Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Much of Steven Lutvak's bright and effervescent music reminds me of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. The lyrics by Robert L. Freedman and Lutvak are terrifically ingenious. The book by Freedman is an exceptionally ingenious send-up of Edwardian England.
The setting is England in 1909. The plot centers on Monty Navarro, an impoverished man who has just found out that his mother was a member of the noble D'Ysquith family. She raised her son in poverty since she was disinherited by her family after she became pregnant and ran off with her Spanish boyfriend. Monty now plots revenge and a plan to become the Earl of Highhurst. Since he is ninth in line for the title, all he has to do is murder each of the other eight D'Ysquiths ahead of him. The musical shows how each is exquisitely done away with.
As the curtain parts, the audience sees an intricate old fashioned stage-within-a-stage designed by Alexander Dodge with a large LED display at the rear which becomes a great range of backdrops for the sidesplitting action. The comic action is awesome, such as a beekeeper being attacked by swarms of killer bees, and an outdoor ice-skating sequence which is hilarious. The cast sings as a chorus of Londoners dressed in Edwardian outfits "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." What follows is a fun high-camp production performed by a splendid cast of actors speaking with spot on British accents and overacting beautifully.
John Rapson plays the eight doomed D'Ysquiths with feverish dynamism and wicked elation. It's a tour de force of comic acting. The characters include the arrogantly superior Reverend Lord Ezekiel D'Ysquith with a serious overbite; the brimming humanitarian Lady Hyacinth D'Ysquith; the absolutely wretched actress Lady Salome D'Ysquith, preparing for a performance in Hedda Gabler; and the silly overly fey beekeeper Henry D'Ysquith. Rapson also manages to swiftly and magnificently make each costume change.
The other leading actor in this production is the handsome and trim Kevin Masse, playing the impoverished Monty. He brings a splendid depth to his character and is able to portray the role as a rapscallion, especially when he manipulates two women to whom he is forlornly ardent. He has beautiful vocal cords when rendering "Foolish to Think" and "Sibella." Kristen Beth Williams as Sibella and Adrienne Eller as Phoebe, the love interests of Monty, give matchless performances. Both have thematic resonance in their songs, especially Adrienne Eller, who has a glorious voice that is the best in the show.
The rest of the cast are excellent, skillfully sounding and acting like many characters, such as tour guides, newsboys, inspectors, servants, and family friends. The orchestra led by Lawrence Goldberg supports all with crisp playing at a peppy pace. Darko Tresnjak's sprightly direction and Peggy Hickey's no-nonsense choreography add to the enjoyment of this show.
Bottom line is, this production is sophisticated, proficient, and everything one could want from a Broadway show.
A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder runs through December 27th, 2015, at the Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor Street, San Francisco. For tickets go to www.shnsf.com or call 888-746-1799. For more information on the tour, visit agentlemansguidebroadway.com.
Coming up next from SHN is A Christmas Story, playing only three days beginning on December 9th at the Orpheum Theatre, and Dirty Dancing, opening at the Golden Gate Theatre on February 23, 2016, and running through March 20.