Not many shows start off with the cast imploring the audience, in song, to leave the theater immediately before the sordid tale of murder … and love … begins. But of course that just hooks you in even more, making you want to know all the juicy details to come.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder does just that, and then sets about to tell the story of Montague Navarro, a young man of meager status who learns after the passing of his mother that he is in fact a member of the well-to-do D’Ysquith (pronounced die-squith) family, and that he is now ninth in line to be the next Earl. But, of course, there is that little matter of the D’Ysquiths not knowing of his existence (his mother was disowned after she married a Castillion) … and the other eight D’Ysquiths in line before him. Monty doesn’t want to wait forever to acquire his rightful inheritance, so he sets about coming up with creative ways of befriending and then knocking off each D’Ysquith that stands in his way.
Complicating matters are his girlfriend Sibella (who marries another man for money while still carrying on with Monty), and distant cousin Phoebe D’Ysquith with whom he falls in love (luckily she does not stand in the way of his ascension). Monty even takes a job with the elder D’Ysquith, who begins to take notice of his relatives suddenly dying just as this new relation shows up. The question for the audience is how long can Monty keep killing D’Ysquiths before getting caught (and we know he gets caught as the show is told as a flashback as Monty writes from prison in his journal of all his misdeeds), and will he be able to escape the executioner?
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is pure Broadway magic. If you’re one of those people who are wowed by sets and costumes, then this is the show for you. The show features a stage within a stage where the various scenes of Monty’s life unfold. It’s a brilliantly executed design with a top notch crew quickly moving various props and set pieces on and off the small stage in a flash. The stage also features a large video wall for the background that is used to its full potential — particularly during one of the deaths — and not just as a cheap way to create a set without actually building anything. The show really is a technical marvel.
The show also features one of the best casts I’ve ever seen in a touring show. Every now and then you see a show where some of the background players just seem to be phoning it in, but each and every actor on the stage is giving it more than 100%. And they have to because of all the constantly moving pieces to the set and the plot. For what is really a fairly simple story, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is also one of the more complicated shows out there, balancing the clever with the comical, and incorporating a very technical Gilbert and Sullivan-esque score to the proceedings. And the cast handles it all with aplomb.
The two female leads, Kristen Hahn (Phoebe) and Kristen Beth Williams (Sibella), are outstanding. For a while I was thinking that it was the same actress playing both roles, which would explain Monty’s sudden attraction to Phoebe, but they are indeed two different people with terrific comedic skills and soaring voices. The song “I’ve Decided to Marry You” is a real showstopper that allows both women to compete for Monty’s affections. The song is almost a battle between the two with Monty in the middle trying to keep one from finding the other in his home. The number really brings the house down.
Kevin Massey is also terrific as Monty and he gets a real workout, on stage for pretty much the entire first act. Massey has a fine, strong voice and can easily switch the mood and momentum of Monty as he often moves from within his own story to breaking the fourth wall to address the audience as he wonders what his next move should be. Massey is rarely off stage. With the bulk of the show’s dialog and songs, he does a lot to carry the show and keep it running smoothly.
But what about the eight D’Ysquiths? In a very clever move, they are all portrayed by a single actor, John Rapson, taking on both male and female roles and giving them each their own voice and personalities. He probably gets the biggest laughs as the two female D’Ysquiths, but the others get some big laughs too, particularly the priest. There is also a marvelous scene where one of the D’Ysquiths is ice skating that had the audience rolling (a wonderful combination of acting and stage trickery). While Massey is almost always on stage, his costume changes aren’t nearly as extreme as Rapson’s, who can appear as one character in a scene, go off stage and then appear as another character seconds later. It boggles the mind, especially when he switches from a female to male role which requires a major costume and makeup change. I don’t know how he does it, but Rapson gives eight terrifically distinct performances.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder pulls out all the musical-comedy stops and it’s easy to see why the show won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2014. The show is currently on tour across the US, currently in residence at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre through January 1. After that, it will make stops in Cincinnati, Nashville, Orlando, Buffalo, Sacramento and more through March 2017. If you love the theatre, don’t miss A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder when it comes to your town.
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