TT: As good as Guinness

In today’s Wall Street Journal I review two worthy Broadway openings, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder and Lincoln Center Theater’s Macbeth. Here’s an excerpt.
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At last, a good new Broadway musical. Really good, in fact. Not only is “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” wickedly witty, wonderfully well staged and as pleasing to hear as it is to see, but it brings Jefferson Mays, the quick-change artist of “I Am My Own Wife,” back to the New York stage in a major role–nine of them, in fact–for the first time since he starred opposite Claire Danes in the 2007 Roundabout revival of “Pygmalion.” If you’re tired of apologizing to out-of-town visitors for the shaky state of 21st-century American musical comedy, send them to “A Gentleman’s Guide” and rest assured that they’ll go home happy.
1.167513.jpgThe program is coy about it, presumably for legal reasons, but “A Gentleman’s Guide” is based on the same obscure 1907 novel by Roy Horniman that Robert Hamer used as the source material for “Kind Hearts and Coronets,” the 1949 movie in which Alec Guinness played the eight members of an aristocratic family who stand between Dennis Price and a dukedom, all of whom end up dead. To match wits with a universally acclaimed classic of film comedy is risky business indeed, but Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak, the co-creators of “A Gentleman’s Guide,” have wisely chosen to go their own way, retaining the basic plot mechanism of “Kind Hearts and Coronets” (in which the victims, men and women alike, are all played by Guinness) but radically transforming the characterizations and inserting a firecracker of a surprise ending. Though I’ve stealthily hinted at its nature, I guarantee that you won’t see it coming until it arrives–and it improves on the film!
I wouldn’t make so bold as to say that Mr. Mays improves on Guinness, but he’s as good as his illustrious predecessor, than which there can be no higher praise. He shifts from character to character as effortlessly as he did in “I Am My Own Wife,” and each successive part stands out sharply from its predecessors….
More Shakespeare on Broadway? Uh-huh, but this time it’s courtesy of Lincoln Center Theater, which invited Jack O’Brien, lately of “The Nance,” to stage a “Macbeth” in which Ethan Hawke, lately of “Before Midnight,” takes center stage. Mr. O’Brien has come up with an austere-looking yet populist “Macbeth,” a spook show tightly packed with grandiose theatrical gestures–blood and thunder, Nuremberg Rally-style lighting, gender-bending Weird Sisters–and performed by an exceptional team of players led by Anne-Marie Duff. Ms. Duff’s Lady Macbeth is at once sexy and scary, eyeing her hapless husband as though she were a snake and he an unusually toothsome-looking mouse.
Few, I suspect, will be surprised to hear that Mr. Hawke is a callow, monochrome Macbeth–he sounds even younger than his 43 years–who never manages to make much of Shakespeare’s verse. But the rest of the cast, especially Ms. Duff, Richard Easton, Brian d’Arcy James, Byron Jennings and Daniel Sunjata, is so strong that his shortcomings count for far less than you’d expect….
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Read the whole thing here.
Jefferson Mays talks about A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder:

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