Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The plot derives from a 1907 British novel that was also adapted for the 1949 British film Kind Hearts and Coronets, and the musical shares the movie's device of using a single actor to portray eight members of the same aristocratic family. Authors Robert L. Freedman (book and lyrics) and Steven Lutvak (music and lyrics) keep the story in its original early 20th-century time period, with literate lyrics and tunes that borrow from era-appropriate operetta and music hall forms.
The central character is Monty Navarro (Kevin Massey), who is living in genteel poverty when he learns that his late mother was a member of the D'Ysquith family, disinherited for marrying the Castilian musician she loved instead of a man of her own social class. Eight members of the family (all played by John Rapson) stand between Monty and the title Earl of Highhurst, and Monty is determined to restore his place in the succession by any means necessary.
To demonstrate that everything is in good fun, director Darko Tresnjak and scenic designer Alexander Dodge stage Monty's murderous and romantic adventures as a series of tableaux on a small, diorama-like stage with its own curtain and projected backgrounds. Monty intermittently narrates the proceedings from a downstage corner representing the cell where he awaits execution for murder. (Not a spoiler.) Dodge's sets, enhanced with Aaron Rhyne's photographic projections, take the characters to locales that include the tower of an ancient church, the conservatory of a country house, the skating pond at a winter resort, and an ancestral hall where the portraits sing and the suits of armor dance.
Massey conveys a boyish quality that makes Monty seem merely a mischievous scamp (think an Edwardian version of J. Pierrepont Finch) even as the figurative blood flows. Rapson provides a delightful gallery of eccentricsthe tipsy one, the fey one with the odd chuckle, the supercilious youth, the dithering society dame, and so onwith the inestimable aid of Linda Cho's costumes and a highly skilled dresser.
Kristen Beth Williams and Adrienne Eller demonstrate fine singing and comic skill as the two contrasting women in Monty's life, while Kristen Mengelkoch walks away with her scene as the imperious wife of the current earl.