Dallas — For the past decade-plus, Broadway has been blossoming into something a little bit new and a little bit old at the same time—plumbing the depths of history for plots and characters, hearkening back to the classics while forging new paths and creating new sounds. At the center of the musical revolution are shows like A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, winner of the 2014 Tony Award for Best Book and Best Musical, among others.
Ahead of its engagement, Aug. 16-28 at the Winspear Opera House as a part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Broadway Series, TheaterJones sat down with Steven Lutvak (music and lyrics) and Robert L. Freedman (book and lyrics), the minds behind the musical, to talk about their approach to such a unique production and why the wildcards on the Great White Way are rising to the top.
The musical tells the story of an heir to a family fortune who sets out to jump the line of succession by eliminating the eight relatives (all played by one actor) who stand in his way.
Don't forget that we're co-hosting Industry Night of this musical, which is the second Tuesday of the two-week run, 7:30 p.m. Aug. 23. You can read more about Industry Night, which has discounted tickets and includes an after party with members of the cast and is co-presented by TheaterJones, here.
TheaterJones: In some aspects, the show feels like sort of full circle swing away from the modern musical and back to the roots. Was that your intention?
Steven Lutvak: Believe it or not, that wasn’t the goal! When we were creating the language of the show, one of the things we were very conscious of was that it was set a time when the moral dictates of society were strict. People were expected to behave a certain way, and the deeper we got into the characters, the more fun it seemed to translate that musically.
Robert L. Freedman: Because we focused so much on invoking the era in which the show takes place, having operetta-esque homages to Gilbert & Sullivan in some of the songs just seemed so natural. What is really fun is that the production is a combination of high brow and low brow—there is a lot of physical comedy and silliness, but at the same time the dialogue, lyrics, and music are all sophisticated.
How is this music different from what you’ve written before?
SL: I’ve written plenty of music for belters, but one of the things I love is that this production requires more classical singers. The ensemble must be incredibly strong—often they’re alone on a part, and each of them gets to have a breakout moment in the show.
The vocal arrangements written by my long-term musical collaborator Diane Adams McDowell are crazy and wonderful. You sometimes wonder how many people are singing, and that’s part of Diane’s real genius and one of the less outwardly noticeable reasons that the show has been so successful. By painting the vocal palettes with the colors they have, the cast never feels small.
The show is also lyrically complex—there’s a lot going on in each song. How did you manage to juggle so much plot?
RF: The trick to lyric writing is how you can say a lot in very little space. It was a bit like puzzle-solving, and we had great fun. You want to say the most you can in the shortest amount of time, entering a scene as late as possible, leaving as early as possible, and packing as much in that moment as you possibly can. As a result, the show really moves at a breakneck pace when the plot gets into gear, and that adds to the enjoyment for everyone.
RF: And one of the things we gave to each other was when either one of us wasn’t quite satisfied with something, we kept going until it was absolutely right.
SL: Yes, we didn’t allow ourselves to be content with “almost.” Nearly every number in the show was debuted and worked on and tested in a cabaret setting, which allowed us to get a real kind of polish on things.
Gentleman’s Guide and other non-traditional musicals are becoming popular as of late. Why do you think we’re seeing a derivation from the typical musical theater form?
RF: Take Hamilton, for instance. It’s an intelligent show and you really have to listen and pay attention to catch it all because there’s so much going on. You’re entertained but it rewards your attention tremendously.
I think shows written like that, with an eye toward giving the audience the benefit of the doubt and not feeling like you have to make something for the lowest common denominator, are vital. Audiences are smart and reward shows that don’t spoon feed them every emotion and every thought. It can be an interchange between the audience and the artists, and that’s where the magic really happens. It’s a unique show for Broadway despite all our classic influences—there’s nothing else quite like it.
SL: The one thing I’m really proudest of is that the show looks like it sounds like it smells like it tastes…it’s all one color, if you will.
RF: And what we wrote is all there on stage, everything we intended. It’s very rare that you can get even close to that satisfaction with anything you do.