When I first saw the show title, “Grumpy Old Men: The Musical,” I wasn’t particularly drawn to reviewing it because it sounded like it would be just another ageist, stereotypical comedy with lame and corny jokes about men in their senior years. But then a Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre press release I received piqued my interest, so I decided to take in the show with an open mind. Happily, I saw the production, making its Midwest premiere, Tuesday and was glad I did, not only because it was more than I expected, but I also found it charming, well-written, and certainly entertaining. Plus, the jokes and one-liners were very often hilarious, and the predictable, yet surprising plot kept my attention.
Smartly directed by Curt Wollen, the show stars Beef & Boards seasoned character actors Eddie Curry (John Gustafson) and Jeff Stockberger (Max Goldman), as well as Sarah Hund (Ariel Truax), Jacob Butler (Jacob Goldman), Logan Hill (Melanie Norton), Devan Mathias (Sara Snyder), Douglas E. Stark (Grandpa Gustafson), Ty Stover (Chuck Barrels), and Karen Pappas (Punky Barrels), many of whom are my favorite performers.
Based on the 1993 film starring Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, and Ann-Margret, the stage adaptation, with book by Dan Remmes, music by Neil Berg, and lyrics by Nick Meglin, follows the antics of Max and John, aging neighbors who have been feuding for most of their lives. Energized by their mutual affection for Ariel, their new neighbor across the street, who is beautiful, free-spirited, and a charming widow, the two curmudgeons compete as romantic rivals until their comical schemes eventually resolve their long-standing quarrel.
There were so many fine performances from this ensemble of actors, but those that stood out included Stover, Hund, Hill, Pappas, and Mathias. Overall, however, the entire diverse and inclusive ensemble, including the chorus, were all convincing as homespun, decent residents of their beloved Wabasha, Minnesota.
The bouncy score, though appealing, was hardly memorable, but it effectively moved the story along. Always reliable, the Beef & Boards band, led by music director Terry Woods, excelled as usual at interpreting Berg’s music. Commendable as well was Sally Scharbrough’s choreography, which nicely complimented the show’s mostly upbeat score.
First rate as well was the show’s production values. Responsible for the sentimental look and feel of the show’s world of Washaba were scenic designer extraordinaire Michael Layton (retiring after a 40-year career, which included 330 Beef & Boards productions), lighting designer Ryan Koharchik, sound designer Daniel Hesselbrock, and projection designer Joey Boos.
“Grumpy Old Men” is heartfelt, often touching, and surprisingly, even raunchy. At times the formulaic story is sentimental but enjoyable — especially for those, like me, at the age of 75, who are living out their so-called “Golden Years.” In fact, the table of eight seniors sitting next to me agreed that much of it felt very close to home. Still, others present who represented several generations, seemed equally entertained. Consequently, I highly recommend the show as a perfect family activity that’s guaranteed to please.
For tickets and information about “Grumpy Old Men: The Musical,” which runs through Oct. 1, visit beefandboards.com.