Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder
A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder won the 2014 Tony Award for Best Musical for its Broadway production. Based on a 1907 novel by Roy Horniman, the show takes place in England from 1907 to 1909. "Commoner" Monty Navarro discovers that his recently deceased mother had been expelled from the wealthy aristocratic D'Ysquith family for marrying his father. In addition, he learns that he is ninth in line to become the Earl of Highhurst and to inherit the castle and estate of the family. Monty reaches out to the family for assistance, but is soon rejected just as his mother was. Meanwhile, he stumbles onto the idea of killing off the family members who stand between him and the earlship, primarily motivated by revenge for their mistreatment of his mother. In addition, Monty is in love with the vain but beautiful (and soon-to-be married) Sibella, while also being smitten with his newly found cousin Phoebe, which makes for some intriguing juggling of relationships.
The musical's book by Robert L. Freedman effectively mixes in both subtle and broad comedy, romance, theatricality and intrigue. While murder is an integral part of the plot, the entire story is told in a lighthearted tone. Though crafted in the style of a British farce, Gentleman's Guide doesn't have the over-the-top silliness that can become tedious in shows of that genre. The storytelling is quick and complex, but communicated with clarity for the most part.
The songs by Steven Lutvak (music and lyrics) and the aforementioned Robert L. Freedman (lyrics) show solid craftsmanship in a post-Victorian English music hall style. The lyrics have wit and humor, and the music is melodic pastiche. Though the score is well suited to the story and show, the songs aren't likely to become popular (even among show tune aficionados) on their own. Among the stronger numbers are "Better with a Man" (which includes quite a number of not-so-subtle innuendos), "Inside Out," and "The Last One You'd Expect".
As Monty, David Thomas effectively transforms from lovable loser to opportunistic killer, but garners empathy from the audience throughout. He provides solid vocals, adroit physicality, and fine-tuned acting. A unique aspect of this show is that one actor portrays all of the D'Ysquith family members (male and female) who stand in Monty's path toward the fortune. Chris Beiser provides distinct characters and mannerisms for each, garners many laughs, and sings very well. Some of the costume changes are very quick, and Mr. Beiser (likely with the help of some talented backstage assistants) maintains the energy level and skill to transform from character to character rapidly. This is a tour de force performance.
As Sibella, KatieAnn Bonavita captures the sensuality and cold vanity of the woman who loves Monty, but won't marry him due to his low station in life. Hannah Hensler provides the necessary endearing warmth and forthright conviction as Phoebe D'Ysquith, one of the only likeable members of the family. Both women are talented singers, and they combine with Mr. Thomas in performing a great scene with the song "I've Decided to Marry You." The six ensemble members skillfully play a variety of roles throughout the proceedings.
In addition to playing the multiple D'Ysquith roles, Chris Beiser also supplies his normal duties as director and choreographer for this production. His humorous and effective blocking, appealing staging concepts, and cheerful tone are well suited to the material. There isn't much in the way of traditional dancing, but the movement is well-timed, interesting, and suitable for the show.
Dave Gabert's scenic design is an interesting one. Similar to the Broadway production, a large unit set resembling an English music hall (with proscenium and inner curtain) takes up much of the stage area. The action takes place both on the inner stage and in front of it, with different set pieces being changed behind the inner curtain. Vivid and fun projections are also used to provide additional details. The costumes by Emercita Erb and Maridee Alexander are attractive and period appropriate.
La Comedia audiences may not be familiar with the title, songs or story of A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder, but that shouldn't stop them from choosing to see the show. The well-executed musical is funny and quite the crowd pleaser. It is well worth seeing.
Note: La Comedia doesn't currently have a mask mandate in place. The buffet dinner is provided as it was prior to COVID-19, with patrons serving themselves.
A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder runs through September 19, 2021, at La Comedia Dinner Theater, 765 W. Central Ave, Springboro OH. For tickets and information, call (937) 746-4554 or visit lacomedia.com/.