If Clint Eastwood can “Talk to the Trees” (He actually sings to them in PAINT YOUR WAGON), then lumberjacks deserve their very own musical. LUMBERJACKS IN LOVE (at the Stoneham Theatre through Sept. 30th) is pure camp set in, where else, a logging camp. (Imagine if Charles Busch married ANNIE GET YOUR GUN to BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and you’ll have some idea of the shenanigans in Fred Alley and James Kaplan’s hysterical musical.)
LUMBERJACKS is set in the Wisconsin woods, where men are men and “they have the good fortune not to have women within 200 miles.” Well, men may be men but they get lonely way out there and it’s a short hop into a feedbag dress, a swig of lineament and a fancy two-step around the campfire. But before you can say “pulp fiction” (the “romance” variety of which is what one of the jacks likes to read), not one, but two real women show up to throw a monkey wrench into the wood chipper, so to speak.
The humor is lame, non-stop and hilarious. The authors reference Charlie Chaplin, Henry V, Tiny Tim, Al Jolson and lest you think they aren’t going to mention Monty Python, one of the loggers answers a “how are you” with “I’m a lumberjack and I’m OK.” The silliness almost wears out its welcome but LUMBERJACKS wraps up all the loose ends just in time. Director Caitlin Lowans keeps the pace brisk and the tenor just shy of over the top.
The music is delightful, with the performers acting as their own band. They’re a deft bunch, with each playing at least two instruments. Music director Steven Barkhimer lifts the music in the piece from slapstick to fine ensemble playing. Some of the songs (like “Shanty Boys” or “Little Black Raincloud”) sound like they could be part of the great American songbook.
Lowans' cast is remarkable. Barkhimer branches out from music directing to play the wacky, suicidal, chip-off-the-old-block Muskrat. (The litany of weaponry gone awry is reason alone to go.) His “Happy Lumberjack” song is a “rooty toot toot” hoot. William Gardiner is sensational as a character named Dirty Bob who just can’t resist a “Little Dress…Yes!” Mark Linehan is the fainting-est lumberjack in the forest, whose prayer song brings down the house (“Dear God, let me die a bachelor like you”).
The sweetest jack is Harry McEnerny’s smitten Moonlight. His romantic ballad “It would be Enough for Me” lurches from sentimental to homicidal and back so endearingly, you can’t help but root for him. Darcie Champagne is perfection as the object of his affections (both of them) and if you’ve ever wondered what goes on in a man’s brain, Vanessa J. Schukis is the formidable character who reveals the access code: “A woman draws on a little mustache and that gains her acceptance into the caveman fraternity.” Who knew?
Erik Diaz’s set is a sight to behold, with gorgeous fir trees rising to the skies and a cabin (front and back) which makes you pine for the outdoors, mosquitoes be damned. Meredith Magoun’s costume trunk pays off handsomely, from Muskrat’s red long johns to the Kid’s hillbilly “get-a-husband” dress.
This environmentalist is thrilled that no trees were felled in the course of the musical and the only axe on stage is the axe Moonlight takes to bed like a teddy bear. To repurpose my favorite line from the show: “I never heard of [this musical before] but that don’t mean it don’t exist.”