At a recent rehearsal for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” Neil A. Casey and Jared Troilo navigate newly created set pieces as they run through a musical number.
When they finish, director Spiro Veloudos offers some suggestions, but even as he makes adjustments, he can’t contain his excitement about this musical, and the cast and crew he has assembled.
“This show has challenging music and some of the best lyrics since Sondheim,” says Veloudos, who directed 10 of Stephen Sondheim’s musicals during his 21-year tenure as producing artistic director of the Lyric before his retirement in 2019. “There’s a reason why I chose this cast.”
“A Gentleman’s Guide,” which runs April 20-May 22, is a dark comedy set in Victorian England that follows the efforts of a newly orphaned young man who decides to wreak revenge on his wealthy relatives by eliminating the eight family members who stand between him and the title of Earl of D’Ysquith. With music and lyrics by Steven Lutvak, book and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman, and based on the 1907 novel by Roy Horniman that was made into the classic 1949 film “Kind Hearts and Coronets,” the comic twist is that one actor, in this case Casey, plays every one of the doomed D’Ysquiths.
“There are three ensemble women, and you could argue they are smaller roles,” Veloudos says, “but you need strong actor-singers around the two male leads for the whole thing to work.”
In addition to Casey and Troilo, who have worked on several shows with Veloudos, he also tapped local favorites, including Leigh Barrett, Aimee Doherty, and Jennifer Ellis.
“We speak fluent Spiro,” says Barrett, “so we can reassure the newbies that we are in good hands.”
“It’s a blast working with a group I know so well,” says Ellis. “In addition to shows here and at the Huntington [she and Doherty were featured in ‘Merrily We Roll Along’], I toured with Neil in a Shakespeare in the classroom program, so I know what a genius he is with comedy. He could shift from Richard III to a clown without a pause.”
Casey says “Kind Hearts and Coronets” was his father’s favorite movie, so he’s seen Alec Guinness play all the wealthy family members dozens of times.
“Of course, with the story reimagined as musical comedy, everything needs to be bigger and broader,” he says.
Playing nine different family members is a challenge, he admits, but he says he finds a bit of each character’s personality in his voice or his body. “Some are easier to get to than others,” he says, “but that’s part of the fun for me.”
Although “Gentleman’s Guide” was designed for a proscenium theater, Veloudos says his familiarity with the Lyric’s three-quarter thrust stage makes it easier for him to honor that structure while reimagining it in the Lyric space and with his team.
“This show is so well-conceived,” he says. “But we will find ways to make it our own.”
A milestone for Teatro Chelsea
Mariela López-Ponce can’t believe her good fortune. Although she’s spent years directing and performing in and around Boston, in the last two years — in the midst of a pandemic, mind you — she joined the board of the new theater company Teatro Chelsea and watched it take off. The company mounted a Zoom reading of Melinda Lopez’s “Sonia Flew” in Spanish (“Sonia se fue”), produced a virtual festival of Latino plays and playwrights with a second festival in the works, and López-Ponce is now directing “Don’t Eat the Mangos,” Teatro Chelsea’s first fully staged production, co-produced with Apollinaire Theatre Company. It runs April 15-May 15 at Chelsea Theatre Works. (Tickets $15-$30 at apollinairetheatre.com, 617-887-2336).
“We wanted to bring the work of Latinx playwrights, actors, musicians, and others to the stage, while deepening our ties to the community of Chelsea,” says López-Ponce. “It’s been so exciting to see the response.”
“Don’t Eat the Mangos,” by Ricardo Pérez González, is a black comedy that explores family love, sibling rivalry, and a family secret. Set in a neighborhood just outside of San Juan, three adult sisters take turns helping their mother care for their ailing father. When a hurricane arrives, it rattles not only their childhood home but a silence that is crushing.
“It’s a dark story,” says López-Ponce, “but the relationships between the sisters, the teasing and joking are familiar dynamics in every family, in every culture. I was thrilled to find that easy camaraderie among Karina Beleno Carney, Paola Ferrer, and Luz Lopez [who play the sisters] in this production.”
López-Ponce says Pérez González takes the dysfunctional family drama to a new level, though, with his code-switching, focus on three women, and inclusion of a bit of magic and African folklore. “Switching languages mid-sentence is very authentic,” she says, “but the script always makes clear what was said, no matter what language is spoken.”
“Don’t Eat the Mangos” manages to include the politics of Puerto Rico with respect to the United States. “The long-standing, essentially colonial relationship inspires passionate and opposing views regarding the best way forward,” says López-Ponce, “including those that are for statehood, those that are for complete independence, and those with views that reflect a mix depending on the specific question at hand.”
Like the best theater, she says, “Don’t Eat the Mangos” weaves one family’s very personal story with the larger world in which they live.
“For me, the play has a hopeful message of triumph for these strong women who find a way to overcome a difficult family legacy and chart their own futures,” she says. “But we are reminded that we can overcome our past, but it lives in some form in us that will not be ignored.”
Naked Empire’s in-your-face satire
Naked Empire Bouffon Company, an award-winning, a San Francisco-based theater company whose work is rooted in satire and physical comedy, makes its Boston-area debut with “The Most Important Place in the World!” at the Chelsea Theater Works Black Box April 22-May 7. Naked Empire has earned awards and audiences for such works as “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood with Trayvon Martin & George Zimmerman” (2013) and “To Catch a Karen” (2021).
“The Most Important Place in the World!” focuses on the US relationship with Puerto Rico as seen through the eyes of two “mischievous bouffons” played by Marisol Rosa-Shapiro and Nathaniel Justiniano.
The hour-long show features Naked Empire’s in-your-face physical comedy, lip syncing, puppetry, outrageous costumes for what the company calls a “rollercoaster ride of biting, anti-colonial satire.” “The Most Important Place in the World!” is part of Apollinaire Theatre Company’s resident artist program. Tickets are pay-what-you-can and available at www.nakedempirebouffon.org.
A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER
Presented by Lyric Stage Company of Boston, April 20-May 22. $10-$80. 617-585-5678, www.lyricstage.com
Terry Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.