John Payonk & Jim Hesselman in Grumpy Old Men. Photo: DDP

Grumpy Old Men

Book By Dan Remmes
Music by Neil Berg
Lyrics by Nick Meglin
Based on the Screenplay by Mark Steven Johnson
Directed by Lee Buckholz

A review by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents are copyright © 2023, by Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.

Yet another movie gets the stage musical treatment, and the results are a definite mixed bag. Not sure how someone watched the movie Grumpy Old Men and thought “this would make a great musical,” but here we are.

The cast and crew at the Derby Dinner Playhouse give it their all, but this is one that was better suited in its original screen incarnation. It tells the story of two elderly feuding neighbors, John Gustafson (Jim Hesselman) and Max Goldman (John Payonk) and the people whose lives are touched by their friction. It’s a rather unpleasant story for a musical comedy.

Things come to a head with the arrival of Ariel Truax (Collette Mattingly), who both men fall head over heels for, dialing up their bickering to nuclear levels. It doesn’t help that an evil tax collector (Mandi Hutchins) is after John’s home, and of course John’s daughter and Max’s son are in love.

There are some interesting points to be made about love in the twilight years and some poignancy with the mortality that comes with it, but as a musical it doesn’t really hold together. None of the songs are memorable (with the possible exception of Hutchins’ villain number) but the cast works wonders with what they’re given. Cary Wiger is particularly fun as an accident-prone mailman.

Lee Buckholz’s direction and Heather Paige Folsom’s choreography keep things lively, and the sound design by Michael Delaney, lighting by Alexa Holloway, and set design by Ron Riall create a rich winter landscape. 

It’s not one of DDP’s better efforts, but it does have its charms and the opening night audience I attended with seemed to enjoy it.

Featuring Dick Baker, Clayton Bliss, Kyle Braun, Chris Bryant, Harli Cooper, Jim Hesselman, Mandi Hutchins, Sara King-Bliss, Collette Mattingly, Paul McElroy, Kathleen Meyer, Asa Milliner, Alton Niemeier, John Payonk, Porter Ramsey, Clay Smith, J.R. Stuart, Kiersten Vorheis, Katelyn Webb, and Cary Wiger.

Grumpy Old Men

January 4 – February 12, 2023

Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, Indiana 47129

Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 14 years. In June 2019 he launched a new company with Jeremy Guiterrez, Theatre Reprise. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.