Smithtown Matters Review

‘A Gentleman’s Guide To Love & Murder’

March 21, 2019
By Jeb Ladouceur

‘A Gentleman’s Guide…’ is unlike any other play you are likely to see this season or … for that matter … ever! Similarly, the musical version of a 1907 novel by Roy Horniman titled ‘Israel Rank – The Autobiography of a Criminal’ is quite possibly a reviewer’s worst nightmare, because no fewer than eight (count ‘em) eight of the dozen major roles are played over a 150-minute span by a single actor (Danny Gardner)!
If the madcap goings on … about conniving heir Monty Navarro (played by Sean Yves Lessard) who is ninth in succession to inherit the family fortune … were not so convincingly conceived by writer Robert L. Freedman (he adapted the farce for the stage), and cleverly choreographed by Vincent Ortega (a comic genius if ever there was one), it might be impossible closely to follow the proceedings that tumble across the John W. Engeman proscenium in a torrent of hilarity.
But the sly Navarro rivets our attention by figuring out novel ways to knock off those relatives who stand between him and the jackpot he covets. These dastardly devices include everything from death by bee sting, to decapitation while weightlifting. It’s all very farcical stuff, but this critic has seldom had as much fun in the theater.
Highlight of the evening is a vaudeville-style song and dance routine featuring two males that once might have been thought a bit naughty, but in our so-called ‘progressive’ age, has to be considered rather tame. It’s titled ‘Better With a Man’ and that said, one need not go into further detail to describe its content. Suffice it to say, hoofers Lessard and Gardner steal the play with their show-stopping routine. It’s very funny … superbly polished material.
Without question, in this musical the supremely talented Danny Gardner has been handed one of the most complex theatrical assignments imaginable. If you thought any actor taking on the dual roles of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde had his hands full, you ain’t seen nuthin’ until you’ve watched (and heard) Gardner act, sing, and dance his way through eight juicy parts (of both sexes, yet) as if he were absolutely born to each role.
But while everyone is good in this show … the workmanlike dressers who see to Gardner’s numerous costume changes, though they are never seen onstage, deserve a special nod of appreciation. Some of these unheralded staffers work their miracles in a matter of 15 or 20 seconds … and that often includes applying and removing the star’s makeup as well as his clothing. Geez! We should have a special category for acknowledging the expertise of such professionals.
Meanwhile, perhaps it will serve to give the plaudits to ‘A Gentleman’s Guide…’ Director, Trey Compton. He will know how the kudos should be distributed. This musical could not possibly work without the diligence of its dressers.

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Smithtown Matters Review

Theater Review – ‘Man of LaMancha’

 

September 16, 2018
By Jeb Ladouceur

Don Quixote – by Pablo Picasso

 

 

When I heard recently that Senator John McCain had decided to suspend the medical treatments that were keeping him alive … and that he had already planned every detail of his incipient funeral, including the music that he felt would best eulogize him … my first thought centered on ‘The Impossible Dream,’ from Man of La Mancha. That’s how iconic the anthem to perseverance has become for me.

As things turned out, we all now know, McCain chose to be extolled with a recorded Frank Sinatra rendition of ‘My Way,’ the stirring ballad of autobiographical praise written by Paul Anka. I remember wondering as Sinatra’s voice filled the church during the Arizona Senator’s memorial service, how much more enobling the affair might have been had the classic La Mancha ode to courage been McCain’s choice.

But there is an ancient Roman expression (“de mortuis nil nisi bonum”) which literally translated means “Let nothing be said of the dead but what is good.” Fair enough. It was, after all, John’s funeral, and if he was comfortable with the ringing tributes of ‘My Way’ and somewhat curiously, ‘Danny Boy,’ so be it.

Still, as I attended the opening of ‘Man of La Mancha’ at Northport’s lush Engeman Theatre last Saturday, and ‘The Impossible Dream’ was performed (magnificently, I must say) my mind wandered back to the Capitol Rotunda and the National Cathedral, where a courageous John McCain’s flag-draped coffin had been attended so honorably by members of the military. For those sad hours, I concluded internally that ‘The Impossible Dream’ was indeed John’s song.

But putting sentiment aside, it should be noted that musically … musically, mind you … Man of La Mancha is a sort of one-trick-pony. When the play’s unforgettable anthem isn’t being belted out by the production’s star, Richard Todd Adams, the other numbers frankly pale to near-insignificance by comparison. This is not as fatal as the observation might lead one to believe, however. For it’s during these musical lulls that Miguel de Cervantes’ immortal Don Quixote story line takes over and makes the adaption the memorable piece of theater it has become.

When it was introduced on the Broadway stage in 1965, not surprisingly, the heart-warming tale of a knight who sets out to restore gallantry to mankind, won Tony Awards for both Best Musical and Best Musical Score. The production moved to a number of playhouses on the Great White Way before making its final 2,328th performance at the Mark Hellinger Theatre in 1971.

An interesting aside involves the iconic Rex Harrison who, having earned innumerable plaudits starring in My Fair Lady, was seriously considered for the Don Quixote role when Man of La Mancha was testing the theatrical waters in Connecticut. Unfortunately for Harrison, the musical demands of the score proved too much for poor Henry Higgins’ vocal range … and Richard Kiley wound up in the difficult role.

Performing in Northport with leading man Richard Adams are Broadway veterans Janet Dacal (she plays a peppery Aldonza) and Carlos Lopez (as the Don’s little sidekick, Sancho Panza). Both stars bring memorable performances worthy of Northport’s renowned theater … no small accomplishment when one considers the height at which Engeman invariably sets the bar for its featured artists. For example, the great Phyllis March plays the strong, opinionated Housekeeper to absolute perfection. She delivers her somewhat lesser role so artfully that we can’t take our eyes off of her. Aspiring actors would do well to study Ms. March’s technique.

This dream of a show runs thru Sunday, October 28. If I were a school teacher, I’d give extra credit to any student who brought me a Man of La Mancha ticket stub … and of course, an apple.

 

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