There are few communities in the country as proud and fiercely protective of their way of life as Maine’s storied lobster fishing community, even while federal regulations endanger lobstermen’s livelihoods and climate change threatens the industry’s very existence.
Which is why composer Larrance Fingerhut and writer Andy Eninger were extra careful to respect the specificities and heritage of the lobstering community when they wrote a musical about it.
“Trapped! A Lobster Tale” will have its world premiere this weekend at Penobscot Theatre Company in Bangor. It is the first-ever original musical Penobscot Theatre has ever done.
The show has some over-the-top elements like a giant singing super-lobster and a theme park named LobsterWorld. But the writers of “Trapped” also know that lobstermen pay attention to inaccuracies in describing how they do their jobs, and don’t take kindly to people misrepresenting them. If Fingerhut and Eninger didn’t have an authentic story at the heart of the play, their core audience would sniff it out.
“It was very important that we honored the community, even as we had to make it really entertaining and fun for everyone,” said Fingerhut. “I think we struck that balance between being funny and not taking it too seriously, but also really making it a love letter to the community.”
The idea for “Trapped” actually came about years ago, when Fingerhut, a longtime Penobscot Theatre Company collaborator as a music director and improviser, first read “The Secret Life of Lobsters,” by Trevor Corson, a bestselling book about the Maine lobster industry published in 2004.
The book wove together the science of lobsters, the economics of the industry and the people that drive it, into an entertaining, informative story — and Fingerhut knew there was material for a theater piece there.
The time wasn’t right to actually start writing a musical until the pandemic began, when both Fingerhut and Eninger found themselves with lots of free time on their hands.
But it’s far from Fingerhut’s first musical. He estimates he’s written six or seven of them before, and that’s not counting the countless improvised songs he’s created with comedians in Chicago and Maine during his nearly 40 years as a musical comedian.
Over the past three years, the pair have been developing “Trapped,” and enlisting Cranberry Island lobsterman Malcolm Fernald and his partner, Mary, to verify crucial details about the lobstering life — from language colloquialisms to the proper way to sort through traps.
The end result is a story about an unlikely love affair between lobsterman Harry and scientist Izzy, and a community on the precipice, torn between sticking to its roots or selling out to developers for a chance at progress. In short, it’s a comedic, heightened portrayal of things that actually happen in the real world.
Penobscot Theatre Company has produced several other successful musicals about beloved elements of Maine culture, like “Lumberjacks in Love” and “Guys on Ice,” about ice fishing. Neither of those shows were set in Maine, so this time around, the idea was to replicate the success of those shows — but to tell an all-original Maine story.
Alongside director Annaliese Toft, Fingerhut and Eninger assembled a cast composed mostly of longtime PTC actors including Ira Kramer, Ben Laymen, AJ Mooney, Doug Meswarb and Nellie Kelly — some of whom, such as Laymen and Kelly, come from coastal Maine communities with established fishing industries.
The two New York-based actors that round out the cast, Marie Anello and Michelle Zink-Munoz, had some catching up to do in learning about lobstering.
But that, Toft said, is part of what the show is all about.
“You can come to this show and not know anything about lobstering and still laugh. But if you do know this world, you’ll appreciate it even more,” Toft said.
“Trapped! A Lobster Tale” opens on Feb. 9 at the Bangor Opera House, and runs through March 5. Tickets are available at the opera house box office.