Regional Reviews: Boston
A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder
Also see Josh's recent review of Hamlet
Monty Navarro (Kevin Massey) may be the most charming serial killer to grace the stage, winning the hearts of two beautiful women (and the audience) even as he clears a path to the D'Ysquith family fortune. Following his mother's death, Monty learns that he is a distant heir with eight cousins ahead of him in the line of succession. When he is rebuffed in his attempt to join the D'Ysquith banking house, he pays a visit to Reverend Lord Ezekiel D'Ysquith (John Rapson) in the hope that a man of the cloth may take some pity on him and show him kindness. Instead, the pastor shares the family trait of not wanting to share, but his selfishness leads to his demise when Monty gives him a quid pro quo instead of a helping hand. The Reverend's downfall gives rise to Monty's plan to eliminate his rivals and become the Ninth Earl of Highhurst.
The story takes us through the various clever ways that Monty knocks off his odious cousins, all eight of them brilliantly played by Rapson, be they male or female, old or young, snide or gay. Aided in differentiating the characters by Linda Cho's costumes, Charles G. LaPointe's wig design, and make-up by Brian Strumwasser, Rapson defines them with precise physicality and personality quirks, as well as attuning his vocals to convey the appropriate attitude. He is a comedic force of nature in the role with unflagging energy, despite countless costume changes, and has wonderful chemistry with all of his scene partners.
Massey has little time offstage and matches Rapson's endurance. Part of his charm as Monty is his boyish smile, providing credibility to his underdog status, which gives way to a roguish quality as he embraces his mission. His growing confidence makes him all the more attractive to his long-time girlfriend Sibella Hallward (Kristen Beth Williams), in spite of her recent betrothal, and his new sweetheart, cousin Phoebe D'Ysquith (Kristen Hahn). These two Kristens share more than a name as they both give very strong performances, showing great comic timing and boasting gorgeous soprano voices. One would never doubt Monty's inability to choose between them, as best illustrated in the trio's farcical mini-drama, "I've Decided to Marry You."
The Tony-nominated score is filled with a range of musical genres, including a beautiful homage ("Sibella") delivered most hypnotically by Massey, a rousing double-entendre drinking song ("Better with a Man"), a hilariously current "I Don't Understand the Poor," and a song of complex construction to wrap up the first act ("The Last One You'd Expect"). The musical numbers give insight into the characters and advance the story. Music director Lawrence Goldberg leads a dozen musicians who produce a wonderful sound to underscore the soaring voices of the principals and the ensemble. Sound designer Dan Moses Schreier augments with effects that include thunder, gunshots and slamming doors.
Alexander Dodge's scenic design creates the sense of watching a show-within-a-show as there is a smaller proscenium stage with a crinkly, crimson curtain set in the middle of the Shubert stage. Each time we meet a new member of the D'Ysquith family, their scenario plays out on the small stage, with appropriate backdrop or projections (Aaron Rhyne, designer) to indicate the location. Ancestral portraits that come alive line the walls of the Highhurst estate, snow-encrusted evergreens frame the lake at a winter resort, and international sites are suggested by simple projections and shifts in Philip S. Rosenberg's lighting design. In addition to helping Rapson get in touch with his multiple personalities, Williams and Hahn are the beneficiaries of Cho's beautiful, elaborate costume designs.
Director Darko Tresnjak has been with the show since its 2012 premiere at the Hartford Stage in Hartford, Connecticut, where he is the Artistic Director. After a run at the Old Globe in San Diego, the musical opened at the Walter Kerr on Broadway in November 2013 and ran through January, 2016. The national tour began in September 2015 and is presently scheduled through March 2017. Tresnjak's guidance draws terrific performances across the board and guarantees that all of the murder and mayhem lead to much mirth and merriment for the audience. A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder is a refreshing, one-of-a-kind musical comedy that delivers on its promise. Hurry and get your tickets. With the reviews this show has been receiving, people are dying to get in.
A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder, performances through October 23, 2016, at Citi Performing Arts Center Shubert Theatre, 265 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 866-348-9738 or www.citicenter.org.
Based on a novel by Roy Horniman, Book and Lyrics by Robert L. Freedman, Music and Lyrics by Steven Lutvak, Directed by Darko Tresnjak, Choreography by Peggy Hickey; Music Director, Lawrence Goldberg; Scenic Design, Alexander Dodge; Costume Design, Linda Cho; Lighting Design, Philip S. Rosenberg; Sound Design, Dan Moses Schreier; Projection Design, Aaron Rhyne; Hair & Wig Design, Charles G. LaPointe; Make-up Design, Brian Strumwasser; Orchestrations, Jonathan Tunick; Production Stage Manager, J. Jason Daunter
Cast (in order of appearance): Kevin Massey, Jennifer Smith, Kristen Beth Williams, John Rapson, Kathy Voytko, Dani Marcus, Matt Leisy, Kristen Hahn, Kristen Mengelkoch, Ben Roseberry, Christopher Behmke, Catherine Walker