Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
The story unfolds in 1909 London. Monty Navarro is as close to a hero as the story provides, and most of the show is framed as his memoirs as he awaits his fate in prison, having been tried for murder. We go back a year when, upon the death of his hard-working, impoverished mother, Monty receives startling news. He learns that she was born into the fabulously wealthy and influential D'Ysquith family, but committed the fatal sin of marrying for love, rather than for money. For this she was disinherited, cut off from the D'Ysquith name and fortune. In fact, Monty learns, only eight D'Ysquiths stand between him and the title of Earl, head of the dynasty.
Monty, with no prospects for success of his own, hopes that the family may be forgiving and offer him some assistance in the form of a job in their financial empire. This is especially urgent as he pursues the love of Sibella, who relishes Monty's amorous attention but clearly has her mark set on a gentleman of far greater means. When his initial contact with the family is cruelly rebuffed, Monty, egged on by Sibella's new attachment to a man with his own motor car, slyly devises ways to infiltrate the D'Ysquiths. When happenstance gives him control over the life or death of one of the eight heirs, Monty sets off on the course that gives the show its title. While working his way up the ladder of D'Ysquith heirseach with a set of delightful idiosyncrasiesMonty meets comely Phoebe D'Ysquith (not one of the heirs) and a spark of affection immediately ignites between them.
Monty's romantic tug-of-war between Sibella and Phoebe, as he continues his ascent among the dwindling number of D'Ysquiths (culminating in a riotous banquet), brings us back to the opening, with Monty in his prison cell. What will the resolution be? Not wanting to spoil the fun, I will only say that the gods of musical comedy justice have come up with a wonderfully wrought, fully satisfying ending.
Adding tremendously to the merriment is the fact that all eight of the D'Ysquiths are played by the same actor, an opportunity for a tour de force of comic invention and quick change artistry that is not wasted on John Rapson. Rapson plays each of the D'Ysquith heirs as exaggerated types, including a determined do-gooder, a reckless playboy, a muddleheaded pastor, and an effete gay blade, to hilarious effect. His patter song "I Don't Understand the Poor" is made all the funnier by his irony-free performance. He is well matched by Kevin Massey as Monty Navarro, who pivots gracefully between righteous seeker of retribution, romanticist, and comic foil to Mr. Rapson's shenanigans. Massey also has a full-hearted voice that does justice to his musical numbers "Foolish to Think," "Poison in My Pocket," "Sibella," and "Stop! Wait! What?!."
As the two women vying for Monty's heart, Kristen Beth Williams (Sibella) and Adrienne Eller (Phoebe) are both splendid. Williams delivers Sibella's vanity and self-absorption, and is at ease projecting her sexuality, which holds Monty in its thrall. She is a vapid butterfly in "I Don't Know What I'd Do," and a heartless siren in "Poor Monty." Ellis portrays Phoebe as passionate but bound by propriety. Her duet with Massey, "Inside Out," which she sings in a trilling soprano, is quite beautiful, and her droll take, in tandem with Williams, on "That Horrible Women" concocts a delicious serving of faux justice. In the apex of it all, Massey, Ellis and Williams join voices in "I've Decided to Marry You," a mad-cap musical farce complete with slamming doors.
Mary VanArsdel makes a fine Miss Shingle, and the rest of the cast compose the ensemble as well as taking on a range of smaller roles. All perform with aplomb, and sing beautifully. When the full company joins forces in the act one finale, "The Last One You'd Expect", the effect is elating.
Darko Tresnjak deserves every accolade he received (including his Tony) for the abundance of invention and wit deployed. His use of projections to transform prim and predictable (albeit, stylishly furnished) settings into fun house giddiness is masterful. Who would have thought a swarm of bees could illicit such laughter? (I'll say no more.) The elaborate story is clearly presented, and moves briskly through its numerous episodes. There are not any all-out dance numbers, but a few opportunities for modest dance and movement bring additional wit and humor to the proceedings, in particular when illustrating the itinerary of "Lady Hyacinth Abroad."
A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder is a thorough delight, a melding of rampant silliness with top level professionalism. As it is not a well-known title, outside of theater buffs, it may be overlooked by many. Hopefully, word will get out and return visits by this tour, as well as home-grown productions, will allow many more theatergoers to discover the fun to be had when love and murder occur in the company of Monty and the D'Ysquiths.
A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder plays through January 10, 2016, at the State Theatre, 805 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN. Tickets: 39.00 - $134.00. Student/Educator rush tickets at $25.00 two hours before each performance. For tickets go to www.hennepintheatretrust.org or call 1-800-859-7469. For more information on the tour, visit www.agentlemansguidebroadway.com/tour.php.
Music: Steven Lutvak; Lyrics: Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak; Book: Robert L. Freedman; Director: Darko Tresnjak; Choreography: Peggy Hickey; Scenic Design: Alexander Dodge; Costume Design: Linda Cho; Lighting Design: Philip S. Rosenberg; Sound Design: Dan Moses Schreier; Projection Design: Aaron Rhyne; Hair and Wig Design: Charles G. LaPointe; Make-up Design: Brian Strumwasser; Orchestrations: Jonathan Tunick; Vocal Arrangements: Dianne Adams McDowell and Steven Lutvak; Music Supervisor: Paul Staroba; Music Director: Lawrence Goldberg; Music Coordinator: Seymour Red Press; Casting: Binder Casting/Jason Styres, CSA; Production Supervisor: Tripp Phillips; ; Production Stage Manager: Daniel S. Rosokoff
Cast: Christopher Behmke (Mr. Gorby, magistrate, ensemble), Adrienne Eller (Phoebe D'Ysquith), Matt Leisy (Tom Copley, guard, ensemble), Megan Loomis (tour guide, ensemble), Kevin Massey (Monty Navarro), Lesley McKinnell (Miss Barley, ensemble), Kristen Mengelkoch (Lady Eugenia, ensemble), John Rapson (Asquith D'Ysquith Jr., Lord Adalbert D'Ysquith, Reverend Lord Ezekial D'Ysquith, Lord Asquith D'Ysquith Sr., Henry D'Ysquith, Lady Hyacinth D'Ysquith, Major Lord Bartholomew D'Ysquith, Lady Salomé D'Ysquith Pumphrey, Chauncey), Ben Roseberry (Chief Inspector Pinckney, ensemble), Mary VanArsdel (Miss Shingle), Kristen Beth Williams (Sibella Hallward).