A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER
When I purchased the tickets for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” I expected something that combined the excitement of last season’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood (which incidentally, closed way too soon) and the murdering, bloody mayhem of “Sweeney Todd.” Based on the 1907 novel “Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal” by Roy Horniman, and later a movie starring Alec Guinness (Kind Heart and Coronets, 1949), the show is a tale of comic revenge – and murder – but without the blood and guts of Sondheim’s classic Sweeney and a lot more comic relief and slapstick. That is what makes this a fun show.
The story focuses on the antics of Monty Navarro, (played fetchingly by a handsome Bryce Pinkham) a young and somewhat destitute man, whose mother had just died. Thanks to a lovely woman (Jane Carr) who pays her respects to Monty, he finds out that he is from the line of the D’Ysquiths, a family of well to do upper class Brits who have no use for anyone who is not of their level. Then – as if that weren’t enough of a surprise for him – he finds out that he is ninth in line for the title of Earl of Highhurst. (Monty’s mother was disowned for marrying his father, a Castilian.) Thinking he can gain entry into the family, he pens a letter requesting employment, which is quickly denied by the son of the head of the family, setting in motion his plot to kill off the right in line ahead of him.
The story is told from Monty’s point of view and begins in a jail cell as he awaits a jury decision on his guilt – or innocence. And so the flashback as to what happened and how Monty landed in jail, begins – showing how each of the D’ysquiths ahead of him in the succession accidentally met their demise. Of course, there is a secondary love story between Monty and Sibella, a gorgeous blonde beauty (Lisa O’Hare) who loves Monty but loves money more. Their unrequited love is fodder for a wonderful sub plot. Lauren Worsham is endearing as Phoebe D’Ysquith, Monty’s other love interest, who – although a D’Ysquith is not in line for the Earldom. So Phoebe is safe from the perils which her other family members face. This love triangle is crafted with extreme expertise, skillful comedic play and artful singing.
Jefferson Mayes is just brilliant playing – all eight – yes all eight – D’ysquith family members who meet their maker in a series of unfortunate accidents. He is so full of energy and every character is hilariously portrayed. There is a vast difference in each of the characters and Mayes pulls them off with ease. I got this feeling that I was in the middle of a Benny Hill or a Monty Python set. His character changes are fresh and sparkling, crisp and quick, and outright adorable. Mayes is one of the few people who could accomplish these costume and character changes with great skill and ease. He will get a Tony nomination for his work.
I am a big fan of Steven Lutvak and was thrilled that he is represented here. Lutvak’s music is complimented with intelligent and quick witted lyrics by Robert L. Freedman, who also penned the book. Their work is so smart that you actually can’t wait for the next murder and for Monty to actually gain his title. Their work should at least garner them a Tony nomination for best score.
The rest of the cast did a marvelous job and there are lots of laughs. If you are not a fan of British musicals, it might take you a little while to get comfortable but that disappears quickly. While the first half of the first act moved a little slowly, they made up for it in Act II. It is not a splashy musical and there is no blood to be spilled, but “A Gentleman’s Guide …” makes for a lovely theater experience.