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Center Stage: ‘Grumpy Old Men’ is a giggling good time at the Broadway Palm

By Staff | Jan 14, 2020

Marsha Wagner

Since the first production at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre in Fort Myers for 2020 is “Grumpy Old Men: The Musical,” I feel I must warn you to fasten your seat belts folks, it’s going to be a grumpy ride – filled with giggles. Also, I suspect you probably think that this musical is based on the film of the same name featuring Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau and Ann Margaret. You know what – you are right! Like the movie, this musical version is set in Wabasha, Minnesota; the time is the present, during the late fall, where the town’s folk are preparing for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

Wabasha is the kind of town where everybody knows everybody and all their business. In the opening musical number “Wabasha,” the composer (Neil Berg) and the lyricist (Nicky Meglin) introduce us to the Minnesota folks. These are hardy people, best known for their “can do” attitude and their never too cold to go ice fishing, way of life. These earthy, tell it like it is kind of individuals are probably not unlike the Minnesotans we’ve met around here; now retired in Southwest Florida and known as “snowbirds.”

But, I digress, let’s get on with the story, which centers around two old (well actually middle-aged guys) John Gustafson (snappily played by Luther Chakurian) and his crabby neighbor Max Goldman (the testily talented Rob Summers.) These two old coots are next-door neighbors who have held a 50-year-old grudge that began as a competition for a girl’s affection and wound up as a spiteful feud. Adding fuel to the battle is female newcomer to Wabasha, who sashays in, a beautiful, relatively young widow named Ariel Truax (played to the hilt by Miranda Jane.)

Ariel, we find out, has been gone from Wabasha for a lot of years. And to boot, she’s become a smart cookie who knows all about art, literature, culture and living life large. This sophisticated, red haired beauty catches the eye of all the male townsfolk, especially our two rival neighbors, who vie for her intentions. Goading them both on is a 94-year-old Grandpa Gustafson (performed with amazing vigor by Bob Marcus). Also in this merry mix-up leaps take-no-nonsense IRS agent Sandra Snyder (awesomely talented Maureen O’Hara making her Broadway Palm debut).

Berg and Meglin have written some neat songs, but they are not the kind of tunes you’ll be humming on the way home. What these two capable composers have written is songs that serve the story, as well as providing lots of tunes that get your toes tapping as well as writing music to enjoy. The book by Dan Remmes provides enough laughs to keep us giggling all the way to a happy ending. What I liked best about the musical was the theme of “no matter what, be yourself,” even if that means some folks perceive you as a grouch.

Thanks to the tight and comic direction of Paul Bernier and the fast-paced choreography of the ever-talented Amy Marie MaCleary, the performances of the entire cast are – in one word – fabulous. So, if you are up for a sweet story of grumpy (relatively old) men and the folks who love them, then this musical version of “Grumpy Old Men” is the ticket for you. The time is now to phone the box office at 239-278-4422 since this show closes on Feb. 8 (and I hear reservations are going fast for this grumpy/funny roller coaster ride). Remind ’em when you phone that Marsha sent you.