By: Iris Wiener
April 5, 2019: Though he had been performing and tap dancing since he was 5 years old, it was working on a high school production of Me and My Girl that changed the path of Danny Gardner’s life. The musical combined physical comedy, singing and tap dancing, all skills the Pennsylvania native would later demonstrate in Broadway’s Dames at Sea and the New York Spectacular at Radio City Musical Hall. The multi-talented performer is also no stranger to the John W. Engeman Theater, after having treated Long Islanders to his fancy footwork in Singin’ in the Rain and his superb comedic timing in Oklahoma. Gardner returns again…and again…and again for A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, in which he plays many members of the D’Ysquith family. A comical story about Monty Navarro (Sean Yves), an heir to a family fortune who sets out to jump the line of succession by eliminating the eight irriating relatives who stand in his way. He spoke with Theaterlife.com about what it means to be Murdered, returning to Long Island, and his popular Choreography Challenges.
Theaterlife: Murder encompasses a few different genres. How do you describe the show to people?
DG: It’s most like an English musical or English panto. It’s slapstick combined with Monty Python and musical theatre. It’s the Monty Python version of Sweeney Todd! (Laughs)If you were to put those together I feel like you would get something like Gentleman’s Guide. There’s a love story in Murder too. This [particular] production has been influenced by Peter and the Starcatcher, with an imagined aspect of it that really heightens it.
TL: What is the most challenging aspect of playing the D’Ysquith family?
DG: The costume changes. They took a lot of time to figure out. I literally would not be able to do the show without my wonderful dressers. I’m focused on the words and the lyrics I have to say next and they tell me, “Okay, take your pants off,” or “Alright, put this wig on.” If they don’t tell me I will literally just stand there.
TL: The show is iconic due to its extraordinary quick changes. How many are there?
DG: I don’t actually know! I’ve wanted to count but I haven’t done it yet. I play nine different characters, but there’s a cameo at the end where I play three characters really quickly in a silly bit, so if you count those it’s 12. But it’s not like I change into one character and I’m that character for the rest of it. I change from one character to the next character, then back to the other character, then to another character, and back to the first character. It’s quite a few changes, I haven’t done the math yet.
TL: What would people be most surprised to learn about that aspect of the show?
DG: How calm you have to be when it’s happening. The more you get worked up with how much you’re changing, the less concentrated you are. I think it’s the idea of making it happen quickly and efficiently, and if it doesn’t happen because one piece doesn’t get put on, then you just have to move on with the show. They would also be surprised at how the costumes are put together. One of my pieces is a coat and a vest and a shirt, which are all sewn together; it’s literally velcroed down the middle in the front, and all three pieces are on me at one time.
TL: Who is your favorite D’Ysquith to play?
DG: I really like Ezekiel, the reverend. His physicality and the voice that he has is unlike the rest of the characters. I really have a lot of fun with him.
TL: The last time you were on the Engeman stage you were bringing down the house as Don Lockwood (famously originated by Gene Kelly) in Singin’ in the Rain. What do you enjoy the most about performing at the Northport theatre?
DG: I love the audiences there because they always show up ready to have fun and go with us. This is a very different show from Oklahoma and Singin’ in the Rain; it’s much more comedic and outlandish, which is great to see. Engeman audiences are willing to take the ride. You can tell that they’re all for it which is so exciting.
TL: Your followers on social media are big fans of your choreography challenges, in which you list five or six bits of choreography (sometimes silly ones) and the performer will have to demonstrate them with only a moment’s notice. How did these challenges get started?
DG: When I was doing the Radio City show two years ago, I was in the dressing room with the other principal male actors, Jeff Pew and Jacob Wittmar, and it was such a fun group that we would just goof around. Other people have done this, throwing choreography at a person, but I was like, “Hey Jeff, let’s throw choreography at each other and we have to do it right away!”
Then I said, “What if we put it on Youtube or Instagram?” So we did, and then the Rockettes got jealous and said, “We want to play,” so we started sending these choreography challenges to the Rockettes. Then I started carrying the idea with me to the shows I did, and people were doing them before the show and at intermission. A lot of people have done it before, but I call myself the curator of it for Instagram. I do pride myself on the odd things that I’m able to get people to do. It’s a lot of fun! The Gentleman’s Guide version of this should be interesting because it’s already a kooky show, so to do a choreography challenge is going to be quite interesting.
TL: The Choreography Challenge demonstrates that the person doing it is quick on their feet and multi-talented. It is no coincidence that it comes from the mind of someone who seems to be able to excel at everything!
DG: (Laughs)In this business you have to be able to do everything. You show up and say, “Yes!” and afterwards you figure out how to do it.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is now running through April 28th. For more information contact the theater directly at 631-261-2900 or visit EngemanTheater.com.