“Oh, What a (Marvelous) Night” at Detroit Public Theatre

By Daniel Skora

Hi-diddle-dee-dee / An actor’s life for me…
Sung by J. Worthington Foulfellow in Walt Disney’s animated film Pinocchio 

And so it was that a second grader put on a furry costume, walked around on all fours,  and got bitten by the acting bug playing Toto in a school production of “The Wizard of Oz”. The story of that actor’s sometime rocky but always exciting journey from Toto to Jersey Boy is being told in loving fashion by Eric Gutman, the person who lived it, in “From Broadway to Obscurity”, the current production at Detroit Public Theatre.

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Gutman’s journey from second grade to the Broadway stage took decades, but he covers it here in 75 or so wonderfully entertaining minutes. With the help of a four piece band and projected images, he bares his soul in words and song with stories both amusing and touching.

Gutman is a Detroit born actor and musician and his resume includes appearances on stage, television, and film. His path in the pursuit of the actor’s life is similar to the well-worn path of every actor who’s ever dreamt of having a career in the performing arts. He’s done regional theatre, appeared Off-Broadway in “Forbidden Broadway” and “Tony and Tina’s Wedding”, did commercials and voice-overs and landed roles on National tours of “Forbidden Broadway”, “Forbidden Hollywood” and ”Jersey Boys”. He made the big leap to the Broadway stage when a call from a “Jersey Boys” producer got him a role in the hottest show in New York. Over the course of three years, he recorded over a thousand appearances in “Jersey Boys” as a member of the ensemble and understudy to three of the leads.

Gutman is an actor of many talents, and he pours all of them into the show.  He sings, plays guitar, and does impressions.  He includes a pair of Four Season’s/Frankie Valli hits, opening the show with “Oh, What a Night” and closing with “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”. The excitement generated by those two numbers rival the kind of excitement you can get only from seeing a “Jersey Boys” show. His stories about life on Broadway are filled with the camaraderie, the politics, the huge egos and the backstage chatter that are part of the business. He takes you along to the auditions, the callbacks, and the fun-loving lifestyles that are the actor’s lot. And he does it all with a personable style that speaks more of friendship than showbiz.

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There’s a simplicity to Detroit Public Theatre’s production. The set (production design consultant Monika Essen) is kept to a minimum, with a few pieces of furniture providing a space where Gutman can retreat to when his performance doesn’t entail a theatrical setting. The musicians take up the area behind Gutman’s performing space where they and the colorful lighting (Neil Koviu designer) add a kind of cabaret-style feel to the show. From Broadway to Obscurity” is the second show in Detroit Public Theatre’s inaugural season. The staging area of the Allessee Rehearsal Hall has been completely reconfigured for this show, and those who saw “American Hero” may think they’re in a completely different theatre.

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Gutman walked away from the notoriety and the healthy paycheck that came with being a cast member of a Broadway show. There are just some things that fame and money can’t provide, and it takes a gentler lifestyle to be able to enjoy them. But we’re all fortunate that Gutman still wants to lead an actor’s life and he’s comfortable doing it in Michigan. His one-man show at Detroit Public Theatre makes for one incredibly entertaining evening of theatre. There’s good theatre, there’s great theatre, there’s not-to-be-missed theatre. By all means, DON’T miss “From Broadway to Obscurity“.

“From Broadway to Obscurity” is written and created by Eric Gutman. Brian P. Sage directs. The show runs through February 20th. Tickets are available online at www.detroitpublictheatre.org, by phone at 313.567.5111, or in person at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra box office. All performances of Detroit Public Theatre take place at the Robert A. and Maggie Allessee Rehearsal Hall inside the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, 3711 Woodward, Detroit.

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