anchorwoman.

In spite of (or maybe because of) the purposely bad jokes, “Guys on Ice” definitely has an appeal for all ages, especially anyone who can bait a hook.

GUYS ON ICE: The Ice-Fishing Musical” plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and March 18-19 and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Bristol Opera House on SR120. For reservations, call 848-4116 from 1 to 5:30 pm weekdays or visit