<i>Guys on Ice</i> has attracted lots of manly men.
I've always wondered what goes on in those little, lit-up fishing shacks on frozen lakes. Ice fishing is an intrinsic part of Wisconsin culture, particularly for the men who wake up before dawn to trek over slick ice for a long day of watching tip-ups. Guys on Ice, a Wisconsin-made musical coming to the Barrymore this week, gives theatergoers a peek inside this phenomenon.
The comedy follows the exploits of two friends, Marvin and Lloyd, who discuss everything from snowmobile suits to fish as a miracle food as they camp out on Lake Michigan. Steve Koehler has played Lloyd since the early 2000s. He took over following the death of the original Lloyd, Fred Alley, who was also the show's writer.
"The show is a beautiful little slice of what it's like to be a guy in Wisconsin," Koehler says. "Alley just nailed that dynamic."
This fraternal relationship is at the heart of the musical. Koehler describes it as "subtle and multilayered."
"We give each other crap; we totally get on each other’s nerves. But we would jump on a grenade for each other in a heartbeat," he says.
One of Koehler's favorite scenes is when Marvin (Doug Mancheski) fantasizes about making it big on cable TV as the king of ice fishing. One thing leads to another, and he starts singing into his icebreaker like Elvis. Lloyd walks in on him and makes him squirm. But no matter how goofy things get, Lloyd would sacrifice anything for his best friend, even his precious Green Bay Packers tickets.
The show isn't all big laughs, though. There are also heartfelt moments, such as the song "Everything's New." Koehler says it's about reflective moments that often happen in the great outdoors, such as the realization that "I used to come here with my dad and my uncles." Lloyd is looking across the water when he notices he can see clear across to Michigan. "This is where the day begins," he sings. "This is the place where everything is new/There’s a primal simplicity and truth and beauty/A place where I can start with a clean slate."
In its various runs, including its last visit to the Barrymore, Guys on Ice has attracted lots of manly men, the kind who'd rather catch a fish than a show.
"Men who have never seen a play will climb down from their tree stand and come in," Koehler says. "There would be guys in their blaze orange that walk straight off the lake and grab their buddies and come."