This little operetta dinghy overcame modest box office and, proving the critics right for once, sailed away with the 2014 Tony Award for Best Musical. No small feat in an era where audiences crowd into Broadway theaters to hear actors covering the tunes of deceased pop music artists. A celluloid step-cousin of the British film “Kind Hearts and Coronets” that featured an eye-bulging performance by Alec Guinness playing eight greedy, hard-hearted members of the D’Ascoyne family, murdered one-by-one by a disinherited heir, it was rendered musically transatlantic, the family name changed to D’Ysquith, and Jefferson Mays of “I Am My Own Wife” fame did Guinness one better by creating all eight characters while, after a fashion, singing.
As the Broadway version prepares to close on January 17, 2016, the first national tour is in full swing, docking for a limited engagement in Chicago. The night I saw the show, the theater was packed with fans applauding before the final chords of the musical numbers, and laughing at the jokes before they landed.
Manning the Guinness/Mays captain’s wheel of this tuneful clipper ship is John Rapson, who trumps the trump-er by singing all eight characters with baritonal bravado; while Mays is possessed of the same exquisite phrasing and titillating sense of pitch as the lovely Glynis Johns, Rapson is a real singer, and every bit as fine a theatrical raconteur.
Kevin Massey, having served on Broadway as a temporary replacement for the story’s handsome, charming anti-hero, warbles winningly, flirting with every heart onstage, and in the audience. As the dim and determined ingénue, Adrienne Eller chirps in perfect tune, vocally and intellectually. The ensemble is first-rate.
Kristen Beth Williams would do well to play the leading lady as a narcissist, naturally unaware of the damage strewn in her wake, lest she lose sympathy, rocking the boat.
But this little vessel is too well-crafted to sink. “For God’s sake, GO!” (Aaron Hunt)
Broadway in Chicago, Bank of America Theatre, 18 West Monroe, (800)775-2000, broadwayinchicago.com, $25-$123. Through October 11.