Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and MurderFlorida Studio Theatre
William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's review of A Child of Our Time

Sarah Ellis, Jimmy Nicholas and Alexandra Zorn
Photo by Matthew Holler
Florida Studio Theatre opens its Winter Mainstage series with A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, music and lyrics by Steven Lutvak, book and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman. This musical is based on the 1907 novel "Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal" by Roy Horniman which also inspired the 1948 movie Kind Hearts and Coronets. Gentleman's Guide opened on Broadway in 2013, winning four Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

I saw the show on Broadway, and although I loved it, I thought it got a little lost in the 975-seat Walter Kerr Theater and would have played better at one of the larger Off-Broadway houses, half the size. At Florida Studio Theatre's Gomperz Theatre, seating 275, it proves a perfect fit. The Broadway cast numbered 11, here reduced to 10 with no discernible loss.

This musical follows the story of Monty Navarro, an outcast from the wealthy D'Ysquith family because of his mother's unsuitable marriage. When he learns of his heritage, and that he is only eight places removed from the titular head of the family, he seeks to reunite with them, only to be rejected at first. As he makes some headway toward acceptance, members start dying off in unusual ways until less and less stands between Monty and fortune. All of this is set to a score that is a perfect fit for the acerbic humor of the piece.

Jimmy Nicholas plays Monty, oozing with charm and good looks (I also feel he sings far better than Bryce Pinkham). He displays nice comic chops in a highlight scene in the second act. Richard Henry plays all the members of the D'Ysquith family, at least until they die off. On Broadway, this role was a tour de force for Jefferson Mays, who brought great individuality to each member. Mr. Henry is very good in the part, I might say excellent, just not quite able to pull off the unique brilliance that Mays did.

Monty is in love with Sibella, played by Sarah Ellis. She is haughty, funny, and sings a difficult part with ease. It becomes almost possible to feel sorry for Monty, because we know that if he gets what he wants, he will regret it to his dying day. Along the way, one of his cousins, Phoebe D'Ysquith, played by Alexandra Zorn, falls in love with Monty and he with her, to a degree. She is sweet and sincere, a little naive, but this isn't a bad thing if you are going to travel a path with Monty.

The ensemble consists of Mimi Bessette (Woman #1), Taylor Galvin (Woman #2), Chrissy Albanese (Woman #3), Levin Valayil (Man #1), David Purdy (Man #2), and James LaRosa (Man #3). All slip in and out of some minor roles and even a few not so minor ones (Ms. Bessette as Misss Shingle, Ms. Galvin as Lady Eugenia D'Ysquith) with great poise and serve the production well.

Jason Cannon directs with a sure hand, keenly aware of the tartness this satire requires. He is assisted by choreographer Savannah Holds, who more or less directs movement styles rather than actual dance. Scenic designers Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay provide a series of picture frames, one for each of the stage depths. Florida Studio Theatre has rented costumes based on the original designs for Broadway of Linda Cho, here coordinated by Adrienne Webber. Thom Beaulieu designed the lighting and Thom Korp the sound. Roy Johns is the busy stage manager, assisted by Jynelly Rosario.

Darren Server is our intrepid music director on keyboard, Alexander W. Ravitz on reed, and Amber Svetik on violin. They play well, but I wish budget allowed for a couple more players.

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder is my favorite of the musicals that have opened FST's Winter Mainstage series in the past few years, and it fits the Gomperz perfectly. Sarasota audiences are already agreeing because an extension to January 6, 2019, has been announced.

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, through January 6, 2019, at Florida Studio Theatre, Gompertz Theater, 1241 N. Palm Avenue, Sarasota FL. For tickets and performance information, please call the box office at 941-366-9000 or visit

Cast (in alphabetical order):
Chrissy Albanese-Woman #3
Mimi Bessette*: Woman #1/Miss Shingle
Sarah Ellis*: Sibella Hallward
Taylor Galvin-Woman #2?Eugenia D'Ysquith
Richard Henry*: The D'Ysquith Family
James LaRosa*: Man #3
Jimmy Nicholas*: Monty Navarro
David Purdy*: Man #2
Levin Valayil*: Man #1
Alexandra Zorn*: Phoebe D'Ysquith
*=Member of Actors' Equity Association