Director's Notes

Welcome to Wabasha, Minnesota - and the U.S. premiere of GRUMPY OLD MEN: The Musical!

I vividly recall seeing the very popular 1993 film starring Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau and Ann Margaret shortly after it was released. As it happened, I was visiting my hometown of Rockford, Illinois for the holidays and it seemed like a fun holiday treat (and a chance to get out of the house) for me and Mom and Dad. We had lots of laughs – and could all relate to so many of those familiar characters – and certainly to the bracing experience of wintertime in the Midwest.

I also recall how charmed I was by the sweetness and innocence of the story, and despite the word “grumpy” in the title, I was surprised at its freshness. There’s something comforting about the ‘small town’ way of life where things can move a little more slowly – and people form communities based on heritage, family history and common interests. 

When I went back to watch the film again, knowing that I’d be working on the musical adaptation, new and different aspects resonated for me. 25 years later, now arriving in middle-age, I viewed the ‘Grumpies’ Max Goldman and John Gustafson differently, and recognized that they were grappling with more than just a decades-old feud over a high school girlfriend. The concerns of aging, loss of vitality, whether or not romance can come again later life, their retirements and questioning their relevance was actually what was driving them, and yes, making them grumpy! And I realized that this story is about loyalty, life’s many responsibilities and the blurring of the lines between who is just a friend and who becomes family. In other words…stuff that is likely a part of all of our lives. And for John and Max it’s about learning when to hold on and when to let go…

As the straight-talking Grandpa Gustafson sings: 

Life is all about living

But it’s ticking away so damn fast

Don’t live through your mem’ries

Free yourself from the cage

‘Cause tomorrow you may find your name

Across the obit page!

So whether you’re from a small town or a big city I hope you’ll see some part of yourself and your experience on the stage tonight. We’ve had a ball putting this show together for you and I’m grateful for the hilarious, smart and talented team of writers and actors we had the opportunity to work with in the process of making this new, feel-good musical.