note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
The plot is goofy, and so are the songs, but the Boston premiere of Stoneham Theatre’s musical comedy, “Lumberjacks in Love,” provides a fantastic showcase for its remarkably versatile, multitalented cast and the production’s trappings.
Music Director Steven Barkhimer not only portrays Muskrat, a lonely, suicidal Wisconsin lumberjack, but he sings, harmonizes, dances, plays the bass, accordion, piano, ukulele, and guitar, and mugs it up, with the greatest of ease.
Barkhimer’s partners are also jaw-dropping. Director Caitlin Lowans has the easy, fun task of giving these guys and gals free rein to strut their stuff. Lanky, good-looking Mark Linehan as Minnesota Slim harmonizes, kicks up his heels, does a mean pratfall, and plays the ukulele, guitar, piano and saxophone; Harry McEnerny as Moonlight is a cuddly, big teddy bear of a guy looking for love, and finds it with The Kid, a girl pretending to be a teen-aged guy, who doesn’t know how to act like a girl, because she’s never seen one before. McEnerny sings sweetly and sentimentally, and plays trombone and guitar, while bubbly Darcie Champagne as The Kid sings, dances strums the mandolin, and provides laughs, especially when she gets all gussied up in designer Meredith Magoun’s outrageous concoction of homemade, female garb.
Let’s not overlook veteran actor William Gardiner as cross-dressing lumberjack Dirty Bob, who has a mother fixation and hankering for a bar of blue soap, which his mother dropped when she bathed him many years ago. Gardiner strums a mean washboard, and plays other homespun, backwoods instruments, like the penny whistle, jaw harp, and provides percussion.
The guys‘ lives are disrupted when Slim receives a letter from a woman in New York, who’s answering a letter seeking a mail-order bride that Dirty Bob sent to her, but with Slim’s name on it. Vanessa Schukis isn’t your average 1870’s shy, retiring, lonely lady looking for male companionship. She’s a tall, arm-wrestling, rootin-tootin‘ lady in a bustled dress, who’s really a dime-novel romantic novelist, gathering research for her next book about lumberjacks.
The guys live in a lumberjack shanty, 200 miles away from the nearest contact to women and civilization. Minnesota Slim likes that just fine; but the other guys are lonely, and hanker for female companionship and softness. To whittle away the time, they play musical instruments, and their gramophone, dancing together. They take their weekly baths in their round metal tubs, but don’t do much else, outdoors, on the porch, and inside the shanty, thanks to the rotating set Erik Diaz handsomely created, bordered by towering evergreen trees.
Christopher Ostrom’s lighting sets a romantic glow as Moonlight and The Kid face their first loving rumblings, in “It Would be Enough for Me,” and shifts from sunny and cloudy moods in other numbers. Overall, “Lumberjacks in Love” is sophomoric, but watching this fun cast stomp, strum, and strut on stage is entertaining.
BOX INFO: Boston premiere of two-act musical comedy by Fred Alley and James Kaplan, appearing at the Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main St., Stoneham, through Sept. 30. Performances are Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3,8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Tickets, $48,$44; seniors, $42,$40. Call the Box Office at 781-279-2200 or visit www.stonehamtheatre.org.