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Eric Gutman delivers funny, moving tribute to his Broadway days 

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You likely don’t know Eric Gutman’s name, but you should. For 70 minutes Thursday night, he transfixed an audience with rendition after rendition of Broadway classics — from traditional musicals like “Cats” and “Annie” to more contemporary shows like “The Last Five Years” and “Once” – and hilarious talk about his experience as an actor who, after finding success on the Great White Way, simply walked away.

Gutman’s major breakthrough was performing in the Tony- and Grammy-winning show “Jersey Boys,” both on Broadway and as part of the touring cast. He performed six different roles (including three of the Four Seasons) over his three years in the show. In addition, he spent 10 years in the Off-Broadway hit “Forbidden Broadway,” which pokes fun at musicals, theater stars, and the culture surrounding it all.

His one-man show is truly a tour de force, and a love letter to musical theater. While I suspect some in the audience didn’t catch all the references, it’s a must-see for musical theater fans. Gutman skewered classics (“How the hell did ‘Cats’ run so long? By the end of Act I the stage is just covered in smeared makeup and lost dreams.”) while also singing their praises — literally. His impressions of Colm Wilkinson (“Les Miserables”), Adam Pascal (“Rent”), and Mandy Patinkin from his “Forbidden Broadway” days were spot on.

He also recounted amusing backstage stories, including the time his director told him five minutes before the show that Stephen Sondheim was in the fifth row for a performance of “Forbidden Broadway,” in which Gutman was tasked with mimicking and poking fun at the legendary composer (“No pressure there.”).

For all his comedic flair, Gutman’s voice was stunningly beautiful. It soared gracefully, particularly during “No One Is Alone” (from “Into the Woods”) and “Broadway, Here I Come” (from the TV show “Smash”). His pacing of comedy and more retrospective moments were a testament to his years of training as an actor.

He tackled the “Jersey Boys” setlist with the ferocity and vitality of an actor who knows what he’s doing. Backstage stories about broken set pieces, injuries, bomb threats, a hysterical run-in with Joe Pesci and even his audition in front of Frankie Valli and Tommy DeVito (“I borderline shit myself.”) were interwoven between songs.

But amidst the comedy, Gutman showed us the complete journey of a person, striving for and achieving his dreams — both on stage and off. The show is sure to leave you saying “it ended much too soon.”

Eric Gutman will perform “From Broadway to Obscurity” Friday, Sept. 23 at 7:45 p.m., and Saturday, Sept. 24 at 2:30 and 7:45 p.m. at the School of the Arts Ensemble Theatre.

Kathy Laluk is a CITY contributing writer. Feedback on this article can be directed to CITY's arts editor, Daniel J. Kushner, at dkushner@rochester-citynews.com.
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