A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder

2014 Tony for Best Musical

By: - Dec 14, 2014


A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder
Book and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman; music and lyrics by Steven Lutvak; based on a novel by Roy Horniman
Directed by Darko Tresnjak
Choreography by Peggy Hickey; sets by Alexander Dodge; costumes by Linda Cho; lighting by Philip S. Rosenberg; sound by Dan Moses Schreier; projections by Aaron Rhyne; hair and wig design by Charles LaPointe; orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick; music director, Paul Staroba; vocal arrangements by Dianne Adams McDowell and Mr. Lutvak; music coordinator, Seymour Red Press; production stage manager, Susie Cordon. Presented by Joey Parnes, S. D. Wagner, John Johnson, 50 Church Street Productions, Joan Raffe and Jhett Tolentino, Jay Alix and Una Jackman, Catherine and Fred Adler, Rhoda Herrick, Kathleen Johnson, John Arthur Pinckard, Megan Savage, Shadowcatcher Entertainment, Ron Simons, True Love Productions, Jamie deRoy, Four Ladies and One Gent, Greg Nobile, Stewart Lane and Bonnie Comley, Exeter Capital/Ted Snowdon, Cricket CTM Media/Mano-Horn Productions, Joseph and Carson Gleberman/William Megevick, Dennis Grimaldi/Margot Astrachan, Ryan Hugh Mackey, Hello Entertainment/Jamie Bendell, Michael T. Cohen/Joe Sirola, and Green State Productions, in association with the Hartford Stage and the Old Globe. At the Walter Kerr Theater, 219 West 48th Street, Manhattan, 212-239-6200, Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes.

Cast: Jefferson Mays (Asquith D’Ysquith Jr./Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith/the Rev. Lord Ezekial D’Ysquith/ Lord Asquith D’Ysquith Sr./Henry D’Ysquith/Lady Hyacinth D’Ysquith/Maj. Lord Bartholomew D’Ysquith/Lady Salome D’Ysquith Pumphrey), Bryce Pinkham (Monty Navarro), Lisa O’Hare (Sibella Hallward), Catherine Walker (Phoebe D’Ysquith), Joanna Glushak (Pamela Bob for the performance in this review) (Newsboy/Lady Eugenia), Eddie Korbich (Actor/Mr. Gorby/Magistrate), Jeff Kready (Tom Copley/Newsboy/Actor/Guard), Roger Purnell (Chauncey), Jennifer Smith (Tour Guide/Newsboy), Price Waldman (Newsboy/Actor/Chief Inspector Pinckney), Sandra De Nise (Miss Barley) and Carole Shelley (Miss Shingle)

In the intimate Walter Kerr Theatre the 2014 Tony winning best musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder with book and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman; music and lyrics by Steven Lutvak; based on a novel by Roy Horniman delivers a perfectly delightful evening of oh so amusing murder, blind ambition and delicious wit.

Knowing nothing about the musical prior to a recent visit, in a flash, I recognized it as a hilarious take on one of my absolute favorite British comedies the 1949 Kind Hearts and Coronets. It was a tour de force for that greatest of actors Alec Guiness who played eight members of the titled D’ysquith family.

For legal reasons while closely following the film the theatrical version has a different title.

They are obstacles in the line of succession to land and title for an obscure, disinherited, low born relative Monty Navarro (Bryce Pinkham). His mother, a member of the clan, was banished for marrying beneath her social station.

In that opening scene Navarro, now lord of the manor, has been condemned to death for bumping off those in the line of succession. The night before his execution Monty is finishing intriguing memoirs which unravel as the two act musical comedy.

Although a serial killer we root for the ambitious young Navarro, as nattily performed by Pinkham, from the get-go. His relatives it seems, a motley crew of outrageous eccentrics, are not very nice people. Utter buggers actually.

This confirmed my innate resentment of the Brits and their hideous caste system. Like all those useless, titled, arrogant and privileged characters that I have grown loving to hate in the insufferable but addicting Downton Abbey. Typically, the servants have more heart and soul than the empty snooty nobles they wait on hand and foot.

Just imagine getting dressed in white tie, tails and evening gowns just to dine at home. Meals cooked in the bowels of the mansion and brought up and served by footmen with white gloves.

As case in point is the New York media going bonkers over a visit by the doltish royals Britain's balding Prince William and his preggers wife Kate. Why on earth would one suck up to William whose greatest accomplishment was getting born and wearing uniforms with medals he didn’t earn?

It’s all annoyingly Lady Mary this and Lord Bugger that.

Which is precisely why it is so much fun to see the D’Yshith clan bumped off one by one.

Played hilariously, some eight characters in all with a bit of drag thrown in, by the wonderful Jefferson Mays who speaks/ sings his way through some fun tunes. His style is broader and more outré than the finely honed family thumbnails of Guinness.

Fortunately for Broadway the film was a long time ago and most of the bridge/ tunnel and corn belt rubes who can afford those outrageous tickets have long forgotten or never heard of the peerless Alec Guinness. Our family grew up on his films at Boston’s long gone Exeter Street Theatre. It was housed in the basement of the former Spritualist’s Temple.

The songs are generally witty and catchy. Upon discovering his heritage revealed by a retainer, Miss Shingle, she and Monty sing the catchy “You’re a D’Ysquith.” It nicely nudges along the plot twists. Reprehensible British snobbery is skewered in Lord Aldabert and ensemble’s “I don’t understand the poor.” Indeed. Bugger off. Evenutally the mournful and comically poignant “Why are all the D’Ysquiths dying.” Murder most foul advances with “Poison in my pocket.”

Our man Monty should have known that he was far better off starving in a garret than social climbing among his betters. Then again he is fueled by that noble blood which courses through his swarthy veins.

The turning point comes when the woman of his dreams, the sexy and sophisticated Sibella Hallward (Lisa OHare) dumps him to marry for boring security and social position. It offers her the status to hook up with the humble Monty.

Once committed to his murderous scheme, however, he finds a more likely mate in a kissing cousin the sweet and nubile Phoebe D’Ysquith (Catherine Walker). She may not be as good as Sibella in the sack but she is just the right well bred arm candy to open doors and provoke envy.

The women meet, clash, compete and ultimately unite in a hilarious scheme to share then ultimately save Monty from the gallows. They both claim to have done the murder he is accused of. Their confessions are hardly credible but in the eyes of the law represent reasonable doubt.

During two acts I laughed myself silly through this delightful comedy.

The events were deftly paced and directed by Darko Tresnjak. The cozy, cluttered Victorian sets by the always inventive Alexander Dodge created a perfect ambiance.

Costumes by Linda Cho gorgeously enhanced the women. In one scene the spoiled Sibella swirls around in a stunning red silk dress fishing for compliments from Monty. Like most blokes asked to comment on fashion he is at a loss for words. Mostly men just don’t get it while women dress for other women. In this feminine contest Cho dresses Phoebe just a bit more sedately indicating her more established social status. Compared to Phoebe’s cool reserve Sibella is a bit cheap and on the make.

Monty, the bounder, is looking for the best of both worlds; a prim and proper wife and ravenous mistress.

While I was mostly transfixed by the compelling love triangle the antics of May as all those zany characters provided constant distraction. There was just enough endearing nobility in a couple of them to feels some remorse for their demise. One takes him into the firm with rapid advancement. He has acted with compassion and kindness but no matter. He’s one of the hated D’Ysquiths for which there is no mercy.

For the rest however “Let them eat cake.” Off with their heads.

Well, in the end, Monty’s actually, in the film at least with bitter and moralizing irony. In this post modern version, however, Monty catches a break.

Or does he?