BWW Review: GRUMPY OLD MEN THE MUSICAL Is a Fun Night Out
Grumpy Old Men The Musical/book by Dan Remmes/music by Neil Berg/lyrics by Nick Meglin/adapted from the Warner Bros motion picture written by Mark Steven Johnson/directed by Matt Lenz/choreographed by Michele Lynch/musical direction by Benet Braun/La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts/through October 13
The place: Wabasha, Minnesota. The time: the present, during winter months. Grumpy Old Men The Musical follows many old-fashioned musical storylines like The Fantasticks, White Christmas and others that deal with a community of family and friends who live in a small town ... where everyone knows everyone else's business. Now in its West Coast premiere at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, Grumpy Old Men is a fun night out, with a splendid cast headed by special guest star Hal Linden and featuring audience favorite Cathy Rigby.
Ice fishing is the game of sport in Wabasha and Chuck Barrels (Ken Page) owns a bait shop. Punky (Rigby), Chuck's cousin comes into town, totally green to the town's ways but with enough spunk and heart to learn fast how to manipulate those around her.
Another arrival is Ariel (Leslie Stevens), gone from Wabasha for many years. The intelligent red haired beauty catches the eye of all the male townsfolk especially rival neighbors John Gustafson (Mark Jacoby) and Max Goldman (Gregory North), who vie for her attentions. Goading them on is 94 year old Grandpa Gustafson (Linden) who never lets age stand in the way of satisfying his sexual urges...which are aplenty. John is about to lose his house to the IRS, but keeps the hardship a secret even from his daughter Melanie (Ashley Moniz). Max's son Jacob (Craig McEldowney) is in love with Melanie - and she with him - but she has recently separated from her husband and is unsure of another romantic relationship. It's classic family stuff that will either plummet or find a happy ending for one and all.
Neil Berg and Nick Meglin have written some very pretty songs that you may not leave the theatre humming but serve the story and are pleasant to listen to within the context of the play. Especially riveting are "I Like the Way Things Are", "Life Is All About Livin'" Grandpa's song which reminded me of Grandma's song from Pippin, "An Angel" and "Family or Friend". Growing older, finding the one you love to settle down with, keeping friendships and enjoying life are themes of the show repetitiously explored in these songs. Dan Remmes' book keeps the humor at a high level and pushes a happy ending at every turn. There's a fine insistence on being yourself. Differences like those of Punky should be appreciated.
Under Matt Lenz's cool direction and Michele Lynch's fast paced choreography, the performances from the cast are wonderful. Linden has some riotous one liners that he delivers with panache; Rigby as always is pure delight making her little country bumpkin adorable, fanciful and caring. Both Jacoby and North squabble and kvetch right into our hearts and Moniz and McEldowney make a sweet and memorable couple of the boy and girl next door variety. Page is an inspiration as Chuck. He is a triple threat and why he has never become s superstar is beyond me. Stevens is not only beautiful but a powerhouse performer. Whether moving or just standing still she is engaging throughout. April Nixon steals her scenes as the relentlessly super tough IRS agent, telling it like it is with "Snyder Comes Along". Kudos as well to the eight member ensemble, all triple threat performers.
Despite the positive flow of the show, put it on Broadway and it may close overnight. Broadway is difficult to conquer nowadays. Musicals like Grumpy Old Men make us happy and fulfilled, but New York audiences may find it too tame without big scale technology and rap hammering music. That's the way it is. Maybe there's a place in a more intimate off Broadway space?
But, don't let this stop you from taking the trek to La Mirada, where you will most definitely have a good time.
(photo credit: Jason Niedle)