Casting has been announced for the Ogunquit Playhouse’s U.S. premiere of Grumpy Old Men the Musical, which will play the Maine venue August 8–September 1.
Based on the hit film that starred Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, and Ann-Margret, the new musical was penned by Dan Remmes, with music by Neil Berg and lyrics by Nick Meglin.
Matt Lenz directs a cast that features Ed Dixon as Max, Mark Jacoby as John, Tony winner Hal Linden as Grandpa Gustafson, Sally Struthers as Punky, Leslie Stevens as Ariel, Brenda Braxton as Sandra, Doug Eskew as Chuck Barrels, Kevin Massey as Jacob Goldman, and Laura Woyasz as Melanie Norton.
The ensemble includes John Battagliese, Blake Hammond, Eric Jon Mahlum, Kelly Methven, James Taylor Odom, Heather Jane Rolff, Brooke Singer, and Christina Tompkins.
In Grumpy Old Men, two aging neighbors, Max (Dixon) and John (Jacoby), have been feuding for more than 50 years until the beautiful and charming Ariel (Stevens) moves in across the street—raising the rivalry to new heights.
“We are thrilled and proud to produce the U.S. premiere of this hilarious new show. We are most excited to share Neil Berg’s fantastic musical score that is in an upbeat Broadway style. And, the work of Dan Remmes and the late Nick Meglin is a very adult and hysterical production that is perfect for our audiences. Because of the themes of family, romance and hilarity, all wrapped up in a fun uplifting musical, we hope we have created something new that will have a long life in the U.S. and beyond,” said Executive Artistic Director Bradford Kenney.
When writing about love in his 1945 screenplay for “Brief Encounter,” Noel Coward used words such as “violence” and “danger.” We tend to romanticize romance, but as Coward demonstrated in his tale of two already-married strangers who innocently tumble into a relationship, love can disrupt even the most seemingly ordered, picture-perfect lives and threaten to undo all happiness.
The movie, directed by an early-career David Lean, is regularly cited by filmmakers and included in lists of all-time greats. It is also the inspiration for “Arrival & Departure,” a new drama being presented by the Fountain Theatre in East Hollywood.
Although similar to the movie in theme and construct, “Arrival & Departure” is invigoratingly original and of-the-moment. It is also boundlessly enriched by being performed in both spoken English and American Sign Language.
Playwright-director Stephen Sachs, who is hearing, is co-artistic director at the Fountain, where he helped launch L.A.’s Deaf West Theatre in the early ’90s. Several of his previous plays address the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, including 1997’s “Sweet Nothing in My Ear,” later made into a CBS movie.
He wrote “Arrival & Departure” for husband-and-wife actors Troy Kotsur and Deanne Bray, who perform regularly with Deaf West and on television. Kotsur performs in ASL, of which he is a master, his face as powerfully expressive as his hands. Using a hearing aid, Bray speaks as well as signs, delivering a breathtaking, heart-tugging performance. The other six members of the cast are hearing.
Ensuring that no one in the audience misses a word, the piece inventively twines open captioning with signs and spoken words.
Sachs re-imagines the English suburban railway commuters of Coward’s tale as present-day Tri-Staters who meet by chance at a Manhattan subway-concourse doughnut shop. Emily (Bray) is hard-of-hearing; Sam (Kotsur) is fully Deaf.
As they get to know each other, Emily confides that she’s not hard-of-hearing enough to feel part of the deaf community but doesn’t hear well enough to be fully embraced by the hearing world. In intercut scenes that reveal other aspects of her life, we see that neither her hearing husband (Brian Robert Burns) nor daughter (Aurelia Myers) have bothered to learn sign language. With Sam, she feels better understood. Plus, he’s a lot of fun — enthusiastic and opinionated. Although Emily is more watchful, reserved and by-the-book than Sam, she begins to respond to his playful way of insinuating himself into her weekly visits to the city.
With 28 years of producing, directing, and writing under his artistic belt, resulting in over 225 awards for the works presented at the Fountain Theatre, co-founded with Deborah Culver in 1990, it comes as no surprise that Stephen Sachs has once again created a compelling, visually stunning play. I say visually stunning as “Arrival & Departure” is inspired by Sir Noël Coward’s “Brief Encounter” and is a multi-media production that incorporates both film and live action, with the cast comprised of hearing and Deaf actors.
Performed on a highly creative set designed by Matthew G. Hill, who maximizes the limited space by creating a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee shop nestled in a New York City subway station, which easily morphs into the living room, bedroom or kitchen of Emily (Deanne Bray) and her husband Doug (Brian Robert Burns). How, might you ask, could this be accomplished without moving set pieces around? Well, here’s where the influence of the iconic film comes into play (no pun intended). Superbly envisioned by director Sachs, Nicholas E. Santiago’s video design masterfully creates the different settings – including train stations, speeding trains, and crowds of people frenetically rushing about the city streets, which Sachs emulates on stage with rapid, rushed movement patterns executed by the cast. I think you get the idea. You are watching a film representing the different settings which then segues into live action utilizing both oral and American Sign Language, (ASL) including open captioning to accommodate both Deaf and hearing audiences.
The story begins at home of Emily and Doug and their daughter Jule, (adorable Aurelia Myers) who is in the throes of 13-year-old angst. Her mom is surprised at her unhappiness with Jule’s friend, (Claire Elizabeth Beale). “I thought you were best friends?” “I don’t even like her.” This young lady has become smitten with a boy she met on the online Crush Zone and is desperately trying to convince her parents that she should be allowed to meet him. As if being desperate to date wasn’t enough, the poor kid has an experience that plunges her deeper into the decision that no one will ever love her.
Emily, who is hard of hearing, has learned ASL. She wants to be a good wife and is trying to please her religious husband by agreeing to being baptized and devoting her life to Jesus Christ. Her “voice,” when she signs, is effectively spoken by Stasha Surdyke, who captures the nuances of Emily’s conflicted character. She is unhappy that her husband never learned ASL so that she can more comfortably communicate with him. Beneath the devoted wife/mother exterior, we sense a growing anxiety and Bray’s performance is truly riveting as she captures the conflicted multi-layers of her character.
The initial encounter begins at the 59TH Street subway station when a speck flies into Emily’s eye. She needs a napkin and goes into Dunkin’ Donuts, run by Mya, a tough food service worker who does not brook fools easily. Jessica Jade Andres gives a wonderful performance as this no-nonsense New Yorker who is being wooed by transit cop Russell, an endearing character playfully brought to life by Shon Fuller. It is here that Emily meets Sam, magically played by Troy Kotsur, Bray’s real-life Deaf husband. Sam’s signed dialogue is voiced through Adam Burch, who also captures the deep emotions of his non-speaking counterpart.
Sam, a filmmaker who teaches Deaf students the art of filmmaking, is gallant and removes the speck from this pretty young woman’s eye, thus inaugurating a slowly evolving warm, loving but sub rosa relationship. They begin to meet on Thursdays at Central Park, the setting crisply brought to life by the authentic video of the park being flashed in the background. He too, is married and has two sons but the attraction is too powerful for them to stop seeing each other. In one particularly endearing moment, Sam, with a delightfully active inner child, convinces Emily to remove her shoes and take a dip in the lake, which is so realistically presented that as an audience member you would love to join them. How does this liaison end? Will Emily’s family issues be resolved? Will the terribly insecure daughter develop any confidence? Will Emily’s husband learn ASL? What happens to Sam and his family? I’m not saying another word.
Once again, Sachs has scored a hit with this superb production which will make you laugh, and might even bring a little tear to your eye as you get a peek into the lives of ordinary people and how a chance encounter impacts on their families. It might even remind you of have a chance encounter of your own. The well-crafted script also illuminates the frustration of being stuck between the hearing and the hard-of- hearing worlds. In the end, this is an aching love story woven through the prism of the every day familial demands of two strangers who, through an unexpected turn of fate, fall in love.
When it comes to musical theatre these days, so many shows look and sound like other things. It’s so rare when something comes along that shakes up the norm, filling a gap that many may not have even known needed filling. That’s exactly what Interstate does.
Interstate, with book and lyrics by Melissa Li and Kit Yan, is a self-proclaimed “Queer Asian Musical,” two communities that are still grossly underrepresented in all forms of media, but combined into one community makes something unprecedented on any mainstream stage.
Li and Yan wrote the musical based on their own story. Li is a lesbian singer-songwriter, and Yan a transgender spoken-word artist. Together they formed the band Good Asian Driver. This is nearly identical to the fictional band in the musical, Queer Malady, featuring lesbian singer-songwriter Adrian, and transgender spoken-word artist Dash. The musical follows the band on their first tour of the U.S., facing obstacles that challenge their loyalty, their friendship, and their feelings for each other.
For every contemporary-spirited Hamilton, Broadway stages numerous revivals of musicals from half-centuries ago, few of which have books, lyrics, or music by women or people of color. Even those productions with relatively diverse casting are unlikely to involve queer or trans characters. Meanwhile, Broadway’s tendency to latch onto franchise properties that audiences have experienced countless times over — whether in books or GIFs or movie theaters — further encourages patterns of sameness in representation. All of which makes especially pivotal the mission of the New York Musical Festival, which originated in 2004 with an aim to “introduce new shows, new perspectives, and new blood into the musical theater canon.” Over the course of the festival’s existence, a number of its selections — including Chaplin and In Transit — have made the vaunted and against-the-odds leap to Broadway.
This year’s NYMF, the fifteenth, opened earlier this week with Interstate, a creation of such vibrantly staged energy that this short festival run may very well be just the beginning. The book and lyrics are the work of Melissa Li, a cis, lesbian singer-songwriter, and Kit Yan, a queer, trans spoken-word performer. Ten years ago, the pair started a band, Good Asian Drivers, that toured around the U.S.; they later decided to adapt their on-the-road experiences to the form of a musical. (Li also did the music for Interstate; the direction is by Jessi D. Hill.) The show stars Angel Lin as Adrian, the character based on Li, and Jon Viktor Corpuz as Dash, the character based on Yan. It also incorporates a fictional thread involving the coming out of Henry (Sushma Saha) — a small-town Kentucky high schooler from a South Asian family — as trans. Henry maintains a YouTube channel to which he confides all the thoughts he cannot share at home or in school. Like many trans teens, Henry first finds a supportive community online, including on the Myspace page (the action takes place in 2008) of Dash and Adrian’s band, Queer Malady.
Saha, who was discovered via the theater program at Ithaca College, does a fast-paced, flawless rendition of Henry’s energetic first song, “I Don’t Look” — the catchiest in the show — about the high schooler’s crush on a classmate who “doesn’t know either of my names.” They also make poignant Henry’s spoken, daily updates posted to YouTube. Lin as Adrian conveys an air of hilarious frustration, whether the character is being interrupted by Dash during a radio interview or encountering straight racists in a bar. Adrian’s mouth at times becomes akin to the wavy lines of Charlie Brown’s expression whenever he sighs, “Good grief.” Corpuz (who was in the recent revival of The King and I at Lincoln Center) is equally at home with Dash’s big solo number (“Loser Dumplings”) as with the loose, playful dialogue. In one scene, when it comes time for the band to move its equipment, Dash counters Adrian’s “You’re the man” with “You’re the lesbian.” Even the smaller narrative strands are written and performed with exceptional nuance. Esco Jouléy as Carly — the would-be record-label impresario Adrian picks up on the road — scores laughs simply in the way ze eats from a bag of Doritos. The familial arcs also hit close to home: Dash’s first-generation immigrant father (Kiet Tai Cao) accepts his only son in a manner not untainted by traditional Asian patriarchal values. And Adrian’s corporate, go-getter mother (Michelle Noh), coolly dismissing her daughter’s artistic career (and queerness), will be painfully familiar to anyone who has been a disappointment to a parent.
The music throughout is live keys, guitar, bass, and drums, and the numbers alternate between songs Dash and Adrian perform on the road to thoughts and feelings they — and Henry — confess to the audience. Much of the show is sung: In a different era, and with different music, it would be called “operetta,” but Interstate bills itself as a “pop-rock poetry musical.” The production’s commitment to casting trans or nonbinary actors in trans roles, and its portrayal of a young trans man encountering resistance from his parents, is clearly (and depressingly) timely. As always, work from actual trans artists injects much-needed reality and authenticity onstage. Handsome Dash easily passes as a cis man, but in a bar, racist homophobes call him “faggot.” When Henry’s mother throws out his binder, he uses duct tape to flatten his chest, constricting his breathing. But even though the course isn’t always smooth, Dash and Adrian eventually find solace in their friendship and their art, just as Henry locates support in the greater community. The news has been so bad these past few weeks (well, these past few years), especially for queer and trans people and people of color; this show — and, crucially, more like it in the future — can perhaps be what we turn to for our own solace.