Eric Jon Mahlum, Blake Hammond, Tony and Emmy winner Hal Linden, Mark Jacoby, and Doug Eskew bust in song while performing in “Grumpy Old Men: The Musical,” now playing at the Ogunquit Playhouse and running through Sept. 1. COURTESY PHOTO/Gary Ng

Attention grumpy Mainers (including those from away): Heat got you down? Neighbors acting out? Family’s aggravating you? Holding a grudge from high school years? Lonely at love? Feeling the need to move? Ogunquit Playhouse has the antidote for all of the above with the U.S. premiere of their new show, “Grumpy Old Men: The Musical.”

Welcome to Wabasha, Minnesota, where a bevy of homespun characters dole out a feast of relentless zingers, guffaws and inescapable insult comedy in a cracker-barrel book by Dan Remmes about two “Grumpies” — Max Goldman and John Gustafson — whose decades-long feud over a girl has finally come to an explosive emotional peak. The story is based on the popular 1993 film starring Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau and Ann Margaret.

Award winning composer Neil Berg and critically-acclaimed lyricist Nick Meglin are responsible for the music and lyrics. The music is a generic contemporary Broadway pop style, with licks and hooks reminiscent of many popular shows. The lyrics are tailored to the storyline, almost spoofish — but what would you expect with lyrics crafted by a man who spent most of his career as editor of MAD Magazine?

The musical numbers are creatively coiffed to fit the template of the fast-moving production, i.e. short and shticky, appealing songs — sometimes touching, sometimes raucous, all times enticing — that add a layer of fun and laughter to the mix while not detracting one iota from the spirit of the artistic comedy on display.

Director Matt Lenz is the good shepherd of a strong, relatively small cast (as musicals go). Lenz successfully spotlights the charm and comfort of small town living while also examining some powerful emotional underlying issues that can cause grumpiness — “the concerns of aging, loss of vitality, whether or not romance can come again later in life, retirements, questions of relevance, life’s many responsibilities and who becomes a friend and who becomes family.”

Ed Dixon (Max) and Mark Jacoby (John) are the grumpy old men, a subtly different portrayal than the Lemmon-Matthau brand, but equally good. Behind their cranky facades, Dixon and Jacoby ooze a love for the stage, an appreciation of their roles and a sense of pride that are heartfelt from the audience.

Raising the rivalry is Ariel, a beautiful and intriguing woman who is new to the neighborhood, but who turns out not to be an outsider after all. Leslie Stevens is perfectly cast as Ariel. Kevin Massey as Jacob Goldman and Laura Woyasz as Melanie Norton, John’s recently-separated daughter, bring some nice moments of romance, song and playful mischief to life. Doug Eskew does a fine job as Chuck Barrels, owner of the local bait shop, and Tony Award nominee Brenda Braxton knocks it out of the park as IRS antagonist Sandra Sydney.

But it’s hard to hide the luminaries who shine so bright and bring their amazing legendary talent to the Ogunquit stage. Hal Linden (TV’s “Barney Miller”) joins the cast as Grandpa Gustafson and Sally Struthers (TV’s “All In The Family” and a longtime Ogunquit audience favorite) is featured as Punky Olander, niece of Chuck Barrels. Linden and Struthers are consummate pros who innately render brutally hysterical, outrageously funny bits.

The cast also includes John Battagliese, Blake Hammond, Eric Jon Mahlum, Kelly Methven, James Taylor Odom, Heather Jane Rolff, Brooke Singer and Christina Tompkins.

The hard-working, ever-present ensemble plays a myriad of colorful Wabasha townsfolk and seamlessly threads every set change with synchronized dance moves. Kelly Methven, dance captain from Atlanta via the University of Oklahoma’s Wietzenhoffer School for Musical Theater, gets the MVP Award for leading the fun. Methven makes his mark as a focused team player with a youthful restrained energy that screams “Anyone wanna see me break out of this tableau and bust some athletic moves?”

The production numbers are crisp and excellent and the collective vocals are superior, courtesy of Music Director Phil Reno and Choreographer Michele Lynch.

The eight-piece pit includes Reno, Jeffrey Campos, Jason May, Brent Beech, Ben Griffin, Christian Marrero, Steve Giunta and Brian Thacker.

Sadly, there was an empty seat in the house on Opening Night, in tribute to lyricist Nick Meglin who passed away two weeks prior.

“Grumpy Old Men: The Musical” runs through Sept. 1. The theater is located at 10 Main St. (U.S. Route 1), Ogunquit. For more information, call 646-5511 or visit OgunquitPlayhouse.org.

— Louis Philippe is a freelance reviewer for the Journal Tribune.

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