By: Aleksander UrbanApril 10 at 12:15 AMIt takes a certain caliber of performer to succeed in a solo show. The star must be confident, engaging, and, most of all, talented. Nathan Gunn is all three of these things, and has a voluminous head of hair to boot. His one hour and forty minute performance at Laguna Playhouse does not include a single dull moment, and he manages to keep the audience laughing at a regular pace.
Nathan Gunn has an impressive resumé: two Grammy awards, a myriad of performances at the Met Opera, Carnegie Hall, and just about anywhere else that hosts talented vocalists. But what isn't evident in Gunn's list of accomplishments is his profound connections with the people who have been with him throughout his childhood and into his career. Gunn skillfully introduces each and every person to the audience through loose characterizations, painting a clear picture of how he feels about all of them. Gunn's performance reads like a singer's anecdote at a vocal performance rather than an actor's dramatization of the story of his life, but Gunn is a singer, and the work he does in his spoken monologues only adds to his beautiful vocal stylings, rather than take away from them.
But Gunn's impressive performance is thanks, in large part, to Hershey Felder's writing, directing, and scenic design. Felder does a perfectly minimalistic job, and his writing flows effortlessly without making the audience question the placement of songs or the segues from one story to another. Felder manages to take songs from every part of Gunn's career, and blend them together in a way that makes the audience question: Why aren't Mozart, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Rossini, and "Danny Boy" played together more often?
Felder's scenic design–which is primarily made up of three large panels that consistently feature projections as the backdrop to any story Gunn tells–is so beautifully done that it often feels like the audience is watching a documentary, and the backdrops are the transitional sequences on screen. As Gunn performs each song and monologue, the scenic elements boost him up (although hearing Gunn sing the phonebook in a parking lot would be just as enjoyable), and Erik Cartensen's sound design seamlessly ties together the piano, recorded elements, and Gunn's sonorous voice.
Speaking of the piano, Michael Bagby artfully accompanies Nathan Gunn, not missing a single beat. He is included occasionally as a scene partner throughout the performance, and he masterfully supports Gunn as both a player and listener. His skills as a pianist are not to be overlooked, just as Gunn's performance cannot be missed.