Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Grumpy Old Men is based on the 1993 movie. This stage version has never played Broadway, but has started to be produced around the country at smaller venues. It tells of two long-in-the-tooth widowers, John and Max, who live next door to each other. They were once childhood friends but have been feuding for over fifty years. When a gorgeous single woman named Ariel moves in across the street, they both are interested, which only fans the flames of their endless bickering.
The book for the musical is by Dan Remmes, and it is generally faithful to the original screenplay by Mark Steven Johnson. There are many very funny lines, especially the insults the two neighbors fling at each other and the not-so-subtle sexual innuendos that John's 90-something father throws around. While certain elements of the plot are intentionally cheesy and predictable, there is sufficient humor and heart. The show is long, though–nearly three hours including intermission, and it would be wise to leave the children at home for this one.
The score by Neil Berg (music) and Nick Meglin (lyrics) features a number of standout songs but is otherwise only serviceable. "Wabasha," the jaunty opening song, introduces the residents of the small Minnesota town known for being cold. "Way to Go" features many funny lyrics about preferred ways of dying, sung by the four oldest male characters. "I Like the Way Things Are" provides some insights chronicling the generational differences between these cranky old men and their grown-up children. Act 2 features several pleasant ballads as well, but this is a show where the story and dialogue overshadow the songs.
Chris Beiser serves as director and choreographer for this production. The dances are fun and appropriate. There are several very funny sight gags which he stages effectively, and Beiser supplies a proper balance of hilarity and pathos in the tone and presentation of the material. It does feel like the cast may need a few more performances to be perfectly in sync, but that will surely come along soon.
La Comedia has done well in casting the musical with age-appropriate performers. Dan Embree is an impressive singer and shows off solid acting chops as John. David Shough provides sufficient vocals and displays great comic timing as Max. As Grandpa Gustafson, longtime La Comedia regular Charlie Goetz garners many laughs throughout. Karie-Lee Sutherland is another frequent performer at this venue, and she is excellent in every respect as Ariel. In supporting roles, Julie McNamara (Melanie), Mitch Holland (Jacob), Meghan Slowik (Punky), Dana Embree (Sandra Snyder), and John Dorney (Chuck) all impress, and the remaining cast members also do well.
The set design by Dave Gabert is large and detailed, with the ice fishing shacks, bait shop, and three houses skillfully rendered. However, the pieces are so big that they hamper the scene transitions a few times, adding to the overall running time. The lighting by Edward Huber is apt, and the costumes by Emercita Erb and Mattison Williams are appealing and setting appropriate.
Grumpy Old Men may not be a direct-from-Broadway offering, but it is fun and should be appealing to audiences of La Comedia Dinner Theatre. The cast features talented performers, and the show is professionally presented. This is a welcome new offering for this theater, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see this show in the line-up again several years from now.
Grumpy Old Men runs through October 29, 2023, at La Comedia Dinner Theater, 765 W Central Ave, Springboro OH. For tickets and information, please call 937-746-4554 or visit lacomedia.com.