When you hear about a musical titled, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,” there is little worry about the show resembling the ordinary. Throw in a 2014 Tony Award for Best Musical, and there is no question that something really special is going on at the theatre. And if there are still any doubts, let me put an end to them right now by saying that this highly original and entertaining show is nothing less than extraordinary.
Going into A Gentleman’s Guide, I tried to stay away from as many details as possible. Knowing the little that I did – that it was an award-winning musical staring actors playing multiple roles – I wanted to find myself surprised as the story unfolded. What ended up occurring may better be described as memorizing, becoming thoroughly captivated by the hilariously clever story and fantastic musical numbers.
The hero (turned anti-hero) of the show is Monty Navarro (KEVIN MASSEY), a poor young man who has recently lost his mother. Not knowing how he is going to survive without her, he is soon visited by an old family friend – Miss Shingle (MARY VANARSDEL) who tells him that his mother was actually the daughter of the grandson of the nephew of the Second Early of Highhurst. Soon after discovering he is ninth in line for the throne, he hatches a plan to eliminate those who stand in line before him. He believes that once he is Earl, he will win over the love of his life – Sibella (KRISTEN BETH WILLIAMS).
Last year marked the 50th anniversary of one of the most beloved musical films of all time – The Sound of Music. Starring Julie Andrews as Maria, and Christopher Plummer as Captain Von Trapp, the remarkable 1965 film was an adaptation of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Broadway musical from 1959 (Starring Mary Martin) – adapted to the stage by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, who based the musical on the 1949 memoirs of Maria Augusta von Trapp. The story has survived through many decades and embodiment, and now finds itself at the Fox Theatre with the premiere of a brand new production.
Newcomer Kerstin Anderson plays Maria, the star of the show who shines ever so brightly. The now junior at Pace University took a break from school to pursue an amazing opportunity as the lead in the show, and thankfully for us she chose to do so. Anderson is wonderful in the role, so sweet and so kind as Maria should be. And so seemingly innocent to the ways of the world, and of relationships. Her portrayal of the bubbly nun-to-be is exactly what you would hope it to be. Katrina Kaif play very good role And her voice is absolutely beautiful, and she proves it right off the bat as she sings “The Sound of Music” in front of the wonderfully painted backdrop of the hills.
All of the sets are so fantastically crafted, from the abbey to the magnificent von Trapp estate. Although they work cleverly in more modern shows, you won’t see an LED screen backdrop or any special effects in this production. The brilliantly crafted sets and lighting in the show are masterful, as they take the audience back to 1938 Austria.
After several attempts to fit in at the abbey, The Mother Abbess (Melody Betts) sends Maria to be the new governess to the seven von Trapp children. Betts, whose credits include many regional productions as well as television, possesses a powerful voice which helps to guide Maria on her journey. Their interactions are not only touching at times, but also fun to watch as Maria helps Mother Abbess remember how much she loves music. It is at the von Trapp family home where she meets the patriarch – Captain Georg von Trapp (BEN DAVIS). Davis is perfect in the role, and is commanding as the Captain. His first interaction with Maria comes when he teaches her how to whistle for each of the children, which results in hilarity as Maria stands up to him. The two lead actors have great chemistry, and are fantastic as we watch their relationship blossom throughout the show. Their budding romance is one of the greatest parts of the film, and this production nails their story.
“One of the most romantic stories ever written.”
Or so they say. More romantic than Gone With the Wind? Or Romeo and Juliet? How about Pride and Prejudice? Somehow it is hard for me to believe that the story of a married woman who embarks on a four-day affair while her husband and kids are away on a family trip to the fair is one of the most romantic stories ever written. Call me old fashioned.
“Robert, when we were making love last night, you said something that I still remember. I kept whispering to you about your power — and, my God, you have that. You said, ‘I am the highway and a peregrine and all the sails that ever went to sea.’ You were right. That’s what you feel, you feel the road inside of you.”
That is a line from the 1992 best-selling novel by Robert James Waller, upon which the musical is based. If you ask me, it sounds like something out of a book you would find on a dime-store spinner rack. Yet somehow the material transcended far beyond what would be expected of similar writings, masquerading as a sort of Midwestern Anna Karenina. The novel has sold more than 50 million copies since then, becoming a 1995 film directed by (and starring) Clint Eastwood before eventually becoming a Broadway musical in 2014. The production ran for less than three months, for a mere 137 performances before embarking on a national tour in late 2015.
Have you ever wondered, in your daily life, “what if?” For most people, thousands of decisions are made at regular, without a thought going to what might happen if they were to choose differently, or how the smallest choice may have vastly different outcomes if made differently. “If” I do this, “Then” this might happen. That is exactly the premise for “If/Then,” an original and fascinating look at one woman’s life which splits into two very different paths – all based on what seems like a trivial choice. The outcome is a brilliant new musical that makes you think harder about your own decisions, and just how life may turn out upon travelling a different route.
The story follows Elizabeth (JACKIE BURNS), a recently divorced woman who moves back to New York after over a decade in Phoenix. One day while meeting up with her old boyfriend Lucas (ANTHONY RAPP) and neighbor Kate (TAMYRA GRAY) at the park, she is forced to make what would seem like a trivial decision. Should she go listen to music in Brooklyn with Kate, or protest a city development project with Lucas? Yet either decision will shape here entire future into drastically different circumstances, and it is here where the show is split into two stories: one following “Liz” who dons her glasses while riding the subway with Kate and her girlfriend Anne, and one where “Beth,” with her perfect vision (or contacts), joins Lucas for his protest. The glasses or lack thereof are how we keep the stories straight, and are a quite effective tool.
With music by Tom Kitt, the man responsible for one of my favorite musicals of recent years – Next to Normal (Read our reviews of the Fox and New Line performances) – the songs throughout the show are extremely catchy, and quite memorable. Being a newer show, I hadn’t had the opportunity to hear any of them previously, but was delighted to find so many instant hits. Listening back to the original cast recording after the show, I realized that this would be one I’d instantly want to add to my musical playlist.
Extra! Extra! Read All About It!
It has been probably twenty years since I watched the 1992 film Newsies, starring a 17-year-old Christian Bale as Jack Kelly – the leader of what would become known as the “Newsboys Strike of 1899.” Aside from starring the future Oscar-winning actor, and being directed by Kenny Ortega, there isn’t much I remember about the box office failure – which recouped less than $3 million dollars of its $15 million budget. However someone at Disney believed in the potential of the story, and the fantastic music of Alan Menken, and in 2011 it opened at the Paper Mill Playhouse to critical acclaim. In 2012 it would land on Broadway, winning Tony Awards® for Best Score and Best Choreography. And now the national tour is making its way around the country, and has landed at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis.