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‘Grumpy Old Men’ Will Put A Smile On Your Face At Rock Island’s Circa ’21

I laughed a lot during the wonderfully cast “Grumpy Old Men,” running through May 6 at Rock Island’s Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse, and I would bet you will too.

Much like the movie it’s based upon, its charm is heavily dependent upon its cast. And much like the film starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon as the battlin’ oldsters duking it out over Ann Margret, Circa brings out the comedy heavy hitters with Brad Hauskins, Tom Walljasper and, particularly, Kim Vanderginst, in those three roles.

That trio is likewise surrounded by a terrific comedic ensemble (most notably the wonderful Janos Horvath as Grandpa Gustafson), and the result is a great night of comedy that’s highly recommended.

'Grumpy Old Men' Will Put A Smile On Your Face At Rock Island's Circa '21

‘Grumpy Old Men’ The Musical

Much like the film, the cast is given a script that’s pretty thin but has its share of laughs, and like the movie, the cast makes it better than it would be in lesser hands.

The show is essentially a series of light gripes and conflicts between the two geezers who have been warring for decades over a now-deceased woman who left one and married the other. The irony being that the one who “won” didn’t exactly win, and the one who “lost” ended up winning in the big picture.

'Grumpy Old Men' Will Put A Smile On Your Face At Rock Island's Circa '21

Ice fishing with the oldsters.

Those old wounds, still malingering, are poked back to life with the injection of a new woman, Ariel (Vanderginst) onto the scene, breezing into town and between the two guys. Hijinks and scuffles ensue as the duo vie for Ariel’s affections. Meanwhile, in the background, a little Romeo and Juliet subplot stumbles along between Max’s son, Jacob (Tristan Tapscott), and John’s daughter, Melanie (Savannah Bay Strandin). Tapscott and Strandin are married in real life, and there’s a definite cute chemistry there between them. They’re both charming performers in their own right, and Strandin is a heck of a singer, but their roles here are pretty thin and the subplot is fairly preposterous. That said, they make a lot more of it than is there, and it’s a lot of fun to see them interact on stage. It would be really something to see them opposite one another with richer material, but, I digress.

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Now, all of the above is exactly like the movie, which I enjoyed so much that I placed it among my top 10 films of the year when it was released. Not because the script was genius, but because the cast was just so damn fun to watch. The same goes for the musical here. It would be fun just to watch the actors on stage in pretty much anything, and they do such a great job here that I can’t help but recommend this show for a great night of light comedy. Walljasper and Hauskins are both masterful actors and they’re great to watch play off each other here. Horvath is always a delight, and he chews up the scenery in every scene as the bawdy grandpa.

But to me the real revelation in this show is Kim Vanderginst (you may know her better by her former name, Kim Kurtenbach). She’s absolutely fantastic as Ariel, giving the character far more weight and depth than is on the page with her, and really rounding her out as a magical human being. You can certainly see how she would light up the town with her personality, and Vanderginst is just spellbinding to watch. It’s a masterful actress giving her all in a role and making it far more than it might be otherwise, and her performance is worth the cost of admission alone.

'Grumpy Old Men' Will Put A Smile On Your Face At Rock Island's Circa '21

The cast reps Wabasha.

My only real beef with the show is that, like so many other modern shows adapting movies, it doesn’t need to be a musical, and honestly the musical parts just seem forced and forgettable. The only exceptions are the poignant “The Mirror Lies” and “When No One’s Around Reprise” late in act two, between Hauskins and Vanderginst, both of which have a real emotional resonance. Honestly, the rest of the score could’ve easily been lost and this could’ve just been a straight comedy, but if you like musicals, great, and otherwise, the songs aren’t completely deadly. The comedic aspects offer far more to recommend the show.

It’s really strange seeing this show right after the far, far, far different “We Will Rock You,” Circa’s last show. They’re absolute polar opposites. “Rock You” was totally ridiculous and in spots ludicrous but it was such a fantastic spectacle and the music was so majestic that it energized crowds. “Grumpy” has no flash, but the substance of the acting talent on stage and the humor, and yes, at times, emotion, they evoke is much more substantive.

“Grumpy” also displays that there’s a great, deep well of talent here in the Quad-Cities, and I’d love to see these same folks together again on the Circa stage soon. But for now, go get “Grumpy,” and go get happy.

Call (309) 786-7733, ext. 2, for tickets and showtimes, or go to the circa website.

'Grumpy Old Men' Will Put A Smile On Your Face At Rock Island's Circa '21

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Sean Leary Director of Digital Media

Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since debuting at age 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. An honors graduate of the University of Southern California masters program, he has written over 50 books including the best-sellers The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone and We Are All Characters.

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