Regional Reviews: Phoenix
What if you were born poor and had no prospects for a job, let alone success, only to find out that your mother was actually a disinherited member of an influential and extremely wealthy family who rebuffed her when she married for love and not money? And what if you also discovered that only eight members of the family stand between you and the head of the dynasty? That's what happens to Monty Navarro in 1909 London and, once Monty finds himself snubbed by the family as well, he makes it his mission to bump off those eight members so he can get back at the family for what they did to his mother and become Lord of the D'Ysquith family.
Based on the 1907 novel "Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal" by Roy Horniman, Robert L. Freedman's book is sharp, smart, and fast paced. The well-crafted tunes with music by Steven Lutvak and lyrics by Freedman and Lutvak are full of witty wordplay, delicious double-entendres, a range of musical styles, and exceptional phrasing. Freedman won a Tony for his superb book which never stops delivering, even having a nice coda that comes right after the curtain call.
The fun theatrical conceit that the show uses is to have one actor play all members, both male and female, of the D'Ysquith family who stand between Monty and his goal. And while this isn't a completely original idea, since Alec Guinness did the same thing in the film version of the novel, Kind Hearts and Coronets, the requirements to make this all work in a fast-paced musical require a skilled comic actor and some speedy costume changes. John Rapson excels in the tour de force nature of this request, distinguishing each role with nuance and a huge dose of comedy. He is so skilled in his portrayals and the quick change artistry of the costume changes so superb that if you didn't check your program you may not realize until the curtain call that the entire family is being played by one man.
Kevin Massey is also tasked with a herculean effortto portray a man we all root for as he goes about killing a series of people who didn't really do anything wrong. The fact that he shines as Monty is due to the combination of his assured portrayal and his lovable demeanor. Massey also has an exceptional singing voice that soars on his many songs. Monty's two love interests, Sibella and Phoebe, couldn't be more different, and Kristen Beth Williams (Sibella) and Adrienne Eller (Phoebe) are both exquisite. Williams is fetching as the self-absorbed woman who is in love with Monty but has her goal set to end up with a gentleman of a far greater prosperity. As Phoebe, Eller is sweet and sincere, with a legit voice and a stunning delivery that soars effortlessly. This romantic tug-of-war between the three lays ground for the show's best number, "I've Decided to Marry You," which the trio delivers smashingly.
Director Darko Tresnjak's inventively skilled contributions show why he deservedly won the Tony for his direction of this show. He cleverly uses Alexander Dodge's beautiful, eye-popping set design, which features a lush jewel-box façade that houses a multi-functional "toy theatre," and fun video projections by Aaron Rhyne to whisk us swiftly from one location to the next. Tresnjak's direction is full of charm and wit, yet his deft touch ensures the elaborate story, with its succession of characters, remains clear. The colorful, exquisite and detailed costumes justifiably won the Tony Award for Linda Cho, and Philip S. Rosenberg's lighting design adds plenty of allure as well as a few comical touches to the show. Dan Moses Schreier's crisp sound design and Gammage's new sound system make sure that every lyric can be heard with extreme clarity.
With equal parts silliness and wit, a charming book and exceptional score, and sharp creative elements, A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder is a musical treat to be savored. With a gifted cast and creative elements on par with the Tony winning New York production, the national tour is exceptional.
A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder plays through March 20, 2016, at ASU Gammage located at 1200 S. Forest Avenue in Tempe. Tickets can be purchased at www.asugammage.com or by calling 480 965-3434. For more information on the tour, visit www.agentlemansguidebroadway.com/tour.php.
Music and Lyrics: Steven Lutvak