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Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder
National Tour
Review by David Ritchey


Kristen Beth Williams, Kevin Massey,
and Adrienne Eller

Photo by Joan Marcus
Monty Navarro (Kevin Massey) is broke. He doesn't have enough money to convince his love, Miss Sibella Hallward (Kristen Beth Williams), to marry him. She is beautiful and pursued by men who are rich and titled.

This is part of the plot outline for A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder. To win his love in the Edwardian London, 1906, Navarro needs money and he has little hope of becoming a wealthy and titled Englishman. But wait—immediately after his mother's funeral, which took place just before the curtain went up, Navarro learns he is a distant relative of the D'Ysquith family. That means he is heir to a fortune and ninth in line for the title of Earl of Highhurst.

What is a man in this situation to do? Simple. He must murder the members of the D'Ysquith family who stand between him and the title and wealth he needs to win Sibella. But how can he murder almost everyone in the family and not get caught?

Murder and love are the basis for this rowdy comedy, which received the 2014 Tony Award for Best Musical. And murder becomes more fun when all of the members of the D'Ysquith family are played by one actor, John Rapson. Some members of the family are male, some female. For the most part they have distinguished careers—law, a priest, a not-very-good actress, a kind adventurer ... the list goes on. One by one, Navarro gets rid of his relatives to the delight of the audience.

The audience enjoys the work of this serial killer for several reasons. First, all of those who are murdered are played by the same actor, so the audience knows after each death, he'll be back in a few minutes as another character. Second, Navarro is one of the most charming and likeable characters to cross a stage in a long, long time. A few murders don't count for much—they're all in the family. (This may parallel why audiences loved Dexter the serial killer on TV 's "Dexter." He was the good guy.)

How charming and likeable is Navarro? Money and a title increase a man's charm and sex appeal. In one delightfully sexy scene (highlighted on the televised Tony Awards show), both Sibella and Phoebe D'Ysquith (Adrienne Eller) arrive at Navarro's flat with amorous intentions.

Kevin Massey is perfect as Navarro, a man ruled by money and passions. Massey sings well and puts a winning spin on every funny line. John Rapson steals the show with his delightful performance as nine different characters. Rapson is a wild man on stage—vocally, physically, and with perfect timing.

Kristen Beth Williams and Adrienne Eller are picture perfect as beautiful women interested in Navarro. They sing well and aren't afraid of physical comedy.

The play is based on a novel by Roy Horniman, which was the source for the 1947 movie Kind Hearts and Coronets. This musical version of the story was written by Robert L. Freedman (book and lyrics) and Steven Lutvak (music and lyrics). The music hints at English cabaret, Edwardian theater, and tunes as current as tomorrow, and is as delightful and charming as the murderer.

Alexander Dodge (scenic design) has created a vivid, colorful set, which is a second proscenium arch filled with a bright purple curtain, which serves as a constant reminder that we're watching a play. Linda Cho (costume design) keeps the costumes true to the Edwardian period, yet makes them bright and stage worthy. Peggy Hickey (choreography) has created small dance numbers. The show lacks the big, bold dance scenes of most musicals.

However, it's director Darko Tresnjak who deserves his own special curtain call. He is a master at making a trifle musical into an evening of immense pleasure for the audience. A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder could not be more fun and nonsense.

A Gentlemen's Guide to Love and Murder continues through November 15, 2015, at the Connor Palace, Play House Square. For tickets and information, call 216-640-8800.

Based on Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal by Roy Horniman
Book and Lyrics: Robert L. Freedman
Music and Lyrics: Steven Lutvak
Monty Navarro: Kevin Massey
Miss Shingle: Megan Loomis
Sibella Hallward: Kristen Beth Williams
Asquith D'Ysquith, Jr.,: John Rapson
Tour Guide: Dani Marcus
Lord Adalbert D'Ysquith: John Rapson
Reverend Lord Ezekial D'Ysquith: John Rapson
Miss Barley: Leslie McKinnell
Lord Asquith D'Ysquith, Sr.: John Rapson
Tom Copley: Matt Leisy
Phoebe D'Ysquith: Adrienne Eller
Lady Hyacinth D'Ysquith: John Rapson
Newsboys: Matt Leisy, Ben Roseberry, Megan Loomis, Kristen Mengelkoch
Major Lord Bartholomew D'Ysquith: John Rapson
Lady Salome D'Ysquith Pumphrey: John Rapson
Actors: Ben Roseberry, Matt Leisy, Christopher Behmke
Lady Eugenia: Kristen Mengelkoch
Mr. Gorby: Christopher Behmke
Chief Inspector Pinckney: Ben Roseberry
Guard: Matt Leisy
Magistrate: Christopher Behmke
Chauncey: John Rapson
Ensemble: Christopher Behmke, Matt Leisy, Megan Loomis, Lesley McKinnell, Kristen Mengelkoch, Ben Roseberry
Scenic Designer: Alexander Dodge
Costume Designer: Linda Cho
Hat & Wig Designs: Charles G. LaPointe
Choreography: Peggy Hickey
Director: Darko Tresnjak

- David Ritchey


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