Regional Reviews: San Diego
Nathan Gunn: Flying Solo
As depicted by Felder and Gunn, the baritone singer has had a normal personal life and an extraordinary career. The script consists of a series of vignettes and provides an overview of Gunn's accomplishments. Audiences hear about the origins of Gunn's success and his relationships with his parents, and he sings some of the memorable songs he has performed over the years. He discusses working on productions of The Magic Flute, Billy Budd, and Camelot; his marriage to pianist, educator, and music director Julie Jordan Gunn; and his children.
Gunn displays his musical versatility by singing from a variety of genres, including opera, musical theatre, Scottish melodies, and lullaby. There's even an amusing cover of the John Denver/Placido Domingo duet "Perhaps Love," in which Gunn impersonates both singers. He is an engaging storyteller, and his performance is humorous and sincere. Gunn does not boast about his accomplishments, but expresses gratitude for all the opportunities that have been presented to him.
Felder's dialogue covers a lot of history over a brisk 90 minutes. He doesn't overwhelm audiences with information and is able to integrate songs into the plot seamlessly. His direction in the non-musical segments is fairly straightforward, as he focuses on making Gunn an animated presence. There are instances, particularly in selections such as "Has Anybody Seen My Gal?" and "Largo al factotum" from The Barber of Seville, where Felder manages to inject physical comedy into the piece. Felder and his design team present a show that is a pleasure to experience.
While the story takes place in several locations, Felder's set consists of furniture that reflect Gunn's ties to Scotland. Aiding with visuals are Richard Norwood's lighting, Brian McMullen's projections, and Christopher Ash's video direction. Their contributions are expertly timed to complement the script. In addition to the look of the staging, the music, live from musical director/pianist Michael Bagby and prerecorded from sound designer Erik Carstensen, is beautiful to hear. A minor nitpick is that a few sound effects from Carstensen, such as a record scratch, are occasionally used for easy laughs.
Nathan Gunn Flying Solo might be a tribute to music, but the heart of the storyline is the relationship between Gunn and his emotionally distant father. Although they share a decent connection, Gunn's father isn't always able to express his love for his son. Despite fulfilling his duties as a father, neither Felder nor Gunn present him as a warm man. Their history together leads to some of the biggest payoffs of the night. Felder, who often features pathos in his work, earns these moments since the father/son dynamic builds from early on to the moving conclusion.
More intimate than an extravagant opera, Flying Solo is a highly enjoyable evening for audiences at the Lyceum Stage. Even if you're not an opera enthusiast, there's plenty to appreciate about Gunn's story.
Nathan Gunn: Flying Solo, through June 10, 2018, at San Diego Repertory Theatre, Lyceum Stage, 79 Horton Plaza, San Diego CA. Performs Sundays through Saturdays. Tickets start at $48.00 and can be purchased online at www.sdrep.org or by phone at 619-544-1000.