Just before everything closed 18 months ago, KTK Productions, South City’s community theatre, brought us a lively staging of Return to the Forbidden Planet.
Now everything is opening up, including KTK Productions with Grumpy Old Men: The Musical. Like Return to the Forbidden Planet, Grumpy Old Men was first a movie. After enduring too many musicals made from movies, Gerry and I agree that not every movie should be turned into a musical.
Grumpy Old Men appears to be one of them.
This show is very difficult for a group like KTK to stage. Book writer Dan Remmes has preserved too many of the movie’s brief scenes. KTK presents these scenes as fully as possible. That means changing the props and scenery for each of them. No scene designer is credited in the program, but whoever it was came up with some clever folding screens and other devices to try to keep things moving, painted by Betsy Ward. But the stage – a large one in the gym at St. John the Baptist Church’s school – does not have all the equipment that helps Broadway theatres and many others make swift changes. It can’t even fly in an in-one drop for one scene to play in front of while crews change sets behind it. So the actors struggle to pick up the momentum again when they finally get the stage back.
Director Jo Bennett and her cast did achieve some very enjoyable moments. As the two grumpy old men, Joe Simpson as John Gustafson and Kirk Allan Jackson as Max Goldman, once buddies on the Wabasha, Minnesota, high school football team, now grudge-bearing neighbors, take pleasure in insulting each other. They sing well too, Neil Berg’s pleasant and serviceable score and the late Mad Magazine editor Nick Meglin’s lyrics. Four vocal coaches – Terrell Thompson, Joe Simpson, Ray Martin, and Jill Holtzmann – did their jobs, with Holtzmann also the Music Coordinator (the show uses a recorded orchestral accompaniment) and the choreographer of the dances whose challenges the cast met with some grace.
Betty Oestreicher has the looks and the style for Ariel Truax, a newcomer of a certain age who moves in across the street from the grumpy old men and adds another layer to their rivalry. As John’s daughter Melanie and Max’s son Jacob, Ashwini Arora and Aaron Kamphoefner make attractive young people and, eventually, a charming couple. Terrell Thompson’s Chuck Barrels runs the local bait shop, kind of a community gathering place which also sells beer, and Jill Browning’s Punky Olander assists him with her own hospitable ways. Ray Martin gives some amusing quirks to Harry the Mailman. Leslie Cohen bears a striking resemblance to the older Buster Keaton as John’s ever-optimistic, 91-year old Grandpa Gustafson. Jackie Smith plays a fierce IRS agent, determined to seize John’s missing tax returns. And nine more assured performers complete the population of Wabasha and the chorus of KTK’s Grumpy Old Men: The Musical.
Costumer Maureen Albers added some amusing Minnesota touches to the cast’s outfits. Joe Moore and Russell Sides controlled the sound, including the orchestra, aided by technician Jacob Groeshe. Chris O’Donovan and Joe Busiek kept the show well lighted.
This was a tough challenge for KTK Productions, but it added some promising new talent to the group.