“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,” the 2014 Tony Award winner for best new musical, closed on Broadway on Sunday. But instead of spending the weekend drowning their sorrows, composer/lyricist Steven Lutvak and book writer/lyricist Robert L. Freedman resolved to celebrate the opening of the touring production at the Kennedy Center.
Both artists attribute their optimism to the allure of the nation’s capital, a deep sense of gratitude and old theater friends in Washington. Glenn Easton, the longtime executive director of Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, is a childhood friend of Freedman’s. Freedman got his start in showbiz by writing musicals for a United Synagogue Youth group in Orange County, Calif., where Easton was his spotlight operator.
Easton runs a temple in Baltimore, but he gathered more than 20 friends — including local playwrights Jon Klein and Laura Shamas — to attend Thursday night’s opening at the Kennedy Center and an after-party thrown by producer Joey Parnes.
“It’s thrilling for me to have a show at the Kennedy Center,” Freedman said over post-show drinks at Circa in Foggy Bottom.
Although Freedman and Lutvak are in their 50s, “Gentleman’s Guide” was their first Broadway show and their first to open at the Kennedy Center. Thirty years ago, they never thought it would take them that long to write a hit. The two were paired while students in the first class of the musical theater master’s program at New York University, where their mentors included luminaries such as composer Leonard Bernstein and songwriter Jule Styne. They remained friends and occasional partners, but Freedman ended up working mostly in television while Lutvak performed primarily in New York cabarets.
In 2006, they gave a workshop performance of “Gentleman’s Guide” at the Sundance Theater Institute. The work generated enthusiasm, but the road to Broadway was long and harrowing, and the project was nearly derailed by a lawsuit related to getting rights to a 1949 film on which the musical is partly based.
“We have put in our time,” Lutvak said by phone from New York this week. “I guess that’s part of the reason we are so grateful. We were already in our 50s when the lawsuit happened, and we knew this was the best work that we had done. Success has different meaning for us.”
There have been rewards. “People take my calls now,” Lutvak quipped. They are working on two new musicals but are mum on the details. Freedman also has a movie script in the HBO pipeline, with Robert Redford directing.
Lutvak is more in demand as a teacher, and he’ll be in town next week offering two master classes. He’ll also be performing original songs Tuesday at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage.
Lutvak was at the Millennium Stage in 2014, but his performance was scheduled on a day when there were no other performances and it was raining. “There were like six people there, and one of them was my niece,” Lutvak said. “They told me I could have a do-over sometime, so I said, ‘How about now?’ ”
With his Tony-winning show onstage in the Eisenhower Theater, Lutvak didn’t have to twist any arms.
A change in fortunes has led the Washington Stage Guild to postpone the conclusion of its “Back to Methuselah” cycle until next season. Instead, the small theater that performs in the basement of Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church will remount the one-man show “St. Nicholas.” Performances begin Jan. 28.
The switch had been in the works for some time, artistic director Bill Largess said, but was made public only this month. With a cast of 10 and more special effects than usual, “Methuselah” was going to be expensive to mount. The theater had split George Bernard Shaw’s five-act drama into three parts, presenting the earlier installments last year and in 2014.
“This one is significantly bigger than the others,” Largess said. “We had budgeted for it and were rolling along until some funding we expected didn’t come through.” He declined to specify exactly what had happened, only saying that he hoped to reapply for grants.
Although some cast members were disappointed and had to scramble for work, all have signed on to finish the “Methuselah” cycle next fall, Largess said.
Largess himself will be starring in the Conor McPherson play “St. Nicholas,” reprising a role he played in 1999. “I’m the right age now,” Largess noted. His character is a 60-ish ornery Irish theater critic who takes a leave of absence from his newspaper gig to work for a league of vampires in London. With the Shakespeare Theatre staging “The Critic” and “The Real Inspector Hound,” two other plays about theater scribes from the British Isles, “St. Nicholas” felt even more suitable as a replacement.
“There was a little serendipity there,” Largess said.
In a move that is either serendipitous or ironically good timing, Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre has decided to revamp its chandelier before it welcomes the national tour of “The Phantom of the Opera” next week.
Robert Hayes, a technical director for Broadway Across America who works at the Hippodrome, said the chandelier is a replica of the 1914 original that hung inside the theater and was installed as part of a massive refurbishing project in 2004. There are 52 new LED lightbulbs, including 12 that had to be custom made.
Presumably, the chandelier is now not only more energy efficient, but also will remain hanging from the ceiling even when the phantom howls with angry laughter and the prop chandelier crashes to the stage in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit musical.