How Will 'A Gentleman's Guide' Fare At The Tonys?

David Polk will be in the balcony of Radio City Music Hall Sunday night at the Tony Awards telecast.

He’ll be there to cheer on the most nominated show of the Broadway season: “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” which is up for 10 awards, including outstanding new musical.

He can also take personal pride in all the acclaim and awards that the show has received.

After all, he helped make it happen.

As advisor of the Richard P. Garmany Fund at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, he made the two-week workshop of the show at Hartford Stage possible in the winter of 2011 with a gift of $35,000.

And then he gave the theater,  by way of the foundation, $100,000 to support the full production at Hartford Stage — where the show made its world premiere in November 2012.

After the Hartford Stage run, the show was well on its way, buoyed by enthusiastic audiences and reviews, including a rave from New York Times’ sometimes persnickety Charles Isherwood. The show was further polished as it made its way to the Old Globe Playhouse in San Diego for its second production. 

In the spring of 2013 commercial producer Joey Parnes announced the show was going to Broadway. The musical opened last November where it received the best reviews for a new musical of the season.

“I never expected it to go to Broadway,” says Polk. “Broadway is just so hard to get to and if it did it is so hard to last there.”

Polk is correct there. The show wasn’t based on a hit film or book, it had no box office “stars” and it had an ungainly title. Audiences who saw it loved it but the box office plateaued and struggled during the winter months, making a very modest profit, but just. 

Then the nominations for various awards were announced last month and “Gentleman’s Guide…” was at the top of the everyone’s list. It has already won the trifecta of the Outer Critics Circle, the Drama League and the Drama Desk Awards. But will it win the big prize on Sunday?

It just might.

We’ve all heard the phrase “the little show that could” used ad nauseam for many occasions. (See “Avenue Q” the year it beat “Wicked.” There are still folks with their jaws frozen open from that one.) But really, who would have guessed that “Gentleman’s Guide…,” the hysterically funny, ingeniously clever, melody-loving show would be making the folks at Disney anxious?

But when you think of it , “Gentleman’s Guide…” has a lot going for it. It is the only show in the category that has a completely original score. (“After Midnight” is a splendid revue featuring period music; “Beautiful: the Carole King Musical” features existing music by you-know-who; and “Aladdin”  has music from the Disney animated movie, along with new songs, too.)

And one certainly wants to reward originality, especially when it reflects such style, wit and wickedness.

You can also make a strong case for Darko Tresnjak, artistic director of Hartford Stage making his Broadway debut as director (and who has already won several awards for it). The musical feels there’s singular aesthetic hand guiding all the goings on in the playful show about love, money and murder.

Beyond that I hesitate to guess on who will win what. Bryce Pinkham’s smooth-as-silk performance and Jefferson Mays’ multi-splendiferous role-playing are both strong contenders but will they split the vote allowing Neil Patrick Harris who stars in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” to get his reward? (This is not to take anything away from Harris who may have plenty of votes to spare. I was ready to give him a statuette last year just on the basis of his  opening number as host of the awards telecast. Also of note:  Mays and Harris tied for the win at the Drama Desk Awards.)

Other “Love/Murder” winners? Who knows? Oh, hell, I’ll just say it. Robert L. Freedman’s terrific book should win hands down. But then again I thought “The Realistic Jones” would be the best play to beat. It wasn't even nominated.

But no matter what happens on Sunday, up there in the balcony Polk is just happy to be there feeling “like the janitor who helped the nurse who helped the doctor deliver the baby” — or something like that — because  his financial support helped guide “Love & Murder” much more than a little.

“Richard loved music and I think he would be very pleased,” says Polk of his friend — a former Aetna executive who died in 2008 — for whom the fund is named. Polk says  the foundation wasn’t interested in helping to pay for a lobby or theater signage or additional bathrooms. “The mission of the foundation was to do something that has a significant impact.”