A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER was the most-nominated show of the season, with 10 nominations and the winningest new show, taking home 4 Tonys (BEST MUSICAL, BOOK, DIRECTION, COSTUMES). It also earned seven Drama Desk Awards (including BEST MUSICAL), four Outer Critics Circle Awards (including BEST MUSICAL), and one Drama League Award (BEST MUSICAL).
“GENTLEMAN’S GUIDEis a show that the entire MTI team fell in love with, one by one,” stated Drew Cohen, President of MTI. “Starting with the production in Hartford over a year ago, we began to realize how special this show is, and we are proud to join the GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE family. Creating a musical farce that grabs audiences from the start and takes them on a hilarious, non-stop ride is not easy. GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE does this effortlessly and does so with a heart. Saying that a show about a series of murders ‘has a heart’ may seem paradoxical, but GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE defies convention in many ways, including by being a ‘sophisticated farce.’ The bottom line is that audiences love the show and performers will love being in the show. That is what excites us most about Robert and Steven’s masterpiece.”
A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER(book by Robert L. Freedman; music Steven Lutvak; Lyrics by Freedman and Lutvak)tells the uproarious story of Monty Navarro, a distant heir to a family fortune who sets out to speed up the line of succession using a great deal of charm… and more than a dash of murder.
Tony winner Jefferson Mays (I Am My Own Wife, Gore Vidal’s The Best Man) gives “The Year’s Greatest Musical-Theater Performance” (The New York Times), playing all eight doomed heirs who meet their ends in the most creative and side-splitting ways. Mays stars alongside Bryce Pinkham (Ghost, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) as Broadway’s homicidal hunk, Monty Navarro.
A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDERpremiered at the Hartford Stage, Hartford, Connecticut, running in October through November 2012. It then opened at the Old Globe Theatre, San Diego, California in March 2013. It opened on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theatre on November 17, 2013 after previews from October 22, 2013, with direction by Darko Tresnjak and choreography by Peggy Hickey.
Does the musical that toasted “To Life!” have any life left?
Oh, yes. Almost 50 years to the day that FIDDLER ON THE ROOF began rehearsals at the Lyceum Theatre in New York, Edina (Minnesota) High School proved that through the production it brought to Lincoln, Nebraska during the Thespian Festival.
The tears shed from both young and old audience members showed that the Stein-Bock-Harnick masterpiece still packs an emotional wallop. Even those who at intermission were saying that they’d seen it multiple times during its five-decade existence continued to be moved.
Better still, those experiencing the 1964-65 Tony-winning Best Musical for the first time seemed to be emotionally touched in the same the way their forebears had been. So while FIDDLER wasn’t as au courant as the four other mainstage musicals that other high schools brought here — the average age of those was fewer than nine years old – the applause for each FIDDLER number and scene-blackout was no less powerful than those much younger musicals had received.
Right from the start, director Tony Matthes seemed to take the advice of a more recent Tony-winning smash: THE PRODUCERS’ opinion that “When you’ve got it, flaunt it.” Ally Nelson, The Fiddler who started the show, was a genuine violinist to whom Matthes gave a few more minutes of opportunity to show his ability. The audience was applauding before Tevye even took the stage.
They’d applaud Nelson at the end, too, thanks to a nice little bit that Matthes included. Tevye is the last to leave town, and usually he gestures that The Fiddler should follow him out. Here, The Fiddler helped Tevye by pushing his wagon. The suggestion was that Tevye would bring Russian-Jewish artistry to America.
Alas, teenagers – and those who direct them – have a tendency towards indication. In “If I Were a Rich Man,” Zach Farhat tapped the bottom of his chin three times when telling of Golde’s “double-chin.” Then he tapped his head and pointed out his brain on the last three syllables of “When you’re rich, they think you really know.”
On the other hand (and in FIDDLER, there’s almost always another hand), one moment of indication seemed acceptable, even inspired. When Farhat sang ”I’d fill my yard with chicks and turkeys and geese and ducks,” he acted as if he were dispensing bread crumbs from his apron.
Farhat may well be the reason why Matthes decided to do FIDDLER in the first place; the lad is a natural-born Tevye. He stood up to Russian authority without crossing a line that would get him in trouble. But when he arrived home, he was indeed “master of the house who had the final word” — well, except when he had to deal with his wife Golde. Farhat was especially good when the meek Motel approached him to ask to marry his daughter and couldn’t find the words. This Tevye was a lion who roared with impatience.
By the way, here the men and boys in the audience came out with some hearty masculine laughter. They remembered when they went through this with the fathers of the girls they once wanted to date. See? FIDDLER is still relevant.
Motel is the character who grows the most in FIDDLER – from scared rabbit to successful self-employed businessman. Max Kile let us see the steady growth and had the transition come at the right time: when he donned his formal black top hat before his wedding. He had the look on his face that every Motel must have – one that says, “Today, I am a man.”
Matthes had quite a strong cast. Ben Weiman correctly had his Constable feel guilty at dispossessing the Jews, which was why he didn’t retaliate when Tevye snarled “Get off my land!” Julia Brooks managed to make Yente see herself as a career woman. And more I cannot wish you than to have a voice and presence as glorious as Tori Adams’ for your Hodel. This girl is a young Rebecca Luker, which is about as good a compliment as any musical theatre actress can get.
Rachel Winton did superbly when young Chava comes into the village to buy some necessities and is derided for being Jewish by Gentiles townies. The stage direction says that they “mock with a slight mispronunciation,” but Matthes had his actor make the mispronunciation quite pronounced: “Mazeltov, Kkkkkkkava,” which was his way of implying that the way Jews pronounced “ch” was stupidly overdone.
Fyedka is also a Gentile, but he not only rescued Chava from this persecution, but also endeavored to get to know her better. He was aware that the way to this woman’s heart was through her love of books, and so he offered her one. This lead to a small but important exchange of dialogue: after Motel came in and saw Fyedka — who decided he’d better leave fast — Motel noticed “You forgot your book,” Chava immediately said, “No, it’s mine.” This was Chava’s first rebellion against tradition, but she would soon have others. Rachel Winton was skillful in showing both the guilt of lying, the need to read and the desire to know more about this stranger.
When the time came for the Russians to disrupt Tzeitel and Motel’s wedding, Matthes shrewdly had these Cossacks come through the house. Few if any in the audience saw that coming, and the soldiers’ completely unexpected presence caused many to suddenly turn around, genuinely startled and quite unnerved. Matthes got what he wanted: he had Americans living 100 years later get a taste of what the Anatevkans had experienced. Of course it was only a hint, for the Anatevkans would now literally bear the brunt of the invaders. But if we could be rattled by the mere presence of people coming in behind us, we realized how much worse the total invasion of home was.
As the act ended, Matthes smartly brought Chava and Fyedka to the forefront and had them give a long look at each other. We inferred that they were both thinking the same thing: “Under these circumstances, can a Jew and a Gentile really consider marriage? Can we overcome this antipathy or must we find a way to forget about our love?” The question would be answered in Act Two.
Matthes had Golde hanging out laundry as “Do You Love Me?” began. So when Tevye began remembering their wedding day, Matthes had him go into the laundry basket, take out a prayer shawl and put it on her head to represent a wedding veil. If it appeals to you, use it.
Near show’s end, Yente brought two young boys to Golde, all to cement a match between the lads and Golde’s youngest daughters. Usually the two pre-teen boys are directed to look somewhere between disinterested and uncomfortable at being trotted out for display. Instead, Matthes made a clever move by having one of the lads smiling and waving to the girls, hoping to get either one’s attention, very willing and eager to meet his future bride.
Well, why not? Even the youngest children can buy into the traditions of old and see themselves as part of the system.
One reaction from the audience has changed in 50 years, and it’s a nice sign of our times. After Tevye had told Golde that he’d given Hodel and Perchik permission to marry, she said “Without even asking me?” – to which he roared “Who asks you? I’m the father!” The outraged sound that the high-schoolers in the audience gave made clear that they couldn’t believe that a husband would be so dismissive to a wife. They’ve become accustomed to marriages where spouses work together to make any major decision.
So does such a scene make FIDDLER ON THE ROOF “dated?” Think of it instead supporting the show’s main theme: another “tradition” that had needed to be reassessed has been happily broken along the way.
Some of the Thespian Festival workshops on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus are held in modest classrooms.
Not this one.
The mammoth all-purpose room in the Westbrook Music Building will be needed today, for no less than Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman will be holding an audition coaching workshop. Some high-schoolers are itching to perform for the writers of the score to the 2002-03 Tony-winning Best Musical HAIRSPRAY and the 2010-11 Best Musical Nominee CATCH ME IF YOU CAN.
Others are content to watch, including the three teenage boys sitting in front of me. From overhearing their conversation – my, they’re awfully loud – I can tell that they know everything about Broadway and musicals – the way we all did when we were their age. Only later did the rest of us learn through bitter experience that even now we know comparatively nothing.
Ah, well. As Sondheim wrote in FOLLIES: “Everybody has to go through stages like that.”
Their supercilious attitude continues as the class starts. Everyone who comes up to audition for Wittman and pianist Shaiman spurs one of the three lads to whisper a comment to the other two. Each remark results in a laugh that ranges from a suppressed giggle to uncontrolled guffaw because the quip that the oh-so-wise critic had just uttered was so wicked and (allegedly) accurate.
Then a young man named Alex Stone comes up and hands pianist Shaiman his sheet music. He’s planning to sing “In These Skies” from the little-known musical Ace.
But Shaiman is frowning. The sheet music has no chord symbols, at least not for the first part of the song.
Shaiman does something tender here: he turns to the audience and says “Make sure the music you bring up has chord symbols on it. It makes it far easier for the pianist.” He purposely avoids Stone’s eyes so that the kid won’t be too embarrassed by his gaffe.
In front of me, the three wise men are less sympathetic. They look at each other and roll their eyes heavenward. Everybody knows to bring music with written-out chords. Clearly, Alex what’s-his-name is hopeless.
Stone could have been devastated by the criticism and Shaiman’s acknowledgement of his naiveté, but he isn’t the least rattled. What the audience doesn’t know is that the lad met Shaiman the night before and had told him he’d been in McLean’s production of CATCH ME IF YOU CAN as Frank Abagnale, Jr. So Shaiman now suggests that Stone sing Frank’s eleven o’clock rouser “Goodbye.”
Does Stone ever. A YouTube clip is worth a million words, so I’ll let it do the writing for me. I’ll wait till you get back.
You back? You realize, of course, that even a sensational auditionee barely gets an eyebrow-raise of appreciation from an accompanist. To even get a few handclaps of applause would be amazing. But to have a composer be so moved to get up and embrace the kid? That happens about as often as revivals of In My Life.
What you don’t see on the YouTube clip is that the three Addison DeWitts in front of me suddenly became Mary Sunshines, jumping to their feet with roars of approval. Given that they know everything, they now wanted to have the bragging rights to having started the standing ovation for Alex Stone.
Later that night I ran into my pal Aubrey Berg, who occupies the Musical Theatre Chair at the University of Cincinnati-Conservatory of Music. “I’m sorry you weren’t at the Shaiman-Wittman workshop,” I said. “One kid there knocked ‘em dead.”
Berg nodded and said “Alex Stone.”
Back in 1966, a three-performance musical called Pousse-Café was highly criticized for using the oh-so-trite line “Scandal travels fast in the academic world.” Well, success travels much faster in the musical theater world.
Stone’s triumph comes at a good time, for it’s the day before he’s to appear in McLean High School Theatre Company’s abridged version of THE LAST FIVE YEARS at 4:30 p.m., following a 2:30 and a 3:30 p.m. show.
For the first play, a couple of dozen people await in the lobby; for the second show, perhaps a handful more or less are in attendance. But more than a half hour before Stone takes the stage, the lobby is already packed. Kids who saw Stone yesterday are here describing his feat to those who weren’t there; lads and lasses who hadn’t attended are now slamming their fists into their hands in frustration and cursing themselves for being so stupid for choosing a different workshop.
The usher who’s about to open the house entreats everyone to move back so that the doors can be opened. Dozens of kids meekly comply, lest they infuriate this person in charge who might in anger banish them and keep them from seeing Broadway’s Next Big Star. But once those doors are opened, the kids run at speeds that suggest they’re being chased by Bigfoot. They want the closest possible seats to be near Alex Stone who’s here in the flesh right here on this very stage. We can breathe the air he breathes!
THE LAST FIVE YEARS is Jason Robert Brown’s musical about Cathy and Jamie, who meet and fall in love. Trouble is, her career as an actress is getting nowhere while his as a novelist is skyrocketing. His success and her failure come between them and the two divorce.
Brown has the two take turns in singing, but to keep this from seeming too familiar a tale, he has Cathy tell her story backwards, starting from the agony at the end of their relationship to the excitement of first meeting; Jamie instead goes forward from bliss to losing his love for his wife.
Cathy sings first, and Lily Lord gets a nice and substantial hand for her opening effort. But as Stone takes a breath before his first song, the audience is already riveted. When he sings “I’ve been waiting for someone like you,” he shows that until now he’d been genuine yearning. On the line in which he notes that he has “a woman I love and an agent who loves me,” he suggests that his feelings for the latter are just a little bit stronger. And when he gets to the image of a figure skater, Stone shows that he can move extraordinarily well.
Each time Stone finishes, the response is so titanic that a needle on an applause meter would beg for a two-day rest. Kids who were at the Shaiman-Wittman workshop are looking at their friends who weren’t there with “Told ya!” in their eyes. Those who are meeting Stone’s talent for the first time have mouths open wide enough to accommodate a 12-ounce Coke can.
As the show ambles along, Stone continues to get roof-raising huzzahs, but the nice thing is that people start paying attention to Lily Lord, too. By the end, her applause appreciation levels match those of her co-star. There’s more to McLean High School Theatre Company than just one kid, you know.
For that matter, crackerjack director Amy Poe and choreographer Marielle Burt have brought something extra to the show. As you directors all well know, you cannot change a syllable of an author’s work, and Poe and Burt have completely abided by that rule. However, they’d decided to make the show a dance piece, too. So four lads in black shirts and white pants and four lasses in white tops and black skirts and pantyhose express in dance what their male and female characters are feeling.
So after conquering the Shaiman-Wittman workshop on June 24 and THE LAST FIVE YEARS on June 25, Stone still had more in store on June 28, when the Festival’s National Individual Events Showcase took place. Although 1,009 kids had applied, when the field was narrowed to four in the solo musical theatre category, Stone was there to sing “She Cries” from SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD. Soon the judges were saying “Really captivating work,” “Your focus was really on point,” “Connected emotionally,” “Grounded yet free physically,” “Great work, “Really confident and strong choices” before not only being told he had “an awesome voice” but also that he had done “an awesome job.”
On July 11, a full 13 days later, I was back in New York attending an MTI/iTheatrics workshop I ran into my buddy Shirlee Idzakovich – a former Freddie G. Broadway Experience recipient — who asked me if I’d been to the Thespian Festival in Nebraska. After I said yes, Spencer Lau — another former Freddie G. Broadway Experience recipient – raised his eyebrows and asked with great interest, “Did you see that kid sing that song from CATCH ME IF YOU CAN?”
Word of success doesn’t just travel fast; it travels far, too.
Of course, what will ultimately determine Alex Stone’s theatrical future is time, study, effort, discipline and the most important component of all: being in the right place at the right time when the right role comes along. Whether Alex Stone ultimately chooses to go into a completely different profession or beats Audra McDonald’s record for the most Tony wins, he’ll never forget – and nobody will ever be able to take away from him — those heavenly June days at the Thespian Festival in Lincoln, Nebraska.
(And let’s see what happens to the three critics.)
You may e-mail Peter at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his weekly column each Tuesday at www.masterworksbroadway.com and each Friday at www.kritzerland.com. His new book, Strippers, Showgirls, and Sharks – a Very Opinionated History of the Broadway Musicals That Did Not Win the Tony Award is now available at www.amazon.com.
SHREK THE MUSICAL TYA Available for Licensing for Performances Beginning July 15, 2014.
SHREK THE MUSICAL TYA, based on the Oscar® winning DreamWorks film that started it all, brings the hilarious story of everyone’s favorite ogre to dazzling new life on the stage in a brand new condensed Theatre for Young Audiences version. Part romance, part twisted fairy tale and all irreverent fun for everyone, this story of adventure, friendship and ogre love is bringing ugly back!
In this TYA adaptation developed by The Coterie, a shortened running time and minimized cast size make this the perfect show for families. Filled with all of your favorite songs from the full version, great dancing and endless opportunities for creative staging and design, SHREK THE MUSICAL TYA is a sure-fire hit for your season!
For a limited time only, you can read a free perusal copy of the libretto for SHREK THE MUSICAL TYA. Log in to your My MTI account and select the show from the dropdown menu (it will appear free of charge), or call your licensing agent to order an electronic version or hard copy today!
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