Perhaps best known for his work in the 80s CBS sitcom, “Newhart,” Minneapolis actor Tony Papenfuss has perfected the art of comedic timing.
After spending 25 years in Los Angeles, performing in several theaters and on numerous television shows (“Murphy Brown,” “Coach,” “Seinfeld” to name a few), Papenfuss has taken that gift to the masses, making people laugh over several generations.
Now, he’s returning to the Minneapolis theater scene with a show that’s full of comedy, and a ton of fun.
Before he drapes himself in blaze orange, Papenfuss chatted with us about the new musical “Deer Camp” and what we can expect from this perfectly Midwestern show.
Q: Tell me a little bit about Deer Camp, The Musical. How have audiences reacted to this kind of a show?
A: The show is what is commonly referred to as “a romp.” Pretty much all the stops are out for laughs and a good time. Four “hunters” have been coming to the same shack for 20 years — drinking beer, playing cards, drinking beer, gossiping, bragging, drinking beer, philosophizing, farting and drinking beer without even firing a shot. This year the wives have delivered an ultimatum: If they don’t bag a buck this year, there will be no more Deer Camp. Panic and frantic planning ensue as they realize they don’t know how. And drinking beer.
Q: Coming from a family of hunters myself, I’m curious, how does a show about deer hunting work as a musical?
A: Across the country, the audience reaction has been wonderful. Coming into the show I had serious doubts whether a simple, no-frills, cornball, overt, sort-of-baggy-pants comedy would be very welcome. But I think people are relieved to have something offered to them that asks nothing of them but allowing themselves to have fun. No pretensions but to deliver silliness with energy, glee and as much craft as we have. They have been ready for it with responses up to, and including, hysterical laughter. My doubts are long gone.
Except Michigan. There I think the hunting culture is so elevated that the thought of the boys not being able to go back is in the realm of tragedy. They seem to approach it like “Long Days Journey Into Night.” Since they do everything BUT hunt, I’m not sure myself. But the musical numbers work in this show very well indeed. Actually they provide some of the bigger laughs.
Q: Tell us a little about the songs in the show.
A: They rival Rogers & Hammerstein. With titles like “River of Brew,” “Coupon Clipping Ladies,” “Grunt Horn,” “The Meatloaf is Glowing” and “Moose’s Lament,” you can sense the lyrical sweep and pageantry of the compositions.
Q: A lot of people will remember you best from your TV days. What were some of your favorite memories from working on “Newhart?”
A: The entire experience was wonderful. There couldn’t have been a more comfortable set. Everyone — execs, writers, cast and crew — were dedicated to nothing else but doing the best work they could possibly do while having the maximum fun. You can imagine the banter going on with the comic razorblade minds of that cast. And then throw in some almost legendary guest stars, and it was a pretty hilarious place to hang around. But I got a particular kick out of the envious, accusing looks and comments we Darryls would get when cast members would receive a particularly long and difficult piece of dialogue that they would have to master, like overnight. We, of course, didn’t have a syllable. Our evening would be a little less stressful.
Q: Are you a hunter yourself? Where did you draw inspiration from for your character?
A: No, I have never really hunted. But I was born and raised in Minnesota with hundreds of relatives and friends who did and do. So I have plenty of inspiration. I have spent several days on the ice on Mille Lacs in a fishhouse with my brother, brother-in-law and nephew. Those times are pretty much the essence of Deer Camp. And drinking beer.
Q: Who would you recommend this show to? And what makes it a show people should see?
A: It has shown to appeal to just about anyone who likes to laugh. Unless you’re a complete Art Snob. I’ve been particularly tickled by the wives of guys who had to be forced to the theater at gunpoint. They say over and over that the hubbies had the time of their lives. They’d never experienced the theater before but are definitely coming back for more. Hunters have been the most enthusiastic. They show up in full hunting gear and let it all go. A pretty happening time. But for sure it’s for everybody. It’s just a simple good time. And short.
Deer Camp The Musical opens Friday, Sept. 14 through Sunday, Sept. 30 at the Hennepin Theatre Trust’s New Century Theatre. Tickets are on sale now and range from $30 to $32. For more information, log on to HennepinTheatreTrust.org.