Lots of fine footage of Hartford Stage staffers and fans going nuts last night when it was announced that A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder won the Tony for Best Musical.
It was a true regional theater success story, in the year when the actual Tony Award for Best Regional Theater was wrested from the regions, when rules were changed to make New York-based theaters eligible for that honor.
A Gentleman’s Guide is the consummate regionally built entertainment. It had a workshop and a full production at Hartford Stage, directed by that institution’s new Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak. It also got developed and produced at the Old Globe in San Diego, where Teresnjak USED to be Artistic Director. Tresjnak’s career has been firmly in the regional realm. In Connecticut alone, he’s directed at Long Wharf and Goodspeed besides Hartford Stage.
Then there’s A Gentleman’s Guide’s star Jefferson Mays. His showy lead role(s) might have been given to a bigger name star but for his ability to prove his prowess on regional stages. Yes, he has some previous multiple-role dramatic cachet from doing I Am My Own Wife both on Broadway and Off Broadway, but Connecticut theatergoers can attest that Jefferson Mays is foremost a regional theater animal. At Yale Rep he appeared in S.J. Perelman’s The Beauty Part (not, amazingly in the multiple-role slot, but as the young college boy) in 1992 and in Sarah Ruhl’s Dear Elizabeth just two seasons back. At Long Wharf, he formed a bond with Christopher Evan Welch in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead (directed by Tresnjak) in 2001 and The Importance of Being Earnest (directed by Doug Hughes) in 1999.
I’d like to add that Bryce Pinkham, who may have looked like a Broadway-friendly addition to the Gentleman’s cast since he’d appeared in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Ghost the Musical, first came to the New York stage via Hartford Stage’s 2009 staging of Horton Foote’s The Orphan’s Home Cycle. Before that, he distinguished himself as a student at the Yale School of Drama in the lead role of Bertolt Brecht’s Baal, not to mention parts in The Ghost Sonata, Epicene and (at the Yale Rep) A Woman of No Importance.
More than a little Nutmeg pride is due here, spanning the state and demonstrating that regional theater is a special platform that gives to commercial New York theater rather more than it takes from it.