Broadway Theater Review: A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER (Walter Kerr Theatre)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on November 22, 2013

in Theater-New York

WHAT’S FUNNIER THAN MURDER?

As a critic I’m embarrassed to gush but I must confess I gave my first standing ovation last night to honor Jefferson Mays who plays all eight unfortunate members of the D’Ysquith family in Steven Lutvak and Robert L. Freedman’s musical comedy A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. Mr. Mays delivers a phenomenal, tour de force performance (or is it performances?), displaying such talent and mastery of theatrical arts that it would not be hyperbole to call him a genius.

Not to suggest that there are any slouches on or behind the stage of this brilliant entertainment, adapted by Mr. Freedman from Roy Horniman’s novel The Autobiography of a Criminal. Under the inspired, virtuosic direction of Darko Tresnjak, every element – from the thrilling performances to the subtleties of Peggy Hickey’s choreography, to the clever disguising of microphones (one was made to look like a wart on a serving maid’s forehead) – every detail of this production is worked out and put in service of the grand scheme, with the result being a virtually flawless spectacle that is delightful from beginning to end.

The cast of A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder at the Walter Kerr Theater.

London, 1909. Monty Navarro (the charismatic and multi-talented Bryce Pinkham), son of a Corsican musician (long dead), and a laundry woman (whom he’s just buried), is visited unexpectedly by his late mother’s dubious friend Miss Shingle (an appropriately eccentric Jane Carr). She informs him that his recently departed mother, though she worked as a laundress, was actually a member of the wealthy and noble D’Ysquith family. She was disowned by her father and shunned by her relatives after eloping with Monty’s father but, Miss Shingle casually points out, Monty is in reality a D’Ysquith, and only eighth in line to inheriting the title Earl of Highhurst. Letters are discovered to confirm these startling revelations.

Monty attempts to connect with his noble relatives but is given the cold shoulder, at which point he goes on a quiet killing spree, knocking off his pompous relations one after the other.

Each murder is different, ingeniously staged and hilarious. The same can be said about each one of the D’Ysquiths as played by Mr. Mays. Every one of his characters is unique and nothing like any of the others in personality, age, manner, appearance; Mr. Mays’ numerous costume changes alone – I lost count of exactly how many there were – would exhaust an athlete (gorgeous costumes by Linda Cho), and yet, except perhaps for a bit of sweat, he gives no indication of the frantic pace he is sustaining.

Joanna Glushak, Lauren Worsham, Bryce Pinkham, Lisa O'Hare and Jefferson Mays in A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder at the Walter Kerr Theater.

In between the murders a love triangle forms between Monty, Sibella (an irresistible Lisa O’Hare), and Phoebe (Lauren Worsham, whose glorious voice is the best in the show). If I have anything approaching the negative to say about this production it is that the first two scenes between Monty and Sibella felt like they could have been either a little bit fuller or a little bit shorter. But that trifle aside, although more attention is given to Murder than to Love in A Gentleman’s Guide, the romantic element of the play is substantial, exciting and thoroughly enjoyable; the scene in which Sibella hasn’t yet left Monty’s place and Phoebe’s arrived, directed and played to perfection, is one of, if not the funniest scene I’ve ever had the luck to enjoy at the theater.

Steven Lutvak’s music is a celebration, and his and Mr. Freedman’s lyrics hit the mark every time, propelling story, characters and mood; not a moment is wasted. Actors sing and move in a fantastic world on Alexander Dodge’s ever-changing set beautifully lit by Philip S. Rosenberg, its dimensions further expanded by Aaron Rhyne’s rear projections.

It’s not often when money, talent, ability and luck come together and a show as funny, smart and entertaining as A Gentleman’s Guide is born. Sure it’s a musical, sure it’s light, but it is far from a guilty pleasure. This is serious comedy, it’s legitimate theater, it just happens also to be a blast – I guarantee Bergman would have loved it. So go, it’s kid-friendly and you can take the whole family. But do it soon before they’ll be killing for tickets.

Jefferson Mays in "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder" at the Walter Kerr Theater.photos by Joan Marcus

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder
produced in association with The Hartford Stage
and the Old Globe Theatre
Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 W 48th St.
open run
opened on November 17, 2013
ended on January 17, 2016 (905 performances)
for more info, visit A Gentleman’s Guide

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Don Reed April 5, 2014 at 8:21 pm

I had the great good fortune to see the matinee production of A Gentleman’s Guide… today, and the performances were exactly as described above. Since 1965, I think the year was, when I was floored by the original Man of La Mancha, I have seen very few productions as enthralling and captivating as the one I saw today.

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