Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder
The musical follows the tale of one Monty Navarro, who in the early 1900s learns, upon his mother's death, that she was a member of one of the wealthiest families in England, who disowned her when (horrors!) she married a Castilian. When Monty reaches out to the family, he's spurned. And the more he learns about how horribly the D'Ysquith family treated his mother, the more he realizes that the fact that there are eight people between him and the Earldom himself is simply ... a challenge.
But this is no Sweeney Todd or American Psycho; Gentleman's Guide takes an attitude toward murder that is genuinely playful. The fun is accomplished by a combination of three things: the brilliance of having every targeted D'Ysquith (no matter what generation or gender) played by a single actor doing octuple duty; the writing, which manages to encompass in the D'Ysquiths nearly every possible negative stereotype about selfish upper-crust turn-of-the century Brits; and stagecraft that combines low-tech and high-tech to perfect comically murderous ends.
Kevin Massey does a fine job as Montyhe walks the line between likeable orphan and heartless villain. Indeed, looking at the D'Ysquiths, you're pretty sure Monty isn't the first one to murder his way to the top, and what makes Massey so good is that his occasionally casual lack of concern for human life makes you think Monty is definitely a member of the family. His competition is played by John Rapson, who bursts on stage as Lord Adalbert D'Ysquith with his patter-lament "I Don't Understand the Poor" ("To be so debased/is in terrible taste") and solidly establishes his intent to steal every scene he's in. He hits particularly high marks as Lady Hyacinth, the D'Ysquith who wants to travel the world for charitable purposes, and sings about it with increasingly offensive descriptions of the populations she'll be visiting.
Along the way to the Earldom, Monty gets himself a pair of love interests: the flirtatious Sibella, whom he loved from the start, but who was initially out of his league as she intended to marry for money; and the lovely Phoebe, a D'Ysquith conveniently behind Monty in the line of succession (and therefore safe from him). Kristen Beth Williams makes the bigger impression as self-centered Sibella; Adrienne Eller's Phoebe is really only a factor when she's singing opposite the other woman.
But the real stars of this show are the lyricscredited to both Robert Freedman and Steven Lutvak. Lutvak also did the music, which is nothing extraordinary; in fact, I thought the best thing about the music was how short a lot of the first act numbers were. Quick and punchy, they do their job and don't outstay their welcome. But as vehicles for the lyrics, they're terrific. The lyrics are intelligent, arch, double-entendre-filled, fourth-wall-breaking comic gems. (And, wonderfully, they are fully comprehensiblesomething you can't say for every musical that plays the Ahmanson.) The pacing does drag a bit with some longer songs in the second act, but recovers soon enough.
Ultimately, Gentleman's Guide is two-and-a-half hours of crisply delivered escapist entertainment. You won't miss out on anything spectacular if you skip it, but you're in for a delightful time if you go.
A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder at the Ahmanson through May 1, 2016. For tickets and information, see www.CenterTheatreGroup.org. For information on the tour, visit www.agentlemansguidebroadway.com.
Center Theatre Group - Michael Ritchie, Artistic Director; Stephen D. Rountree, Managing Director; Douglas C. Baker, Producing Artistic Director; Gordon Davidson, Founding Artistic Director; Joey Parnes, Sue Wagner, John Johnson, 50 Church Street Productions, Joan Raffe & Jhett Tolentino, Jay Alix & Una Jackman, Rhoda Herrick, Kathleen K. Johnson, Jamie deRoy, Megan Savage, Four Ladies & One Gent, Richard Winkler, John Arthur Pinckard, True Love Productions, Catherine Adler, Jamie & Bruce Bendell, Michael T. Cohen, Joseph & Carson Gleberman, William Megevick, Ron Simons, Seaview Productions, Exeter Capital/Stewart Lane & Bonnie Comley, Ted Snowdon/Joe Sirola in association with The Hartford Stage and The Old Globe present A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder.
Scenic Design Alexander Dodge; Costume Design Linda Cho; Lighting Design Philip S. Rosenberg; Sound Design Dan Moses Schreier; Projection Design Aaron Rhyne; Hair & Wig Design Charles G. LaPointe; Make-up Design Brian Strumwasser; Orchestrations Jonathan Tunick; Vocal Arrangements Dianne Adams McDowell & Steven Lutvak; Music Supervisor Paul Staroba; Music Director Lawrence Goldberg; Music Coordinator Seymore Red Press; Casting Binder Casting, Jason Styres, CSA; Production Supervisor Tripp Phillips; Production Stage Manager Daniel S. Rosokoff; Advertising & Marketing Spotco; National Press O&M Co.; Tour Press & Marketing Allied Live; Tour Booking Broadway Booking Office NYC; Choreography by Peggy Hickey; Directed by Darko Tresnjak