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A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder

"I don't understand the poor
We teach them to read
But do they succeed? When they're hungry and frail
We feed them in jail!
We send them off to war!
I don't understand —
I'm not being grand!
I don't understand the poor!"

— Lord Adalbert D'Ysquith delightfully summing up his insufferably snobbish obliviousness to the less fortunate in "I Don't Understand the Poor."

"Only eight other relations stand between you and the current head of the family.”— Miss Shingle.

A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder
The cast with Bryce Pinkham as Monty Navarro (standing center), Jefferson Mays as Lord Adalbert D'Ysquith (center,red), and Jane Carr as Miss Shingle (seated)
(Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder
(L-R) Jefferson Mays as the gay Henry D'Ysquith singing "Better With a Man."
(Photo credit: Joan Marcus)
When Miss Shingle tells Monty Navarro that his mother was born into a famous titled family, she hardly intended to set off a string of murders. But discovering that his recently deceased mother was disowned when she married for love, sets off a fire of ambition in the mild mannered and penniless Monty.

And for all lucky enough to nab a ticket for A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder, watching Monty do in the eight D'Ysquiths who stand between him and being the family's top Lord will also set off gales of laughter. The new musical based on Israel Rank, the dark 1907 novel by Roy Horniman that also inspired the Alec Guinness movie Kind Hearts and Coronets is not only the funniest show on Broadway, but the most devilishly clever. That goes for the savvy book and sparkling lyrics by Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak, the nifty staging by director Darko Tresnjak and his designers, and the bravura performances of the versatile and gifted cast.

I can't remember a recent musical where everything fell into place so felicitously. While the show has many assets it would be worth seeing just for the cast's showboat, Jefferson Mays, who plays all eight of the oddball human obstacles to Monty's becoming #1 D'Ysquith. Mays brilliantly transitions from one eccentric personality to the next, donning new costumes for each with mind-boggling agility. His wizardly persona transformations include two females — an actress doing an over-the-top Hedda Gabler and a middle aged lady in constant world-wide pursuit of good causes.

Mays, is no stranger to multiple role playing. But he didn't sing in his Tony-award winning solo I Am My Own Wife as he does here. And very nicely so! While his wacky aristocrats are so much fun to watch that you find yourself wishing all of them could remain on stage, Bryce Pinkham's Monty makes it just as entertaining to see them expedited one by one to the great beyond.

Pinkham's likeable murderer has a Hugh Jackmanish charm and a fine voice; so does Lisa O'Hare (who, like Mays was in the previous Old Globe and Hartford Stage productions), the sexy blonde beauty Monty loves. O'Hare's Sibella , unlike Monty's mother, is not about to marry for love, which stokes the fire of Monty's ambition to win the top spot in his newly discovered aristocratic family. His quest for that title and fortune also brings a young noblewoman and another fine actress with a gorgeous soprano voice, Lauren Worsham, into the ever more macabre (and hilarious) "Guide to Love & Murder."

Toy theater
a typical 19th Century toy theater
Director Dark Tresnjak and his production team have brought all the magic touches and visual delights of the two previous productions to Broadway. Linda Cho's costumes are amusingly authentic and eye popping, Peggy Hickey's choreography is delightful. Scenic designer's Alexander Dodge's colorful triple prosceniums turn the Walter Kerr stage into a replica a 19th Century toy theater. The main proscenium is encrusted with the D'Ysquich family crest and serves as the playing area where a memoir Monty is writing in prison is animated into a flashback replay of brought him there.

In the first act the flashback begins with a replay Monty's being visited by Miss Shingle (Jane Carr) after his mother's funeral. Her revelation about his mother's noble birth and that he's just eight family members removed from the Earl of Highhurst's title and fortune turns into the perky "You're a 'Ysquith." The second act sets Monty's downfall in motion when a group of mourners and Lord Adalbert tunefully wonder "Why Are all the D'Ýsquiths Dying?"

The team of Steven Lutvak and Robert L. Freedman is a most welcome addition to the Broadway musical theater scene. Lutvak's score and the lyrics by him and librettist Freedman are original as well as catchy nods to famous old show tune style, most notably Noel Coward and Gilbert & Sullivan's patter songs. All are sung and performed with beautifully by the more heroic than villainous killer, his lady loves and the terrifically multi-faceted ensemble.

It's hard to single out any one of Tresnjak's inspired directorial touches for the hilarious death scenes. Just as we think nothing can top an ice skating Asquith D'Ysquith Jr. and his lady friend sinking to their icey graves courtesy of Monty's use of a saw, than we watch Monty pick up the gay Lord Henry for their riotous duet "Better With a Man." A show stopper for Monty and his two ladies is his farcical attempt to keep Lauren Worsham''s Phoebe who he intends to marry ("I've Decided to Marry You") from discovering the now married Sibella in another room where they've just had a rendezvous.

Though the first act is a bit too long I can't think of a thing I'd want to see gone. Surely none of the above mentioned scenes or Monty's meeting with Mays' Rev. Lord Ezekiel D’Ysquith who Tresnjak ingeniously sends zooming up and then disastrously down a bell tower — or a dinner party hosted by Mays' Lord Adalbert and his Lady Eugenia (Joanna Glushak) in front of a giant, ominously prescient Last Supper painting.

And so, forget the Prologue's warning to the audience: "For Those Of You Of Weaker Constitution,/ For Those Of You Who May Be Faint Of Heart,/This Is A Tale Of Revenge And Retribution,/ So If You're Smart,/Before We Start,/You'd Best Depart." Instead, take my advice: Don't be faint of heart but be smart/ Splurge on a ticket and let the fun start.

A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder
Book (based on the novel Israel Rankby Roy Horniman) and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman
Music and Lyrics by Steven Lutvak
Directed by Darko Tresnjak Cast: Jefferson Mays (the entire D'Ysquith family), Bryce Pinkham (Monty Lavarro), Lisa O. Hare (Sibella Hallward), Lauren Worsham(Phoebe D. Ysquith), Jane Carr (Miss Shingle), Joanna Glushak (Lady Eugenia/Newsboys/Ensemble), Eddie Korbich (Mr. Gorby/Magistrate/Ensemble), Kready(Tom Copely/Newsboys/Actors/Ensemble), Roger Purnell (Chauncey), Jennifer Smith (Tour Guide/Newsboys/ Ensemble), Price Waldham(Chief Inspector Pinckney/Newsboys/Actors/Ensemble),Catherine Walker (Miss Barley/Ensemble)
Choreography: Peggy Hickey
Scenic design: Alexander Dodge
Costumes: Linda Cho
Lighting: Philip S. Rosenberg
Projections: Aaron Rhyne
Sound design: Dan Moses Schreier
Orchestrations: Jonathan Tunick
Music Director: Paul Staroba
Hair and Wigs: Charles LaPointe
Stage Manager: Susie Gordon
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes including one intermission
Walter Kerr Theatre West 48th Street
From 10/22/13; opening 11/17/13.
Final Broadway performance: 1/17/16
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer November 14, 2013 press preview
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • You're A D'Ysquith!/Miss Shingle, Monty
  • I Don't Know What I'd Do/Sibella
  • Foolish to Think/Monty
  • A Warning to Monty/Ensemble
  • I don't Understand the Poor/ Lord Adalbert, Ensemble
  • Foolish to Think (Reprise)/Monty
  • Poison In My Pocket/ Monty, Asquith Jr, Miss Barley
  • Poor Monty/Sibella and Company
  • Better With a Man/ Henry, Monty
  • Inside Out/Phoebe, Monty
  • Lady Hyacinth Abroad/Lady Hyacinth, Ensemble
  • The Last One You'd Expect/Company
Act Two
  • Why Are All the D'Ýsquith's Dying/Mourners, Lord Adalbert Sibella/Monty
  • I've Decided to Marry You/Phoebe, Sibella, Monty
  • Final Warning/Ensemble
  • Poison In My Pocket (Reprise)/Monty
  • Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun/Lord Adalbert
  • Stop! Wait! What?/Monty
  • That Horrible Woman/Sibella, Phoebe, Detective, Magistrate, Guard
  • Finale/Company
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